Would it surprise you to know that All Saints Day was not always celebrated in November?
The earliest celebration of the memory of the great role models of the church took place in the fourth century. In those days it was dedicated to all the martyrs who had sacrificed their lives for their Christian beliefs.
By the seventh century Rome had been invaded and plundered and sacred places desecrated many times. Pope Boniface IV had almost 30 wagons of bones collected about Rome. He then had them reverently entombed below the famous Roman “Pantheon” (Greek for all the gods).
A bit of history on one of the most completely preserved structure from antiquity in Rome: The first iteration of the Pantheon was built in 25 B.C. by the emperor Augustus’s son-in-law Marcus Agrippa and dedicated to all of the Roman gods. That structure stood until 80 A.D. when it was destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt by Emperor Domitian and destroyed by fire once again in 110 A.D.
Though the present structure may have been constructed under the reigns of at least two emperors, the later one, Hadrian, is usually named as its main benefactor. Hadrian had Agrippa’s original dedication chiseled into the façade of the building even though that structure had crumbled over 100 years prior. Hadrian so loved the building that he sometimes held court there.
This great edifice is considered by many to be one of the most “perfectly designed” structures on the planet (there are innumerable papers written on the reason – too many for this article) and has served as the inspiration for countless churches, public buildings and even homes throughout history.
It is fitting, therefore, that this “perfect” structure should be rededicated by Boniface IV as a Catholic church to those individuals who made the ultimate (perfect, if you will) sacrifice for their religion. That rededication took place in May and the feast for many years was held in that month. Many Eastern Churches still honor all the saints in the spring, either during the Easter season or immediately after Pentecost.
There is evidence that the switch in the date of the Catholic feast began in the early ninth century when the Anglo-Saxon theologian Alcuin observed the feast on Nov. 1 in 800, as did his friend Arno, Bishop of Salzburg. Eventually, Rome adopted this practice.
Adapted by A.J. Valentini