The practice of observing a period of repentance prior to the celebration of the Easter feast is one of the oldest and longstanding traditions in the Church. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, where we are literally marked with a symbol of penitence, culminating six weeks later in the celebration of our Lord’s Resurrection.
However, two other Lenten traditions exist within the Church: Saint Michael’s Lent, and Saint Martin’s Lent.
Saint Michael’s Lent
Saint Michael’s Lent is a period of fasting observed from the Feast of the Assumption on August 15th to Michaelmas, also known as the Feast of Saint Michael on September 29th.
Saint Michael’s Lent came from the Franciscan tradition, when Saint Francis of Assisi began the practice during the last two years of his life when he and his fellow brothers set out to fast at Mount La Verna. Saint Bonaventure wrote in his biography on the beginning of the tradition:
“[He] was brought after many and varied toils unto a high mountain apart, that is called Mount Alverna. When, according unto his wont he began to keep a Lent there, fasting, in honor of Saint Michael Archangel, he was filled unto overflowing, and as never before, with the sweetness of heavenly contemplation.”
Saint Martin’s Lent
In the 6th century, Church councils began instituting fasts on all days except Saturday and Sunday from Martinmas, the Feast of Saint Martin of Tours on November 11th, to Epiphany on January 6th.
Given its weekend breaks, the fast was called the Quadragesima Sancti Martini meaing Saint Martin’s Lent, literally “the fortieth of.”
Rarely observed, Saint Martin’s Lent possibly was the advent of Advent: within a few centuries from its institution the beginning was gradually pulled back to the Sunday before December.
As Saint Martin’s Lent became Advent, the strict observance of fasting was relaxed while remaining a season of penitence.
Today, some Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches observe Saint Martin’s Lent.