The Solemnity of All Saints, also known as All Saint’s Day, is a Christian tradition established to pay homage to all saints, recognized and anonymous alike. Urban IV emphasized its importance, stating that it compensates for any potential shortcomings in the veneration of saints’ feasts throughout the year. In early Christian practices, anniversaries of martyrs’ deaths for Christ were solemnly commemorated at their martyrdom locations.
By the fourth century, the practice evolved as neighboring dioceses exchanged feast days, shared relics, and collectively celebrated saints. St. Basil of Caesarea’s invitation to the bishops of Pontus in 397 is a notable example of this practice. Often, groups of martyrs would be commemorated together, especially during Diocletian’s persecution, when the sheer number of martyrs made individual commemorations impractical. Recognizing the need to venerate each martyr, the Church designated a shared day for their commemoration. The earliest record of this practice is found in Antioch, observed on the Sunday following Pentecost. References are also found in the writings of St. Ephrem the Syrian in 373 and in the 74th homily of St. John Chrysostom in 407.
Initially, the Church only dedicated special days for martyrs and St. John the Baptist. As the process of canonization became more structured, more saints were added to the calendar. By 411, the Chaldean Calendar already had a “Commemoratio Confessorum” scheduled for the Friday after Easter. In the West, Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all martyrs on 13 May, 609 or 610, establishing an annual commemoration. Gregory III, between 731 and 741, dedicated a chapel in St. Peter’s Basilica to all saints, setting 1 November as their feast day. Notably, there was already a tradition of commemorating a basilica of the Apostles in Rome on 1 May. Gregory IV later extended the 1 November celebration to the entire Church, solidifying the observance of All Saints’ Day as we know it today.