Liturgy and learning: the encyclopaedic function of the Old English Martyrology

John Gallagher*

*Corresponding author for this work

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This article examines the broad, encyclopaedic ambit of the scholarly information contained in the ninth-century Old English Martyrology. Martyrologies generally serve as para-liturgical resources outlining the contours of the liturgical year and the biographies of the saints commemorated throughout its course. However, the Old English Martyrology, the earliest European example of a vernacular, prose martyrology, adapts the genre into a more multivalent, scholarly handbook that instructs and informs its users—generally, practitioners of the liturgy—in a variety of topics. Subjects covered in the text include geography, language, hagiography, temporal reckoning, computus, astronomy, cosmology, meteorology, science, liturgy, and learning of a general Christian nature pertaining to the saints and the liturgical year. The present volume considers the impact of liturgy upon various facets of medieval intellectual, cultural, religious, political, and social life. The article at hand considers how the liturgical year is used as the framework around which instruction, edification, and general ecclesiastical learning might be imparted. While liturgical texts generally constitute formulae to be enacted by practitioners, para-liturgical resources provide background information that is germane to the liturgy, the liturgical year, and ecclesiastical life. This article begins with an examination of the development of the kalendar of the saints and the genre and form of the martyrology. It moves on to examine the different types of scholarly learning contained in the Old English Martyrology, the purpose of such details for the professional religious user, and what this information tells us about the text’s application. Overall, this article considers the Old English Martyrology as an interdisciplinary manual dealing with liturgy, the liturgical cycle of the saints, and the subjects it impinges upon.
Original languageEnglish
Article number236
Number of pages23
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 10 Mar 2022


  • Liturgy
  • Martrology
  • Calendars
  • Encyclopaedic writing


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