In the Communion Rite of the Holy Mass, the words of the Roman centurion to Jesus in Capernaum are invoked: “Lord, I am not worthy to have You come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed” (Mt 8:8). But he is not the only Roman soldier frequently remembered in churches.
In the mid-fourth century, St. Martin of Tours (316-397), a young Roman soldier, enlisted in the Imperial cavalry. He was the son of a high-ranking army officer and was a catechumen of the Catholic Church, preparing for Baptism. One day, during a harsh winter, as he arrived at the gates of Amiens, in Gaul, he encountered a homeless beggar in peril. Taking the words of Our Lord literally, Martin tore his cloak down the middle and gave half to the needy man. On that same night, Our Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him in a dream clad in the portion of the cape he had given the beggar. This was the Redeemer’s way of thanking him for his act of generosity.
Martin was baptized and later became Bishop of Tours. He gained such a reputation for holiness that the half of the cape that he had kept—which was called a cappella, that is, a capelet—was put in a reliquary and preserved in a shrine where it could be seen and venerated by the faithful. It was not long before this shrine came to be called a cappella. And, with time, this term came to designate any smaller-scale places of worship. ″