By martyrology is understood a catalogue of martyrs and saints arranged according to the order of their feasts, i.e., according to the calendar. Since the time when the commemorations of martyrs, to which were added those of bishops, began to be celebrated, each Church had its special martyrology. Little by little these local lists were enriched by names borrowed from neighbouring Churches, and when the era of martyrs was definitively closed, those were introduced who had shone in the community by the sanctity of their life and notably by the practice of asceticism. We still possess the martyrology, or ferial, of the Roman Church of the middle of the fourth century, comprising two distinct lists, the “Depositio martyrum” and the “Depositio episcoporum”, lists which are elsewhere most frequently found united. Among the Roman martyrs mention is already made in the “Ferial” of some African martyrs (7 March, Perpetua and Felicitas; 14 September, Cyprian). The calendar of Carthage which belongs to the sixth century contains a larger portion of foreign martyrs and even of confessors not belonging to that Church. Local martyrologies record exclusively the custom of a particular Church. The name of calendars is sometimes given to them, but this is a mere question of words. Besides special martyrologies, of which very few types have reached us, there are general martyrologies which are of the nature of a compilation. They are formed by the combination of several local martyrologies, with or without borrowings from literary sources. The most celebrated and important of the representatives of this class is the martyrology commonly called Hieronymian, because it is erroneously attributed to Saint Jerome. It was drawn up in Italy in the second half of the fifth century, and underwent recension in Gaul, probably at Auxerre, about A.D. 600. All the manuscripts we possess of the “Hieronymian Martyrology” spring from this Gallican recension. Setting aside the additions which it then received, the chief sources of the “Hieronymian” are a general martyrology of the Churches of the East, the local martyrology of the Church of Rome, a general martyrology of Italy, a general martyrology of Africa, and some literary sources, among them Eusebius. The manuscript tradition of the document is in inexplicable confusion, and the idea of restoring the text in its integrity must be abandoned. Of course when any part of the text is restored, there arises the further problem of determining the origin of that portion before pronouncing on its documentary value.
The “Hieronymian Martyrology” and those resembling it in form show signs of hurried compilation. The notices consist mostly of a topographical rubric preceding the name of the saint, e.g. “III id. ian. Romæ, in cymiterio Callisti, via Appia, depositio Miltiadis episcopi”. There is another type of martyrology in which the name is followed by a short history of the saint. These are the historical martyrologies. There exists a large number of them, the best known being those of Bede (eighth century), and Rhabanus Maurus, Florus, Adon, and Usuard, all of the ninth century. Without dwelling here on the relations between them, it may be said that their chief sources are, besides the “Hieronymian”, accounts derived from the Acts of the martyrs and some ecclesiastical authors. The present Roman Martyrology is directly derived from the historical martyrologies. It is in sum the martyrology of Usuard completed by the “Dialogues” of Saint Gregory and the works of some of the Fathers, and for the Greek saints by the catalogue which is known as the “Menologion” of Sirlet. The editio princeps appeared at Rome in 1583, under the title: “Martyrologium romanum ad novam kalendarii rationem et ecclesiasticæ historiæ veritatem restitutum, Gregorii XIII pont. max. iussu editum”. It bears no approbation. A second edition also appeared at Rome in the same year. This was soon replaced by the edition of 1584, which was approved and imposed on the entire Church by Gregory XIII. Baronius revised and corrected this work and republished it in 1586, with the “Notationes” and the “Tractatio de Martyrologio Romano”. The Antwerp edition of 1589 was corrected in some places by Baronius himself. A new edition of the text and the notes took place under Urban VIII and was published in 1630. Benedict XIV was also interested in the Roman Martyrology. The Bull addressed to John V, King of Portugal, dated 1748 (it is to be found at the beginning of the modern editions of the “Martyrology”), makes known the importance of the changes introduced in the new edition, which is in substance and except for the changes made necessary by new canonizations, the one in use today.
