This is the week of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, two important Christian festivals which are often overshadowed in popular culture by Halloween (which is also known as All Saints’ Eve).
All Saints’ Day, which is also known as All Hallows’ Day, is celebrated on 1st November by Anglicans and Catholics. As the name of the day suggests this is a day for Christians to remember all saints and martyrs, known and unknown throughout Christian history. Since the 4th century AD saints and martyrs have had specific days dedicated to them; 13th October, for example, marks the Feast of St Edward, the patron saint of Westminster Abbey. However, in 609AD, Pope Boniface IV decided there should be a day to remember all martyrs for the Christian faith whether they were known or not and chose the 13th May as the Feast of Holy Martyrs. This was amended by Pope Gregory IV in 837AD, who decided that all saints, as well as martyrs, would be remembered on the same day and November 1st was chosen as the day to celebrate.
All Souls’ Day falls on 2nd November, and is a day to remember and pray for the souls of Christians who have died, not just those that have been martyred. Within the Catholic Church this included praying for the souls of those in Purgatory in an effort to lessen the time they must spend there. However the meaning has changed within the Anglican Church over the centuries and is now more an extension of All Saints’ Day and is a day of remembrance for those that have died.
As discussed in last week’s Inside Story, this week also marked Reformation Day, the day that Martin Luther pinned his 95 theses on a church door in Wittenberg five hundred years ago. It seems appropriate that Reformation Day falls on All Saints’ Eve, before martyrs are remembered, as many martyrs were created on both the Catholic and Protestant sides of the Reformation. To find out more about this you can browse our selection of books on the topic both online and in store.