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The painting of Saint Martin of Tours

Saint-Martin-paintingMany paintings have been prepared of Saint Martin of Tours . Many depict the event in Martin's life, which is most famous: i.e. the encounter with the poor man, with whom he shared his mantel by cutting it into two pieces. In these paintings Martin is usually portrayed sitting on his horse and handing over the piece of mantel to the beggar. The painting hanging in St. Martin-CSA's hall portrays the same event, though when seeing the picture one will immediately notice some striking features, making the painting to be very precious to us because it depicts our spirit of working.
When looking closely into the painting, one will notice some writings. These writings are quotations in English and Kiswahili from the bible, which are part of the biblical basis of St. Martin-CSA, such as: "Freely you received, freely give" and "Anything you did to the least of my brothers, you did it to me". These writings were engraved on the first coat the artist painted on the canvas. For him they were like a prayer: he wanted to be inspired by the writings while creating this piece of art. In the same way we can be inspired by the gospel of service while doing our work for the poor.
Contrary to many paintings of Saint Martin of Tours, in this picture Martin does not sit on his horse: he kneels down to share his mantel with the poor man. Both sit at the same level; they are equals and they look in each other's eyes with love. The sharing of the mantel is not an act of charity only; it is an act of love. When we work with the poor, we should lower ourselves to their level and first and foremost love them for whom they are.
The most striking thing on the painting is the way the poor man is portrayed. He does not look miserable, thin and dirty. Instead he looks healthy and strong; he is a smart young man. He is even the most central figure in the picture: we can see his face clearly. This is to visualise the idea that we need to see the poor and the weak differently. The poor and the weak are not only a problem; they are not only miserable; they have their own dignity and can be a resource as well. It is the poor who can help us change our hearts: to increase in love, to grow in solidarity. Martin helped the poor man with his mantel, but in the process the poor man did something even greater to Martin: he helped him to change; he helped in his conversion.
The change in Martin can be seen in the dark and light side of the painting. On the left we still see part of his horse, standing in the shade, representing his past, the way he used to live. He used to consider himself an important and respected person; he was mainly concerned about himself. But, the encounter with the poor man became a humbling experience for him; he turned into a different person, who could share in love his life with those who were less fortunate. This is visualised by the bright side of the picture, the side that Martin is facing.
Looking carefully at the faces of Martin and the poor man, we will notice that they have the same face. They look alike. This visualizes that we are neither entirely strong not entirely weak. We could identify ourselves with both persons. We could identify ourselves with Martin when we desire to share our mantel with the poor man, when we desire in St. Martin-CSA to work with the poor. But, we could also identify ourselves with the poor man, which at times is more difficult for us to imagine. At times we come to realise that we are unable; that we have weaknesses and that we need to be helped; that our love is insufficient; that we are not able to open ourselves and our hearts to others; that we fear and build all kind of defence mechanisms because of fear to be hurt or because of fear to loose.
Martin has put his sword, his weapon of defence aside. He does not need it anymore in his new way of life. The weapon that he needs is love. In the painting the weapon becomes a cross (the shadow on the ground): i.e. that we are called to implement the gospel of service, to follow the path of Jesus, who was full of God's love for mankind.
The face of Martin and the face of the poor man is a self-portrait of the artist. In this way he made himself part of this special encounter of Martin with the poor man, taking part in this moment of sharing. We could all place our faces in the picture, becoming part of such encounter, experiencing the love between the two.
The painting does not show the environment in which the encounter took place: it is a timeless event; the same can happen again in all places and under different circumstances. In meeting the poor, we have a chance every day again to make a change in our lives: to grow in love and to grow solidarity.

This painting was specifically made for St. Martin-CSA by Giovanni Canova.

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