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By Lawrence Cunningham

Short background of Saints follows the increase of the cult of saints in Christianity from its beginning within the age of the martyrs all the way down to the current day.

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Famous for his ascetic life and his power as a healer, his biography was written by his disciple Sulpicius Severus while Martin was still alive. 12 Four thousand parish churches in France alone were dedicated to him (as well as five hundred villages which bore his name). Pilgrimages to his shrine in Tours were popular well into the sixteenth century. Interestingly enough, the life of Martin strongly emphasized the saint’s miraculous powers, comparing him favorably to the exemplary ascetics of the Egyptian deserts.

Thus, to cite a conspicuous 32 The Bureaucratization of Sanctity example, devotion to the fourth-century Saint Nicholas of Myra (in present-day Turkey) spread to the West through the port city of Bari in southern Italy in the tenth century and north in subsequent centuries into places as disparate as the British Isles and Russia. 1 Likewise, the cult of the sixth-century Irish Saint Brigid of Kildare, who was head of a double monastery of men and women and about whom many elements of druidic customs accrued, was honored in Italy because a ninth-century Irish pilgrim, Bishop Donatus of Fiesole (near Florence) introduced her cult there and also wrote her life in Latin hexameters.

Through royal patronage the cult of the saint and his relics moved to Compostela where there was already a shrine to early martyrs. Because of the enormous popularity of the pilgrimage the iconography of the saint made him a fellow pilgrim with his pilgrim’s hat and a cockle shell, which was the badge of those who made the pilgrimage, just as the palm branch was the badge of those who made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem (hence the surname Palmer). Why did pilgrims travel? The reasons were various.

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