It’s the time of year when the Sint Maarten Feest (St. Martin’s festival) takes place around town for about a week. There are theater groups, activities, plays, parades, and tonight there is a sort of trick-or-treat activity, in which little kids go around with lanterns singing songs and receiving candy.
It’s all in celebration of St. Martin of Tours. He was remembered for slicing off half of his military cloak in order to give it to a beggar in rags (the military didn’t allow him to give the whole cloak away). That night he had a dream that Jesus was wearing the half cloak saying that Martin had clothed him. Some versions of the story also have the cloak being whole once again when he awoke. Regardless, all of this was supposed to have played a major role in Martin being confirmed in his piety and being baptized.
St. Martin is a well-known Catholic saint and in fact, the cathedral in Utrecht is named for him. He’s also the patron saint of Utrecht and his sliced cloak of red and white is the symbol/shield of Utrecht. The lantern festivities aren’t just here in Utrecht, though obviously it’s particularly popular here.
Last weekend there was a parade with some truly beautiful and impressive lanterns of all sorts of figures and creatures, including a large St. Martin on his horse that lights up beautifully. Sadly, it was starting to rain and the crowds of running, yelling children were getting Charlie a bit anxious, so we didn’t get to see the parade with the lit lanterns, but we saw some of the preparation and enjoyed the other sights and sounds, including some great samba-like drumming. You can see more photos of all of the festivities on the official website and you can see a video of the drumming on my blog’s Facebook page.
Throughout Utrecht, references to Sint Maarten (St. Martin) pop up everywhere. Perhaps not surprising, since he is Utrecht’s patron saint. The cathedral (where the above image is found) was dedicated to Sint Maarten,and the city’s coat of arms/flag is a visual reference to the saint’s history.
I’ve mentioned the city’s red and white flag in the past and how it relates to Sint Maarten. The story goes that Maarten was approached by a beggar on the street. As a poor soldier, Maarten had no money to give and was not allowed to give away his military coat, so he got creative and cut his red coat in half in order to at least share it with the beggar. That night, in a dream, the grateful beggar revealed himself to be Jesus.
The city’s coat of arms (a shield divided diagonally into red and white) and flag (the same diagonal red and white) represent the red cloak and the white undershirt of Maarten.
Although the story may be old, it seems to hold a special place in the heart of one local resident in the Wittevrouwen neighborhood. He recently commissioned a large mural of the saint for the side of his house. At the corner of Zandhofsestraat and Bladstraat, the story of Sint Maarten cutting his coat for the beggar is depicted against the backdrop of the historic old Wittevrouwen city gate.
The mural was created by artists Zinzi Rozema and Marij Nielen (of the Makershuis Maanzaad), along with Jos Peeters. It’s a simple but striking image of two of Utrecht’s great symbols. Rather appropriately, you can even see the Utrecht flag hanging to the left of the mural.
Utrecht, the city, is made up of a number of smaller neighborhoods. Today, they’ve all converged in my neighborhood for a parade, dinner, and party in the park. This is the kickoff to a weekend-long celebration called Vrede in de Buurt (Peace in the Neighborhood). More to come!