Saint Martin I, Pope and Martyr

November 12

Today is the feast day of Saint Martin I.  Ora pro nobis.

Saint Martin was born at Todi on the Tiber, son of Fabricius. He was elected Pope at Rome, 21 July, 649, to succeed Theodore I.

Martin, one of the noblest figures in a long line of Roman pontiffs (Hodgkin, “Italy”, VI, 268) was, according to his biographer Theodore (Mai, “Spicil. Rom.”, IV 293) of noble birth, a great student, of commanding intelligence, of profound learning, and of great charity to the poor. Piazza, II 45 7 states that he belonged to the order of St. Basil. He governed the Church at a time when the leaders of the Monothelite heresy, supported by the emperor, were making most strenuous efforts to spread their tenets in the East and West. Pope Theodore had sent Martin as apocrysiary to Constantinople to make arrangements for canonical deposition of the heretical patriarch, Pyrrhus.

After his election, Martin had himself consecrated without waiting for the imperial confirmation, and soon called a council in the Lateran at which one hundred and five bishops met. Five sessions were held on 5, 8, 17, 19 and 31 Oct., 649 (Hefele, “Conciliengeschichte”, III, 190). The “Ecthesis” of Heraclius and the “Typus” of Constans II were rejected; nominal excommunication was passed against Sergius, Pyrrus, and Paul of Constantinople, Cyrus of Alexandria and Theodore of Phran in Arabia; twenty canons were enacted defining the Catholic doctrine on the two wills of Christ. The decrees signed by the pope and the assembled bishops were sent to the other bishops and the faithful of the world together with an encyclical of Martin. The Acts with a Greek translation were also sent to the Emperor Constans II.

He incurred the enmity of the Byzantine court and even of two patriarchs, by his energetic opposition to their errors, and the Exarch of Ravenna, representing the oriental Emperor Constant II in Italy, went so far as to endeavor to procure the assassination of the Pope while he stood at the altar in the Church of Saint Mary Major. The would-be murderer, a page of the Exarch, was miraculously struck blind.  His lord refused to have any further role in the matter. But the eastern Emperor’s successor had no such scruples. After having the holy Pontiff accused of many fabricated misdeeds, he seized Saint Martin.  Martin did not resist or permit resistance, for fear of bloodshed in Rome — then had him conveyed to Constantinople on board a vessel bound for that port. None of his clergy were permitted to accompany him; he was boarded at night in secret.

After a three month’s voyage the ship anchored at the island of Naxos in the Aegean Sea, where the Pope was kept in confinement for a year, then finally brought in chains to the imperial city in 654, where he was imprisoned for three months. When he appeared before his judge he was unable to stand without support; but the pitiless magistrate heard his accusers and sentenced him to be chained and dragged through the streets of the city. He bade farewell to his companions in captivity before he left, banished to the present-day Crimea (the Chersonese in those days), saying to them when they wept: Rejoice with me that I have been found worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus Christ.

There, where a famine prevailed, he lingered on for four months, abandoned to sickness and starvation but maintaining perfect serenity, until God released him by death from his tribulations on the 12th of November, 655. In a letter he sent from there, which has been conserved, the Pope wrote: For this miserable body, the Lord will have care; He is near. What is there to alarm me? I hope in His mercy, it will not be long before it terminates my career.

He was buried in the church of Our Lady, called Blachern, near Cherson, and many miracles are related as wrought by St Martin in life and after death. The greater part of his relics are said to have been transferred to Rome, where they repose in the church of San Martino ai Monti. Of his letters seventeen are extant in P.L., LXXXVII, 119.  He was the last of the Popes to die a Martyr.

MANN, Lives of the Popes, I (London, 1902), 385; Hist. Jahrbuch, X, 424; XII, 757; LECLERCQ, Les Martyrs, IX (Paris, 1905), 234; Civila Cattolica, III(1907), 272, 656.

Image: St. Martin I, The statue is part of a group of 16 installed between May 1669 and August 1670, Sculptor – Lazzaro Morelli, St Peter’s Colonnade (6)

Research by REGINA Staff


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