The Roman Martyrology – editions and origins

The Roman Martyrology or Martyrologium Romanum is one of the service books of the Roman Catholic church.  It contains a list of martyrs, organised by the date on which they are commemorated, with a short notice of their life and death.  In the daily church service, there is a point at which the martyr or martyrs for the day can be remembered, and the Roman Martyrology supplies the necessary text.[1]

The full title of the work is Martyrologium Romanum ad novam kalendarii rationem et ecclesiasticae historiae veritatem restitutum (Roman Martyrology, by the new reckoning of the calendar, and the truth of church history restored).  This was part of a programme of work on liturgical texts, headed by Cardinal Sirleto.  In 1580 Baronius and others on the commission drew up the list of martyrs to be included.[2]

According to the old Catholic Encyclopedia (here), this first printed edition appeared in 1583 – Romae : ex typographia Dominici Basae; excudebat Franciscus Zannettus, MDLXXXIII. It is dedicated to Pope Gregory XIII.  A second edition appeared, also at Rome in the same year, but I’m not sure how to distinguish it from the first.  One of these is online here.  The title page has only brief details:

But the colophon at the end gives us a little more, including the date of printing – the 26th May.

Other editions appeared at Venice and Lyons in the same year.

On 14 January 1584 Pope Gregory XIII issued a breve entitled “Emendato iam kalendario”, ordering the use of the revised edition.

In 1586 a further revised edition appeared, to which Baronius added a Tractatio de Martyrologio Romano.  (Online here), and Baronius himself revised it further in the Antwerp edition of 1589.

In 1630, Urban VIII produced a new edition.

Finally in 1748 there appeared the version of Benedict XIV, which remained the standard version until very recently (I couldn’t find this online, but a transcription of the Latin is here).  An English translation of this appeared in the USA at some date.  I was able to find editions from 1869 (online here), 1897 (online here), and 1916 (online here), although I do not know whether these are the same.

After Vatican 2, there was a need for a new edition, purged of legendary material.  This appeared in 2001, at the Vatican press – Martyrologium romanum: ex decreto sacrosancti œcumenici Concilii Vaticani II instauratum auctoritate Ioannis Pauli PP. II promulgatum. Editio typica.

There is a useful article online about the Martyrologium Romanum – G. Marino, “Approaching the Martyrologium Romanum: A semiotic perspective”,  in: Lexia. Rivista di semiotica, 31–32 (2018), 175-275 (online here and here).

The material contained in the Roman Martyrology is derived from many sources, and grew organically over a period of a thousand years, in manuscript.  Much of this period was a time of ignorance and superstition.  The value of the information provided is of very questionable historical value.  Duplicate entries for martyrs abound.  There is a useful but very old article by E.C. Butler, “Achelis on the martyrologies: Die Martyrologien, ihre Geschichte und ihr Wert: untersucht von H. Achelis. 247 pp. (Berlin, 1900.)”, JTS os-2 (1901), 447-458, which summarises work on the text to that date.  More recent overviews must exist, but these are unknown to me.

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  1. [1]My apologies to Roman Catholic readers who will know all this and more.  But protestants have very little idea about the manuals used by the Roman Catholic Church.
  2. [2]Katherine Van Liere &c (ed), Sacred History: Uses of the Christian Past in the Renaissance World, 2012, p.55.  Link to Preview.  See also

3 thoughts on “The Roman Martyrology – editions and origins

  1. There’s a lot of different things going on with the Roman Martyrology. It focuses primarily on Rome still, despite being usable universally, and it doesn’t include all the saints from all the Rites in union with the pope, yet. (Partly because we’ve gotten back in union with so many groups in the last two hundred years or so.)

    Depending on where you’re from, it may leave out a lot of important documented saints that have always been recognized by your own Catholic bishops. That’s part of why every diocese/archdiocese still puts out their own local calendars, including all their local saints, as well as each of the days of remembrance for all their deceased priests and bishops. Most religious orders do the same. (And beyond that, it’s very common for priests to get permission to commemorate saints from the calendars of other places, if there is a lot of interest among parishioners.)

    There are also lots of local calendar feasts for titular memorials associated with apparitions of Jesus or the saints, with famous miracles and thanksgivings for great events, and for the discoveries of miraculous images or statues. Some of them get big enough to make it onto the universal calendar or the Roman martyrology, but it’s usually just “local in lots of different places where the devotion has gone.”

    Duplication often turned out to be the same person being celebrated on different traditional days in different places (often associated with translation of their relics or the dedication days of their churches), and sometimes with the name of the earliest saint being given to lots of kids born in that place, for century upon century, and thus getting more saints with the same name (especially if the kid were born on the saint’s day). Sometimes local calendars just coagulate all the same name people on the same day, on purpose, unless one of them is outstandingly famous in a way that surpasses the original bearer of the name.

    But the most important thing is to remember that the Roman Martyrology is indeed a liturgical book and a reference book, not a sourcebook. There are other books for that. It can be used as a starting point, but that’s about it.

  2. Just like the first edition, the last one had to be quickly revised and republished. From Wikipedia: “followed in 2004 by a revision that corrected some typographical errors in the 2001 edition and added 117 people canonized or beatified between 2001 and 2004, as well as a considerable number of ancient saints not included in the previous edition.”

    The list of the changes (in Latin) can be found here:

    http://notitiae.ipsissima-verba.org/pdf/notitiae-2005-24-63.pdf

    Neither an English nor a French edition have been published, as far as I’m aware (Canadian here). Of course, by the time they are, they will be out-of-date as well…

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