With the historical martyrologies are connected the great Greek synaxaries, the arrangement and genesis of which makes them an inportant counterpart. But the literature of the synaxaries, which comprises also the books of that category belonging to the various Oriental Rites, requires separate treatment. Worthy of mention, as in some way being included in the preceding categories, are a number of martyrologies or calendars of some special interest, whether considered as documents more or less important for the history of the veneration of saints, or regarded as purely artificial compilations. We may refer to the provisory list drawn up at the beginning of Vol. I for November of the “Acta SS.” Particularly interesting, however, is the marble calendar of Naples, at present in the archdiocesan chapel, and which is the object of the lengthy commentaries of Mazocchi and of Sabbatini; the metrical martyrology of Wandelbert of Prûm (ninth century), of which Dümmler published a critical edition; the martyrology which it has been agreed to call the “Little Roman”, contemporary with Ado, who made it known, and which must be mentioned because of the importance which was for a long time attached to it, wrongly, as recent researches have proved. Among the artificial compilations which have been given the title of martyrologies may be mentioned as more important the “Martyrologium Gallicanum” of André du Saussay (Paris, 1637), the “Catalogus Sanctorum Italiæ” of Philip Ferrari (Milan, 1613), the “Martyrologium Hispanum” of Tamayo (Lyons, 1651-59); the last-named must be consulted with great caution. The universal martyrology of Chastelain (Paris, 1709) represents vast researches.
The critical study of martyrologies is rendered very difficult by the multitude and the disparate character of the elements which compose them. Early researches dealt with the historical martyrologies. The notes of Baronius on the Roman Martyrology cannot be passed over in silence, the work being the result of vast and solid erudition which has done much towards making known the historical sources of the compilations of the Middle Ages. In 1613 Roswyde published at Antwerp a good edition of Ado, preceded by the “Little Roman” which he called “Vetus Romanum”. It was only replaced by that of Giorgi (Rome, 1745), based on new manuscripts and enriched with notes. In Vol. II for March of the “Acta SS.” (1668) the Bollandists furnished new materials for martyrological criticism by their publication entitled “Martyrologium venerabilis Bedæ presbyteri ex octo antiquis manuscriptis acceptum cum auctario Flori …”. The results which seemed then to have been achieved were in part corrected, in part rendered more specific, by the great work of Père Du Sollier, “Martyrologium Usuardi monachi” (Antwerp, 1714), published in parts in Vols. VI and VII for June of the “Acta SS.” Although some have criticized Du Sollier for his text of Usuard, the edition far surpasses anything of the kind previously attempted, and considering the resources at his disposal and the methods of the time when it was prepared, it may be regarded as a masterpiece. Quite recently D. Quentin has taken up the general question and has succeeded in giving a reasonable solution, thanks to a very deep and careful study of the manuscripts.
For a long time the study of the “Hieronymian Martyrology” yielded few results, and the edition of F. M. Fiorentini, accompanied by a very erudite historical commentary, caused it to make no notable progress. It was the publication of the Syriac Martyrology discovered by Wright, which gave the impetus to a series of researches which still continue. Father Victor De Buck signalizes the relationship of this martyrology to the “Hieronymian Martyrology”. This fact, which escaped the first editor, is of assistance in recognizing the existence of a general martyrology of the Orient, written in Greek at Nicomedia, and which served as a source for the “Hieronymian”. In 1885 De Rossi and Duchesne published a memoir entitled “Les sources du martyrologe hiéronymien”, which became the starting- point of a critical edition of the martyrology, published through their efforts in Vol. II for November of the “Acta SS.” in 1894. But little criticism has been devoted to the Roman Martyrology which has become an official book, its revision being reserved to the Roman Curia. Every effort devoted to the study of the “Hieronymian”, the historical martyrologies, and the Greek “Synaxaria” helps the study of this compilation, which is derived from them. Attention may be called to the large commentary on the Roman Martyrology, by Alexander Politi (Florence, 1751). Only the first volume, containing the month of January, has appeared.
- Hippolyte Delehaye. “Martyrology”. . CatholicSaints.Info. 24 December 2015. Web. 5 December 2016. <>