The Church of Saint-Séverin, on the edge of Paris’s Latin Quarter, contains the stories of not one, but two saints. One of them controlled fire and defied gravity while the other cured a dying king, but both holy men had one miraculous item in common.
A man set fire to a temple which contained false deities, but the blaze ran amok and threatened a neighboring home. When he climbed on the rooftop of the endangered house, the fire shrank before him as he tamed the flames with his presence.
In another village, that same holy man cut down a tree growing beside the ruins of an unholy shrine. The cult’s leader approached the man, challenging him to stand beneath the tree as it was felled, to prove the existence of his one true God. Without hesitating, the saint moved to where the tree was leaning as the locals began to chop at the trunk “with great glee and joyfulness”. When it crashed and rushed towards him, he simply raised his hand. Just as the trunk was about to crush him, it suddenly spun and landed instead where the disbelievers waited in what they were sure was a safe place.
The holy man responsible for these miracles was Saint Martin, and the Église Saint-Séverin is, perhaps, more closely associated with him than it is its namesake. Saint Martin, who once brought an initiate back to life and cured a man of leprosy by kissing him. Saint Martin, who took miracles with him wherever he went.
But the relief outside the Church of Saint-Séverin features the scene Martin is best known for…
A Roman soldier rode majestic astride his steed as he approached the gates of the city. Sunlight struck Martin’s shield and rays split from the hilt of his sword while he sat tall, wrapped inside his regal red cloak. Beneath him, the rabble littered the shadows and parted before him like dust rising in the dirt that the army carelessly trotted through.
A beggar clad simply in rags broke from the pack and raised his empty hand towards Martin, causing him to pull his horse to a stop. After considering the pauper for only a moment, Martin pulled his sword from its sheath and lifted it high. When he let it fall, he did so across the fabric of his cape, cutting it in two. Leaning down from his horse, he gave half the cloth to the man in need.
Before becoming a saint he was a soldier under the emperor, and before that Martin disobeyed his parents to attend Christian services, an act that was all the more courageous when considering the religion was still illegal in Rome … and that disobedient Martin was only 10 years old. Despite the strength of his convictions, though, Martin had not yet been baptized. The night, however, after he shared his cloak with the beggar, Martin dreamed. In his dream, Jesus came to him wearing the half of the cloak Martin had given away earlier that day and said,
“Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptized; he has clad me.”
This dream would serve to confirm Martin’s faith, and he was baptized at the age of 18.
But there is more between Séverin and Martin than just the adoration they enjoy at the Paris church, and that common thread involves another cloak.
In the year 496, King Clovis himself was baptized because he’d promised his Christian wife that if he defeated the Alemanni people, he would convert to her religion. The saint he credited with his victory was Saint Martin.
Ten years later, Clovis fell very ill with a fever. A stream of doctors passed before him, but none of the cures they tried had the slightest affect. A religious man with a reputation for healing was called to the King’s bedside and when he left, the King was fully recovered.
The man that cured the King was Saint Séverin, and he cured the King by laying a cloak over him.
1 Rue des Prêtres Saint-Séverin
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All photographs and text ©2014 Paris Paul Prescott. Please do not reuse or copy without express written permission from the author.