Friday, February 13, 2015

Saint of the Month: Saint Martinian the Hermit!

Ebenezer Cobham Brewer’s A Dictionary of Miracles: Imitative, Realistic, and Dogmatic claims
that “Martin de Vos has a famous picture called
Photina saved from the Wreck, where she is
represented climbing the rock with the help of the hermit.” Alas, I have not been able to find
it.  Instead, here's de Vos's
Saint Luke Painting the Virgin.  Followers of this feature
will recognize St. Luke from context, and from his cow.

St. Martinian the Hermit

Not to be Confused With: Saint Martinian of Belozersk, Saint Martinian of Rome, Saint Martinian of Mauretania, Saint Martinian of Milon, or Saint Martinian of Saints Processus and Martinian fame, or Saint Martinian of Saints Martinian, Saturianus, and others fame.
Feast Day: February 13.

Really Existed? Almost certainly not.
Timeframe: Late fourth century; dates vary widely.
Place: the Eastern Mediterranean.

Credentials: Recognized by tradition.
Martyrdom: None, although there's plenty of self-inflicted suffering involved.

Patron Saint of: No tradition of patronage that I've found.
Symbolism: Supposedly dolphins, or a man standing on an island, although in truth I haven't found any images of him that aren't generic icons.

It’s the feast day of St. Martinian the Hermit, who is a saint with two good stories. Almost every account begins by saying that he was from “Caesarea, Palestine,” by which they probably mean the Roman city of Caesarea Palaestina. But don't let's get bogged down. He is a fourth century figure, and the one key fact of his life is that he really, really didn’t want to lose his virginity.

Now, details of St. Martinian’s pursuit of chastity vary considerably from telling to telling, but it’s clear that Zoë was his first temptress. She is described variously as a harlot, a strumpet, or just “a profligate woman” trying to win a mischievous bet with some pals. For whatever reason, she wants to get in the sack with Martinian. In a storm, she arrives at the cell in the desert (or forest) near town where he has been living the contemplative life of a holy hermit and asks him for shelter. When he allows her to stay with him for the night, she begins trying out her moves.

Although tempted – Zoë is apparently pretty good-lookin’ – Martinian will have none of it. He lights a vigorous fire, and when it’s good and hot he thrusts his feet and legs into it. He tells the startled Zoë that if she succeeds in her carnal mission, he’ll go to hell, and that if he’s going to spend eternity suffering the torments of hell, he should at least be ready to handle a few minutes with puny earthly fire. It’s an impressive demonstration, and logically impeccable, and a repentant Zoë heads off to Bethlehem to take up her own religious vocation. She becomes St. Zoë, and it is also her feast day today.

After he heals up, Martinian decides that he needs to get some more distance between himself and temptation, so he finds a rocky island in the sea and commissions a fisherman to bring him supplies every once in a while. For a time, things go well in this hermitage, but in a storm a ship is wrecked on Martinian’s rock with the loss of all hands – except one woman. Martinian rescues her from the sea, tells her that about the arrangement with the fisherman and the supplies, and before anybody can start to feel at all tempted by the flesh, jumps off the island into the sea. A pair of dolphins carry him to Greece – a two year trip, in some sources, which would indicate some incredibly slow dolphins – where he spends the rest of his life in Athens, or perhaps as a wanderer. The woman left on the island decides to stay there, continuing the arrangement with the fisherman and living a life of holy contemplation. She becomes St. Photina, and today is her feast day too.

St. Martinian seems to have a much larger constituency in the Eastern Church than in the Roman. Internet sources are not all convinced of the details: “Some have questioned whether this story is entirely fictitious,” says one, and another says that in these accounts “the line between fact and a good story probably blurs a little.”

If you would like to purchase a sacred relic of St. Martinian the Hermit, I was surprised to see one available on the internet for what strikes me as a very reasonable price.  I do not know the seller, however, and make no representation to the authenticity of the item.

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