The edifice honoring the grave or memorial (memoria ) of a martyr or witness for Christ. In the early Church the term came into usage with the cult of the martyrs, but was also applied to places where witness had been given by biblical happenings or by Christ himself in His birth, death, Resurrection, and Ascension. Primarily, however, martyrium signified the monument in a grave or cemetery in which a martyr was interred and where his cult was commemorated.
Proud of their martyrs, the primitive Christians strove to provide them with decent burial and the honors accorded the dead that were a feature of life in the ancient world. While the pagans attempted to conceal the fact of death by commemorating the dies natalis, or birthday of the deceased, the Christians quickly changed the meaning of dies natalis from earthly birth of the deceased to the day of entrance into eternal life.
By the middle of the 3rd century there is evidence of a formal veneration of the martyrs that accompanied the development of Christian worship. Prayers originally said for the martyrs came to be directed to the martyrs for
their intercession. Likewise the gathering in the cemetery or at the grave site that was accompanied by a liturgical celebration soon dictated the need for a memorial in the form of a room as in the catacombs or a separate building. The graffiti acclamations honoring SS. Peter and Paul in the Memoria Apostolorum on the Via Appia are the earliest indications of the special martyr cult and of a triclia, or hall-like room, in which ceremonies were performed. The site is an originally pagan cemetery used by Christians, but the origin of the cult cannot be traced with certainty to either an original burial of the Apostles or a possible stay in a house there during their lifetime.
There is question whether the 2d-century monument over the grave of St. Peter in the vatican and the mausoleums and graves of martyrs in Salona and North Africa were originally considered martyria, although they became such in the Constantinian age when churches were built over them.
It is with Constantine and St. Helena that the tradition of erecting a monument over the remains of a martyr truly begins. In Rome basilicas were built over or close to the graves of the martyrs marcellinus and Peter, lawrence, and agnes, which were originally hidden in the catacombs; and on the Vatican and on the Via Ostiense the graves of St. peter and St. paul were likewise so honored. These martyria apparently had no fixed altars and were not used originally for Sunday worship. They were places for begging the intercession of the martyr, and early were used for burial by the imperial family desiring to rest ad sanctos, close to the saints.
The basilicas built as martyria in Palestine to commemorate Christ's birth, Crucifixion, and Ascension were likewise not originally intended for community acts of worship but quickly became places of pilgrimage where the Eucharist was celebrated. At Constantinople, the Church of the 12 Apostles, built by either Constantine I or Constantine II, was enriched with the remains of relics of the Apostle St. Andrew and SS. Luke and Timothy. Further impulse was given to the on-site cult of the martyrs by Pope damasus i (366–384), who composed verses in honor of the martyrs found in the catacombs.
In Milan basilicas were constructed for the remains of SS. Nazarius and Celsus and SS. gervase and protase, which were transferred with solemn rites to their new martyria. The same was done for St. Babylas at Antioch. A rich martyrium was erected at Alexandria for St. Menas, and another at Chalcedon for St. Euphemia at the end of the 4th century; later a basilica in honor of St. John the Evangelist in Ephesus. That the function of witness to Christ was still an important feature of a martyrium is indicated by the fact that the first certain imposition of an altar over the martyr site is met with in the Miracle of the Loaves Church at Genesareth.
In the 5th and 6th centuries the spread of the cult of martyrs led to the reconstruction of older churches and the building of new basilicas as martyria; thus St. paulinus of nola rebuilt the church honoring St. Felix, and at Marusina near Salona a martyrium was built behind the altar over the mausoleum of the original church. This practice led to the attaching of chapels for the relics or remains of saints to older churches. Reliquary chapels were common in North Syria after the 5th century and gradually the custom spread of enclosing parts of the remains of martyrs and saints in mausoleums or beneath the altars of churches in rome, Constantinople, and ravenna and led to the search for martyr graves as is indicated at Padua, Corinth, and cyprus. The architecture of the martyrium seems originally to have imitated the ancient sepulcher architecture, particularly that of the Heroiën, but there was no set style as the various types of basilicas throughout the Christian Empire attest.
See Also: reliquaries.
Bibliography: t. klauser, Vom Heroon zur Märtyrerbasilika (Bonn 1942). a. grabar, Martyrium 3 v. (Paris 1943–46), f. w, deichmann and a. tschira, "Das Mausoleum der Kaiserin Helena …, "Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts 72 (1957) 44–110. j. jeremias, Heiligengräber in Jesu Umwelt (Göttingen 1958). r. krautheimer, "Mensa, coemeterium, martyrium," Cahiers archéologiques 11 (1960) 15–40. h. m. colvin, Architecture and the After-life (New Haven 1991).
[f. x. murphy]
"Martyrium." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 16, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/martyrium
"Martyrium." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved January 16, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/martyrium