Saint Martin's Summer

Bas-relief of Saint Martin dividing his cloak with a beggar, Venice
Here in Venice we are enjoying a Saint Martin's summer (Estate di San Martino) or what might be termed in Anglo-Saxon countries as an Indian Summer. The sun has been shining for days and the temperature is well above the seasonal norm. 

Apart from the proximity of the saint's feast day, which falls on Wednesday, it is known as Saint Martin's summer on account of a tale from the saint's life, or rather a variation on that tale.

The story goes that one day Saint Martin (316/336-397) was out riding during a thunderstorm when he came across a semi-naked beggar shivering from the cold. Martin cut his cloak in half to share with the beggar. A little later he saw another beggar in need and gave him the other half of his cloak. At that moment the sky cleared, the sun came out and the weather became much milder. 

The Festa is still a very popular event in Venice, where young children take part in the "batter sanmartin" (to beat Saint Martin). Groups of youngsters, cloaked and crowned, march through the calli and campi, chanting rhymes, banging merrily away on pots and pans and calling on shopkeepers to ask for money. 

One of the rhymes they chant goes like this:

San Martin xe 'ndà in sofita, 
a trovar ea so' novissa,
so' novissa no ghe gera,
San Martin col cùeo par tera,
E col nostro sachetìn,
cari signori xe San Martin,
Fora El Soldin!!!

Saint Martin went up to the attic,
to find his girlfriend, 
His girlfriend wasn’t there, 
Saint Martin fell on his bum, 
Give us something for our bag, 
it’s Saint Martin’s day,
Out with your coins. 
A surer sign than the mild weather that Saint Martin's day is in the offing is when the pastry shops start to sell saint-on-horseback-shaped biscuits, The biscuits, which are decorated with icing and sweets, are traditionally given to Venetian children by their parents or grandparents.  


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