Until about the fifth century, saints were honored only in the place they came from, which was usually a village. They were recognized as saints by acclamation in that community; in those days the infant church had no requirements as to who should or should not be canonized. “Polycarp — the man was a saint!” someone would say with gusto. Others would agree:“No doubt about it!” The town would note his name and from then on pay him the veneration due one so worthy. This would include praying for his intercession in one matter or another, celebrating the day he died, and, of course, passing on his story orally and in writing.
Records were kept of those who died as martyrs, as well as prominent religious figures and holy men and women. Their names were read during church services.
All martyrs, known and unknown, were honored in an umbrella celebrationcalled Feast of All Martyrs, which was instituted in the fifth century. It later evolved into the present All Saints' Day.
This system worked well in small towns. Naturally, no one outside those hamlets knew about those particular saints. People were specially appointed to keep track of listings of the names of martyrs and other Christians of note who died in large cities such as Rome. In times of intensive persecution, however, so many were killed that only the more famous names were recorded.
News traveled more slowly in the early centuries than it does now, but people were just as curious then about what went on around them as we are today. Towns and cities began exchanging lists of martyrs and other holy people, especially those famous for, say, how they died or their acclaim as preachers. They would sometimes trade relics of the person as well, which is how a relic of an Italian saint could end up in a church in another country. If a town had the name of a special martyr and a relic of him or her, the residents considered themselves twice blessed and twice as protected by that saint.