Martyr (Gr , a witness), a term applied to all who suffer for any noble cause, but in a more limited sence to those who suffer death in order to bear witness to their religious belief. Some early writers bestowed the name of martyrs on all those who had suffered torture for the faith; more generally, however, it was reserved to such as died under the hand of the executioner, or while enduring imprisonment or exile, all other sufferers being designated as " confessors." It is impossible to fix even approximately the number of the early Christian martyrs. Gibbon endeavored to prove that it was insignificant, but this opinion is not shared by more unprejudiced writers. In most cities where persecution raged, notaries were appointed by the bishops to keep lists of the sufferers, and a record of their trial, sufferings, and death. Of these records many, perhaps most, were destroyed in the persecution of Diocletian, when the Christians were compelled to give up all the books belonging to the churches.
Out of what remained of them, supplemented by the local traditions, were afterward compiled the mar-tyrologies of the principal Greek and Latin churches. (See Acta Sanctokum.) These must not be confounded with church calendars, which merely indicate for each day of the vear the name of the saint whose festival it is. The martyrologies moreover indicate the sort of punishment endured, the place and time of martyrdom, and the name of the presiding magistrate. The "Roman Martyrology" aims at combining a complete list of martyrs and saints, with their "acts," and the days of the month on which their feasts occur. - The memory of the martyrs was held in special honor. The shedding of blood, in the case of unbap-tized sufferers, was considered to be equivalent to baptism. Their tombs were guarded with jealous care and decorated with garlands; chapels were built over them; their anniversaries, called natalitia martyrum, were celebrated with enthusiasm; and it became a rule, when the persecutions ceased, to have the body of some martyr or a portion of his remains beneath the altar of every church. The Roman catacombs contain the remains of large numbers of martyrs.
Prudentius, after mentioning this fact in one of his hymns, asserts that single numerals on the slabs point out to the initiated the chambers in which a number of martyrs were buried together. This fact was verified by Boldetti (Osservazioni sopra i cimiteri de' santi martiri, Rome, 1720), who discovered 150 martyrs entombed in one chamber in the cemetery of Sant' Ermesio, and 500 in a second, that of San Callisto; while Visconti (Sposizione di alcune untiche iscrizioni cristiane, Rome, 1824) designates another chamber containing 118 bodies. From this great storehouse the Roman Catholic churches are chiefly supplied, the altar stone on which the mass is offered always containing a relic of some martyr. - For the process followed in the canonization of martyrs, see Benedict XIV., De Ser-vorum Dei Beatificatione, et Beatorum Ca-nonizatione, abridged in Faber's "Essay on Beatification and Canonization" (London, 1848). On the general subject of early Christian martyrs, see Ruinart, Acta Primitive/, et Sincera Martyrum (fol., Paris, 1689); Nean-der's "Church History;" and Bingham's "Antiquities of the Christian Church." - By Protestants the term martyrs is also applied to those who have suffered death as "heretics" at the hands of Roman Catholics in the persecutions of the Albigenses, the Waldenses, and the reformers in England, France, Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands. In Scotland those who suffered death as Covenanters or Cam-eronians during the persecutions in the reigns of the last Stuart kings are also considered as martyrs.
Fox's " Book of Martyrs," which first appeared in London in 1563," and is still a popular work, details with much minuteness the persecutions of the Protestant reformers by the Roman Catholics in England and Scotland, " from the year of our Lorde a thousande unto the tyme now present." It gives especial prominence to the persecutions in the reign of "bloody Queen Mary," when Cranmer, Latimer, Ridley, and several hundred other Protestants were burned at the stake for their faith.