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 Greek Church the nearest equivalent to the martyrology is the Synaxarium. As regards form, one should distinguish between simple martyrologies, which consist merely of an enumeration of names, and historical martyrologies, which also include stories or biographical details.
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 (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.
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 which 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".
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 are those which go under the names of
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
The critical study of martyrologies is rendered difficult by the multitude and the disparate character of the elements which 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 ; of Sollerius, to whom we owe a learned edition of Usuard ; 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.
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 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 Sanctorum."
Although some have criticized 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.
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.
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.
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 which 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.