A list or register in which the names of dead members, associates, and benefactors of religious communities or capitular and collegial bodies were inscribed so that prayers might be offered for their souls on the anniversary of their death.
Though the necrology eventually assumed its own proper form and use, it originated in the diptychs from which were read the names of those to be commemorated during Mass. In the 7th century the list of the dead, by then become impossibly long, began to be limited to those directly related to the community and was arranged according to the day of death. At first these lists were inserted in liturgical books already in existence, in Sacramentaries, calendars, and martyrologies. Then, as the necrology became longer, it was drawn up as an independent register following the plan of a calendar with obits arranged according to the day of the month. This form began to be used late in the 8th century. Eventually the list of the dead was read with the martyrology during the canonical hour of Prime. It is probably for this reason that the register was often called martyrologium in the Middle Ages. Other common names were liber obituum, liber defunctorum, necrologium, and obituarius. In a few cases the name liber vitae was used, though this term usually referred to the living. In its final form, attained by about 1100, the necrology included the names of deceased members of the community, the deceased of communities that had entered a fellowship of prayer, servants, and benefactors.
Of somewhat different form were the Annales necrologici, in which the names of the dead were noted year by year, either as part of the annual notice in a chronicle or in a register especially given to this purpose, e.g., the Fulda Annals 779–1065 (Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Scriptores, 13:161–215).
The necrologies of the Middle Ages have proved a useful source for the historian and the philologist. They are still in use by some religious orders and various charitable societies that commemorate the anniversaries of deceased members.
Bibliography: Sources. Description. w. wattenbach, Deutschlands Geschichtsquellen im Mittelalter bis zur Mitte des 13. Jh., v.1 (7th ed. Stuttgart-Berlin 1904) 1:437–460. a. potthast, Bibliotheca historica medii aevi (2d ed. 1896; repr. Graz 1954) 2:807–842. Inventaire des obituaires belges (Brussels 1899), suppl. by u. berliÉre in Bulletin de l'Académie royale des sciences, de lettres et des beaux-arts de Belgique, commission royale d'histoire 72 (1903) lxxxiii–cxii. w. wattenbach, Deutschlands Geschichtsquellen im Mittelalter. Vorzeit und Karolinger, Hefte 1–4, ed. w. levison and h. lÖwe (Weimar 1952–63) 1:64–67. Editions. Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Necrologia (Berlin 1826–) 1–5. Necrologi e libri affini della provincia Romana, ed. p. egidi, 2 v. (Fonti per la storia d'Italia 44–45; Rome 1908–14). Necrologio del Liber confratrum di S. Matteo di Salerno, ed. c. a. garufi (ibid. 56; 1922). I necrologie Cassinesi, ed. m. inguanez (ibid. 83; 1941–). Recueil des historiens de la France, Obituaires, ed. g. guigue et al., 5 v. (Paris 1902–33). Literature. f. x. wegele, Zur Literatur and Kritik der fränkischen Nekrologien (Nördlingen 1864). e. ebner, Die klösterlichen Gebets-Verbrüderungen bis zum Ausgange des karolingischen Zeitalters (Regensburg 1890). a. molinier, Les Obituaires français au moyen âge (Paris 1890). h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, ed. f. cabrol, h. leclercq, and h. i. marrou, 15 v. (Paris 1907–53) 12.2:1834–57. a. franzen, "L'Obituaire de St.-Victor de Xanten," Revue d'histoire ecclésiastique (Louvain 1900–) 61 (1961) 36–41. f. zoepfl, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. 1957–65) 7:873–874.
[m. m. sheehan]