Heading toward the abbey of Pannonhalma on the Eve of Saint Martin, the vineyards shine with warm colors in the light of the setting sun. The vinestocks are already barren, the red carpet of their leaves is spread on the earth before the arrival of Martin, whose new wine will be opened in the abbey this evening after the Vespers, at the reception given on his name day.
The smoke of burnt leaf-litter hovers above the fields, an acrid smell permeates the air. The road leads through small villages, where the inns invite everyone for the Saint Martin’s Day roast goose. The new wine and the goose of St. Martin are the indispensable accompaniments of the traditional post-harvest thanksgiving, and the last occasion for feasting before the soon-to-begin fast of Advent. In Central Europe it is this medieval tradition that most people associate with the figure of Saint Martin. And, of course, the cloak.
At five o’clock the inauguration of Saint Martin’s footprint starts at the beautiful modern visitors’ center of the abbey. The bronze relief depicting a pilgrim’s footprint is the emblem of Via Sancti Martini, the network of pilgrim routes encompassing all Europe, and linking together the settlements that preserve Saint Martin’s tradition, bear his name, or dedicate their churches to him. The Abbey of Saint Martin in Pannonhalma, one of the most important centers of his cult in Hungary, has also joined this network. The inauguration is introduced by Konrád Dejcsics, the organizer of Saint Martin’s Year in Pannonhalma Abbey. Two short speeches are given by Asztik Várszegi, Abbot of Pannonhalma, and Róbert Orbán, chairman of the Hungarian committee overseeing the pilgrimage route. Both of them emphasize that Saint Martin was also a pilgrim, not only because during his life he reached from fourth-century Savaria, today’s Szombathely, through Italy and Germania, to the Gallic Tours, but also because his episcopal work, missionary and church organizing activity was one ceaseless wandering, and at the same time, the realization of the ideal of a man’s continuous pilgrimage toward God. And after his death, they built the largest church of Europe over his tomb in Tours and, after Rome, the second most important place of pilgrimage in the continent.
The evening ends with Vespers in the church of the thousand-year-old abbey. This evening, the daily liturgy, presented with the participation of all the monks of the monastery, is enriched with a hymn of Saint Martin, in use only in the abbey of Pannonhalma, and preserved in the centuries-old manuscripts of the local library. The response of the first antiphon, I was naked and you clothed me, refers to Martin, the protector of those without defense, sharing his cloak with the beggar: this feature of him has been especially emphasized in Pannonhalma. At the end of the liturgy, the abbot, as every year on this evening, solemnly places on the main altar the relics of St. Martin, kept during the year in the monastery crypt.
The festive Mass on the next day at 11 a.m. is celebrated by Cardinal Péter Erdő, Primate of Hungary. He speaks about St. Martin as an example for all bishops, who, in addition to his vast church organizing efforts, was willingly and humbly at the disposal of everyone in need, regardless of origin, social status, and even religion. After the Mass, the President of Hungary opens the International St. Martin’s Year, dedicated to the 1700th anniversary of the birth of the saint. In his speech he underscores the importance of the Pannonian saint as a patron of Hungary.
Saint Martin, a figure of folklore, a pilgrim and a bishop, a symbol of sharing and community, a patron of countries and monasteries of princely foundation, who in his time strongly opposed princes. How many faces does this saint have, the first European personality, how many local meanings and how many different shades of veneration along the Via Sancti Martini, once traveled through also by him, and beyond that, throughout the continent?
This is what we start to explore now, visiting the most important European centers of the cult of Saint Martin, collecting materials for the book In the Footsteps of Saint Martin to be published for the anniversary by the prestigious Európa Publisher of Budapest, taking photos, making interviews, researching in libraries. In the following weeks we will report on the stations of our journey here in the blog. Join us.