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A martyrology is a catalogue or list of martyrs (or, more precisely, of saints), arranged in the calendar order of their anniversaries or feasts. Local martyrologies record exclusively the custom of a particular Church. Local lists were enriched by names borrowed from neighbouring churches. Consolidation occurred, by the combination of several local martyrologies, with or without borrowings from literary sources.

This is the now accepted meaning in the Latin Church. In the Orthodox Church the nearest equivalent to the martyrology is the Synaxarion, and the longer Menologion.[1] As regards form, one should distinguish between simple martyrologies that simply enumerate names, and historical martyrologies, which also include stories or biographical details; for the latter, the terms passionary and passionary are also used.


Oldest examples

The martyrology, or ferial, of the Roman Church in the middle of the fourth century still exists. It comprises two distinct lists, the Depositio martyrum and the Depositio episcoporum, lists most frequently found united.

Among the Roman martyrs mention is already made in the Ferial of some African martyrs (March 7, Perpetua and Felicitas; September 14, 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

The major representative of the class of Local martyrologies is the martyrology commonly called Hieronymian, because it is (erroneously) attributed to St. 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 known manuscripts of this Hieronymian Martyrology spring from this Gallican recension.

Setting aside the additions it later 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 confusion, and the idea of restoring the text in its integrity must be abandoned.

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".

Historical martyrologies

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, from the ninth century. It may be said that their chief sources are, besides the Hieronymian, accounts derived from the Acts of the martyrs and some ecclesiastical authors.

Of the best-known historical martyrologies, the oldest go under the names of

The most famous of all is that of Usuard (c. 875), Martyrology of Usuard, on which the Roman martyrology was based.

The first edition of the Roman martyrology appeared at Rome in 1583 The third edition, which appeared in 1584, was approved by Gregory XIII, who imposed the Roman martyrology upon the whole Church. In 1586 Baronius published his annotated edition, which in spite of its omissions and inaccuracies is a mine of valuable information.

The historical martyrologies taken as a whole have been studied by Dom Quentin (1908). There are also numerous editions of calendars or martyrologies of less universal interest, and commentaries upon them. Mention ought to be made of the famous marble calendar of Naples[5]


The critical study of martyrologies is rendered difficult by the multitude and the disparate character of the elements that compose them. Early researches dealt with the historical martyrologies.

The chief works on the martyrologies are those of Heribert Rosweyde, who in 1613 published at Antwerp the martyrology of Ado [6]; of Sollerius, to whom we owe a learned edition of Usuard [7]; and of Fiorentini, who published in 1688 an annotated edition of the Martyrology of St Jerome. The critical edition of the latter by J. B. de Rossi and Louis Duchesne, was published in 1894.[8]

The notes of Baronius on the Roman Martyrology cannot be passed over in silence, the work having done much towards making known the historical sources of the compilations of the Middle Ages. In Vol. II for March of the "Acta Sanctorum" (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 then 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 Sanctorum."

Although criticize Du Sollier for his text of Usuard, the edition surpasses anything of the kind previously attempted. Henri Quentin (Les Martyrologes historiques du moyen âge, Paris, 1908) took up the general question and succeeded in giving a reasonable solution, thanks to careful study of the manuscripts.


As regards documents, the most important distinction is between local and general martyrologies. The former give a list of the festivals of some particular Church; the latter are the result of a combination of several local martyrologies. We may add certain compilations of a factitious character, to which the name of martyrology is given by analogy, e.g. the Martyrologe universel of Chatelain (1709). As types of local martyrologies we may quote that of Rome, formed from the Depositio martyrum and the Depositio episcoporum of the chronograph of 354; the Gothic calendar of IJililas Bible, the calendar of Carthage published by Mabillon, the calendar of fasts and vigils of the Church of Tours, going back as far as Bishop Perpetuus (d. 490), and preserved in the Historia Francorum (xi. 31) of Gregory of Tours. The Syriac martyrology discovered by Wright (Journal of Sacred Literature, 1866) gives the idea of a general martyrology.

Liturgically, the Martyrology is read in the Divine Office at Prime, always anticipated, that is, the reading for the following day is read. With the suppression of Prime in the Liturgy of the Hours following Vatican II, the book is not used liturgically in the new rite, although the custom exists in some places, including the United States, of reading the entry for the birth of Jesus before midnight Mass on Christmas.

The Roman Martyrology

The Roman Martyrology is directly derived from the historical martyrologies. It is in sum the Martyrology of Usuard, completed by the "Dialogues" of Pope Gregory I and the works of some of the Fathers, and for the Greek saints by the catalogue 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 Roman rite of the Church by Pope 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 Pope Urban VIII and was published in 1630. Pope Benedict XIV was also interested in the Roman Martyrology: his Bull of 1748 addressed to John V, King of Portugal, long prefaced printings of the Roman Martyrology.

