St Telesphorus was the seventh Pope and he held the position for around ten years between 128 and 138 when he was martyred. Telesphorus was a Greek, believed to be from Calabria, who is said to have been an anchorite. Telesphorus’ saint day is celebrated on 5 January in the Roman Church and 22 February in the Greek Church.
Telesphorus is thought to have introduced the tradition of always celebrating Easter on Sunday, as it is now. Whilst others already did this Telesphorus was the first Pope to do it and standardise it in the Roman church. It is also noted that he did not “abandon church fellowship with those communities that did not follow this custom”.1
Another custom whose introduction is attributed to Telesphorus that survives to this day is that of Lent. While the custom of fasting prior to Easter existed well before Telesphorus, as St Iraeneus testifies, he is thought to have regulated the length of the fast to seven weeks.
Telesphorus is also supposed to have introduced two customs relating to Christmas mass. The first being that at Christmas time mass should be celebrated at night rather than after tierce (around 9 O’clock), the time at which mass had to be celebrated at all other times. This is the earliest mention of Midnight Mass. Secondly Telesphorus is said to have decreed that the Gloria in Excelsis should be sung at Christmas mass and only at Christmas mass.
However there is evidence to suggest that these traditions, particularly the ones regarding lent and Christmas, were not started by Telesphorus and J.P. Kirsch goes so far as to say, “None of the statements in the "Liber Pontificalis" and other authorities of a later date as to liturgical and other decisions of this pope are genuine.”2
Telesphorus was martyred around 137 or 138. Eusebius places his martyrdom in the first year of Antonius Pius’ reign therefore making it 138 however St Iraeneus places his martyrdom under Hadrian. Regardless of the date, of all the early Popes afterwards accounted martyrs Telesphorus is the only one who appears on the early authority of St Iraeneus (around 170). Despite this nothing is known about the circumstances surrounding his martyrdom.
Sixtus I – Pope – Hyginus
1 – Catholic Encyclopaedia (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14477b.htm)
2 – Catholic Encyclopaedia (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14477b.htm)