By JOHN HENNIG, Ph.D.
Of the twenty thousand names found in the latest Dictionary of Saints, and of the many thousands of names mentioned in the Roman Martyrology and in the martyrologies of the religious orders, only a little more than 200 have been inserted in the official list of saints formally canonised.
The Roman Missal prescribes feasts of saints for 320 days of the year. On some of these days groups of saints, such as the Four Crowned Martyrs, the Seven Holy Brothers, of Eustace and his Companions, are commemorated. When we consider that the feasts of many canonised saints, especially of those recently canonised, arc not universally prescribed it becomes clear that less than a half of the saints found in the Missal are formally canonised.
About one half of all saints canonised are Italians, but amongst the first ten canonised saints no less than eight were Germans. Amongst the first 29 cmumlised saints (up to 1200) 12 were German, five Italian, five French, three English (Edward, Osmund and Thomas), two Irish (Malachy and Laurence O'Toole), one Polish and one Spanish. Between 1200 and 1500 there were only two German saints, whilst in the same period Italy produced no less than 24 canonised saints.
Most canonisations are concerned with one saint only. In a few cases groups of saints were canonised, such as the Seven Founders of the Sulfite Order, whose feast is universally celebrated on February 12, the 19 Martyrs of Gorcum (1572) whose feast is locally celebrated on July 9, and the 26 Japanese Martyrs whose feast is kept by the Jesuits. Outside these three groups of Martyrs there are only about 160 saints formally canonised.
The majority of the saints formally canonised died between 50 and 70 years of age. The youngest saint is St. Stanislaus Kostka (18), the oldest St. Raymond Pennaforte (100). One fifth of all canonised saints are women, The youngest of them is St. Joan d'Arc (19) and the oldest St. Mary Magdalen Postel (90).
Up to 1200 one half of all saints were bishops. After 1500 only eight bishops were canonised. Four-fifths of all saints belonged to the regular clergy. only 19 to the secular clergy and 13 were laymen.
St. Casimir of Poland (died 1484) was the last king to be canonised, St. Alphonsus of Liguori the last member of the nobility. St. Gerard Majella (died 1755) was a tailor and St. Clemens Mary Hofbauer a baker's boy.
The interval between a saint's death and his canonisation is most variant. St. Anthony of Padua was canonised a few months after his death, whilst in the case of St. Joan d'Arc the interval was 490 and in the case of St. Albert the Great even 650 years.