medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

Our information, such as it is, about the life of St. Martin of Mons Marsicus (or of Monte Massico; d. 6th cent.) comes entirely from a chapter in St. Gregory the Great's _Dialogues_ (3. 16).  This tells us that Martin was a recently deceased hermit monk of great holiness and divine favor who had lived very ascetically in a cave that he had enlarged high up on an elevation called Mons Marsicus (location not further specified), that numerous people characterized by Gregory as "of us" (_ex nostris_) had witnessed his deeds, that pope Pelagius II was one of Gregory's informants about him, and that many, lay as well as religious, had sought his advice.  Gregory relates several miracles exemplifying Martin's exceptional nature, the first being that for three years he resisted diabolic temptation in the form of a serpent that tried in vain to scare him into leaving the cave that it too had begun to inhabit.  Still according to Gregory, when the serpent finally despaired of success it threw itself down the mountain, burning all the wooded vineyards (_arbusta_) along its slope.  We should not think this creature tiny.

Gregory also says, near the end of this chapter, that in order to limit his freedom of movement Martin had chained one of his feet to the rock of the cave, that St. Benedict upon hearing of this had sent word to Martin that he should bind himself with the chain of Christ rather than with one of iron, that Martin then removed the physical chain but remained bound to the same spatial limits as before, and that he then began to have disciples (though these did not live in his cave).

Though there are several mountains in Italy that have been called Mons Marsicus, from at least the central Middle Ages onward the usual assumption has been that the one in question is the elevation in northern Campania now called Monte Massico:

From at least the tenth century onward and perhaps from as early as the eighth there was a monastery on Monte Massico named after Martin, the _monasterium Sancti Martini in Clivo Montis Marsici_ (or _... in Monte Marsico_), located within what in 1087 became the diocese of Carinola (now part of the diocese of Sessa); it has left some visible remains including a cave clearly interpreted medievally as the one in which Martin had lived.  On the latter especially see Alessandra Acconci and Michele Piccirillo, "L’oratorio rupestre di San Martino in clivo montis Marsici, Monte Massico (Caserta)", _Arte medievale_, N.S. 4 (2005), no. 2, pp. 9-30.  In the tenth century, if not earlier, the monastery had come into the possession of the abbey of San Vincenzo al Volturno.  Not far away was St. Benedict's own monastery at Montecassino.  In the late eleventh and earlier twelfth centuries all three -- Carinola, San Vincenzo al Volturno, Montecassino -- produced accounts of translations under their auspices of Martin's remains and San Vincenzo added for good measure a supposed earlier failed attempt at a translation by a civil power, the principality of Benevento, in the later eighth century.  The best single treatment of these Campanian appropriations of Martin's putative remains Erich Caspar's _Petrus diaconus und die Monte Cassineser Fälschungen.  Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des italienischen Geisteslebens im Mittelalter _ (Berlin: J. Springer, 1909), pp. 81-93.

San Vincenzo al Volturno, followed by Montecassino (in the person of Peter the Deacon, whose highly tendentious and extremely unreliable Vita of Martin [BHL 5604] still finds echoes in "popular" accounts of this saint), also gave voice to a story whereby the saint had protected his monastery on Monte Massico from an attack by Muslim raiders (in the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries institutional memories at San Vincenzo and at Montecassino of their late ninth-century sacks by such raiders were very strong).

Today (3. August) is Martin of Mons Marsicus' day of commemoration in the Roman Martyrology.

St. Martin of Mons Marsicus as depicted in an earlier sixteenth-century fresco in the basilica di Santa Maria di Foro Claudio, situated in what is now Ventaroli di Carinola (CE):
Detail view:
An illustrated, Italian-language introduction to the paintings in this church:

John Dillon
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