The Festival of San Martino is celebrated every year on November 11. Born in central Europe in the fourth century, Martin (Martino in Italian) was a soldier, eventually became the bishop of Tours, France, and was known as Martin the Merciful. Here’s a painting of the saint by El Greco.
This moniker of mercy likely came about because he was said to have cut his cloak in half with his sword to give to a beggar during the winter. He then dreamed of Jesus wearing the cloak, whereby he become a Christian.
Italy has celebrated the Feast of San Martino since at least the Middle Ages, continuing today, with food unsurprisingly at its core, particularly chestnuts, which are in season in November.
Venice in particular is known for its Torta di San Martino as well as cookies baked in the shape of the saint. Here’s a recipe for them.
My new novel The Virgins of Venice has a scene on the Feast of San Martino. Here’s an excerpt.
“With a grunt like that of a trapped pig, I flopped onto my bed and stared at the ceiling. It must be San Martino already, and I first murmured, then sang out the irreverent song about the saint that Paolo had taught Rosa and me as a child….
San Martino went to the attic
To meet his lover
His lover was not there
And he fell to the ground . . .
In this house there are two little girls
Both very curly-haired and beautiful
With delicate faces
They look like their father.
Paolo used to tease that those girls were Rosa and me….”
With mille grazie to Alberto Galasso for the translation!