November is coming and maybe you know that November 11th is the day dedicated to San Martino (Saint Martin).

It is celebrated all over Italy, however in Venice it is a special occasion for children because it's the only moment of the year when you can taste the famous San Martino biscuit.

Would you know more?

The Feast of San Martino in Venice: the celebration that started with the legend of the cloak

the legend of saint martin and the cloak
Alms by Martin of Tours bronze relief by Andrea Briosco in the Galleria Franchetti,Ca' d'Oro, Venice (This Photo was taken by Wolfgang Moroder, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Saint Martin is one of the most popular saints of the Christian tradition. In fact, Saint Martin's day, at the beginning of November, is still celebrated in many European countries.

But who was Saint Martin?

Martin, born in the present-day Hungary at the time of the Roman Empire in the IV century, was the son of a military man. He was still a child when he moved, together with his family, in the Italian city of Pavia.

However, due to the Edict of Milan in 331, all the sons of veterans (like Martin's father was) were forced to join the Roman army. So Martin entered the Scholae and had to move to Amiens in the present day France. He spent most of his life here, where he had to maintain the public order.

One night, while doing the daily patrol, something happened that changed his life forever.

The legend of Martin, the cloak and the poor man

During his horseback patrol, he met a very poor man covered only with a few rags. It was such a cold and rainy night that Martin do not hesitate.

He got off the horse and with his sword cut his beautiful cloak into half and gave one of the two pieces to the poor man.

He just decided to share with the poor man all it had at the moment, as he had found himself without money or food.

And thus Martin embraced the Christianity

Legend has it that the following night he dreamt of Jesus telling him that he was the very poor man he had covered the night before. Thus Martin embraced the Christian religion.

His military cloak has become a great medieval relic and Martin has become the patron saint of Tours.

But there's another story related to the Saint...

"L' estate di San Martino": the so called "Summer of Saint Martin"

In Venice the first days of November are called the "estate di San Martino", where "estate" simply means "summer". It indicates a short period of warm and sunny days that precede the cold winter days. Why is that so?

It seems that shortly after the charitable gesture of Martin a warm sun enlightened the dark and cold night.

Saint Martin's day in Venice: the long tradition of the Feast of San Martino

Church of San Martino in Venice
The facade of the Church of San Martino in Venice (Zairon, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

In Venice there's a church dedicated to the saint himself: it's the Church of Saint Martin in the Castello Sestiere, not far from the Venetian Arsenale (and thus the Biennale).

In the facade of the church there still is a bas-relief that recalls the episode of the cloak.

However, St Martin's day is celebrated in many more ways, especially by local children.

St Martin's: the feast of charity and children

As it is the day to remember the most needy people, centuries ago in Venice on November 11th the most poor people used to go under the windows of the houses making noise, hoping for some hot food, wine or money.

With the passage of time, this tradition was embraced by the children who, wearing wreaths and funny cloaks, went around the city looking for sweets.

Typically kids used to sing this traditional nursery rhyme in Venetian dialect (the beginning of which we try to translate here):

"St. Martin went to the attic to see his fiancée, his fiancée was not there, San Martin with his ass on the floor, and with our bag, we sing you St. Martin!"
The biscuit dedicated to San Martino
The biscuit dedicated to San Martino (Holapaco77, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons)

In our guide on the best sweets to eat in Venice, we also mentioned the typical biscuit of San Martino.

This is the main tradition that still survives in Venice related to the feast of November 11th.

In case you visit Venice in November, you will surely see that the local pastry shops display great cookies in the shape of a knight riding his horse. This cookie is prepared every year to remember children and kids of the generosity of the saint. And thus because it's very good!

It's made of shortcrust pastry which, once baked, is covered by all kinds of sweets, from chocolate to candies.

The result is a great colored biscuit which makes so many kids happy year after day on November 11th.

Would you try the San Martino biscuit next time you'll be in Venice?

Share this post