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The Story of Old France by  H. A. Guerber
Table of Contents


 

 

THE PATRON SAINT OF FRANCE

[38] ALTHOUGH widely scattered by persecution, the remaining Christians in Gaul proved true to their faith. When the persecution was over, some came back to Lyons, where they began to preach again, and won many converts; for many people, who had hesitated until them, could not help believing in a religion which gave old men and delicate girls as much courage, even under torture, as any soldier had ever shown on the field of battle.

A new preacher, Ireneus, bishop of Lyons, was so good and holy that even during his lifetime he was called a saint, and as he was very learned too, he is known as the "Light of the West," and is considered one of the Fathers of the Church. Ireneus taught until he perished in the second persecution, which took place about twenty-five years after the first.

Another early bishop was St. Denis (sānt de*#774;n'is, or săN de-nee') who went to Paris, then only a very small city on an island in the Seine (san). St. Denis preached so successfully here, that when the second persecution began, he was head of a thriving church, built on the very spot where Notre Dame (nō'tr'däm) now stands, and where Jupiter's temple had once been erected. Three hundred of his disciples bravely suffered great tortures with him, andthem were beheaded on a hill which now forms part of the city and which is still known as the Martyrs' Hill (Montmartre). A good woman is said to have buried the holy bishop's remains where the church of St. Denis now stands. A wonderful legend soon arose about him, tot he effect that, when his head was struck off, he arose and picked it up [39] and walked some distance away with it! For this reason he is often shown in paintings and sculptures with his severed head in his hands. St. Denis is the patron saint of France, and his name was the watchword for French soldiers for many centuries; so his burial place has always been greatly honored, his bones regarded as sacred relics, and his real life and death are often represented in art, [40] although not so frequently as the queer legend which you have just heard.

There were ten awful persecutions in Gaul in about two hundred and fifty years. During that time many martyrs in different places were persecuted, and if you were to hear all they endured, you would see how very brave they were, and why so many people hold their names in such great honor.

One of the most noted converts of the fourth century was the man since known as St. Martin. It seems that he was a handsome and rich young Roman officer, who was almost ready to accept the Christian faith, when the following adventure happened to him in Gaul.

One cold night, on riding home from a feast, wrapped in a fine new cavalry cloak, he saw a poor beggar shivering with the cold. They young officer, who had a very feeling heart, quickly drew his sword, and cutting his big cape in two, gave half of it to the beggar to keep warm. Than night, in a dream, Martin saw Jesus wearing the half cloak he had given the beggar, and heard him tell the angels that his servant Martin, although not baptized, had nevertheless obeyed his command to clothe the naked.

When Martin awoke, he asked to be baptized; soon after, he left the army, and entering the Church, became bishop of tours. He preached to such good purpose that there were soon no heathen left in Gaul, and he and his disciples destroyed all the old pagan temples and altars left there.

The place where St. Martin was buried became holy, and for many years no criminal could be touched as long as he was within the sacred inclosure at Tours. Unlike [41] St. Denis, St. Martin died a natural death, for Christian persecutions came to an end when one of the Roman Emperors became a Christian.


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