Saint Martin and the Origin of Veterans Day (Armistice Day)

As you know, Veterans Day is an annual United States holiday honoring military veterans. In other countries, the day is celebrated as Armistice Day. It recalls the ending of World War I at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 with the German signing of the Armistice.

El Greco’s St Martin

However, there is a deeper, Catholic meaning to November 11. This day is the feast of Saint Martin (c. 316 – 397) – that godly hermit and bishop who had once been a soldier. Martin laid down the sword in order to live a life of peace and penance under the gentle yoke of Jesus Christ. St Martin is Europe’s chief example of the transition from soldier to saint; from war to peace.

Traditionally, November 11 had previously served as a day of signing peace treaties in honor of Saint Martin. Thus, it was fitting to end Europe’s Great War on this same day – the festival of Saint Martin of Tours.

So there’s a little Catholic history for you to share at the water-cooler or at your next cocktail party. Saint Martin is the ultimate veteran – a veteran from Christ.

Saint Martin, patron of peace, pray for us.

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  • Peregrinus

     Here is another fact about St. Martin, albeit less timely, that may also serve you well at the office or the next cocktail party. The word “chapel” is derived from the Latin word “capella,” which means little cape. “Capella” originally referred to the remaining half of St. Martin’s cape, which was preserved in a small building or shrine constructed for the purpose of housing it. The term eventually became identified with the building itself and then later with other similar buildings.


    St. Martin tore his cape in half so that he could give one half to a beggar while retaining the other for himself (see the painting by El Greco shown above). St. Martin later saw in a vision the Christ wearing the half of his cape he had given away.  

  • Trevor

    Very interesting. A quick clarifying question.  Are you saying it was picked by the signers for this reason, or that it just happened to work out that way and it was “fitting” in that sense?

  • Clare Krishan

    Here’s the Archdiocese of Cologne’s web site on SanktMartin (German children process their neighborhoods with lanterns at dusk tonite – beloved kindergarten songs stem from this ancient liturgical practice!)

    note the Crucifix with capelle

  • Matthew the Penitent

    Also called “REMEMBRANCE DAY”.

  • Fr Eric

    Sulpicius Severus writes the first bio of St. Martin of Tours.  It is in this writing that we have the stories of his leaving the Roman legions and his holiness.  The accounts of expelling demons convet the reality that these men were regularly engaged in Spiritual Battle. 

  • WI Catholic

    Peregrinus, you beat me to relating the story of the Cape (half given away to a beggar, and later, Jesus appearing, wearing it… I LOVE that story.

  • Felix

    But what happened if warring parties agreed to cease hostilities in, say, March.  Would they wait until 11 November to stop fighting? 

    And why would St Martin be the patron of peace accords in preference to other saints? 

    May we have some confirmatory evidence please.

  • timmy baugh

    @felix, REALLY? did that sound more inteligent when read aloud in your own voice with your intended tone and inflection, or are you just trying to ruin everybody’s relaxing read?


    So Timmy, asking for evidence to back a claim warrants a personal attack on a fellow commenter?  Shame on you!