A fully revised edition was issued in 2001, followed in 2005 by a version that adjusted a number of typographical errors that appeared in the 2001 edition and added 117 people canonized or beatified between 2001 and 2004, as well as many more ancient saints not included in the previous edition. "The updated Martyrology contains 7,000 saints and blesseds currently venerated by the Church, and whose cult is officially recognized and proposed to the faithful as models worthy of imitation."[9]

The Martyrologium Hieronymianum

The most important ancient martyrology preserved to the present day is the Martyrologium Hieronymianum, a compilation falsely attributed to Jerome, which in its present form goes back to the end of the sixth century. It is the result of the combination of a general martyrology of the Eastern Churches, a local martyrology of the Church of Rome, some general martyrologies of Italy and Africa, and a series of local martyrologies of Gaul. The task of critics is to distinguish between its various constituent elements. Unfortunately, this document has reached us in a lamentable condition. The proper flames are distorted, repeated or misplaced, and in many places the text is so corrupt that it is impossible to understand it. With the exception of a few traces of borrowings from the Passions of the martyrs, the compilation is in the form of a simple martyrology.

For a long time the study of the Hieronymian Martyrology yielded few results, and the edition of F. M. Fiorentini (Vetustius occidentalis ecclesiæ martyrologium, Lucca, 1668), 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 (Journal of Sacred Literature, 1866, 45 sqq.), which gave the impetus to a series of researches that still continue. Father Victor De Buck ("Acta SS.", Octobris, XII, 185, and elsewhere) 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 (in Mélanges d'archéologie et d'histoire, V), 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.

Further comments

  • There is a list drawn up at the beginning of Vol. I for November of the Acta Sanctorum.
  • Among the compilations given the title of martyrologies are the Martyrologium Gallicanum of André du Saussay (Paris, 1637), the Catalogus Sanctorum Italiæ of Philip Ferrari (Milan, 1613), the Martyrologium Hispanum of Tamayo (Lyon, 1651–1659) (consulted with caution). The universal martyrology of Chastelain (Paris, 1709) represents vast researches.


  1. ^ The Greek synaxaries are a counterpart. The literature of the synaxaries comprises also the books of that category belonging to the various Oriental rites (see Analecta Bollandiana, XIV, 396 sqq.; Hippolyte Delehaye, Synaxarium ecclesiæ Constantinopolitanæ Propylæum ad Acta Sanctorum novembris, 1902).
  2. ^ Acta sanctorum Marlii, vol. ii.
  3. ^ A metrical martyrology, of which Dümmler published a critical edition (Monumenta Germaniæ, Poetæ lat., II, 578-602).
  4. ^ c. 896 v. Analecte bollandiana, xvii. If
  5. ^ It is at present in the archdiocesan chapel, and is the object of the lengthy commentaries of Mazocchi (Commentarii in marmoreum Neapol. Kalendarium, Naples, 1755, 3 vols) and of Sabbatini (Il vetusto calendario napolitano, Naples, 1744, 12 vols.)
  6. ^ Roswyde's edition of Ado was preceded by the "Little Roman," which he called "Vetus Romanum". It was only replaced by that of Giorgi (Rome, 1745), based on new MSS. and enriched with notes.
  7. ^ Acta sanctorum Junii, vols. vi. and vii.
  8. ^ In vol. ii. of the Acta sanctorum Novembris.
  9. ^ Adoremus Bulletin, February 2005

See also

External links


  • Charles de Smedt, Introductio generalis ad historiam ecclesiasticam (Gandavi, 1876), pp. 127–156
  • H. Matagne and V. de Buck in De Backer, Bibliothèque des écrivains de la Compagnie de Jesus, 2nd ad., vol. iii. pp. 369–387
  • Giovanni Battista de Rossi, Louis Duchesne Les Sources du martyrologe hiéronymien (Rome, 1885)
  • Hans Achelis, Die Martyrologien, ihre Geschichte und ihr Wert (Berlin, 1900)
  • Hippolyte Delehaye, Le Temoignage des martyrologes, in Analecta Bollandiana, xxvi. 7899 (1907)
  • Henri Quentin, Les martyrologies historiques du moyen âge (Paris, 1908)
  • M. Guidere, Les Martyrs d'Al-Qaida, Paris: Editions du Temps, 2006, 240p.


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

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From martyr + -ology.




martyrology (plural martyrologies)

  1. (Roman Catholicism) A catalogue or list of martyrs (or, more precisely, of saints), arranged in the order of their anniversaries.
  2. (Judaism) The story of the deaths of several famous Rabbis (including Rabbi Akiva) by Romans, read both on Yom Kippur and Tisha b'Av.


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Related terms

  • Synaxarium

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