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FEAST - A Saint for the Day (Dec. 31): pope St. Sylvester I


John Dillon <[log in to unmask]>


medieval-religion - Scholarly discussions of medieval religious culture <[log in to unmask]>


Thu, 31 Dec 2015 09:42:30 +0000





text/plain (1 lines)

medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

Sylvester I (more accurately, Silvester; the "y" is an artifact of medieval Latin) is recorded as having been bishop of Rome starting in early 314. He attended neither the Synod of Arles (314) nor the Council of Nicaea (325), sending instead representatives to these major assemblies. Little else is known about him as pope, though since he occupied the see of Peter for most of the reign of Constantine I one can suppose that he will have had some hand in the design of the major Roman churches endowed by that emperor. According to the _Liber pontificalis_ Sylvester founded a _titulus Silvestri_ at the Baths of Trajan; this church will have been ancestral to today's San Martino ai Monti, whose full titulature is Santi Silvestro e Martino ai Monti. Sylvester died in the year 335 and was buried in the cemetery of Priscilla on the Via Salaria. In 762 his remains were removed to the later much rebuilt church elsewhere in the city that now is known as San Silvestro in Capite; in 1601, when the present structure was being consecrated, these (along with the remains of two other popes) were re-interred under the high altar.

Sylvester's being such a blank historically may have had a lot to do with the ease with which legends about his relationship with Constantine took hold from the fifth century onward. In their standard form, Sylvester had fled from persecution by Constantine when the latter was yet a pagan and was in hiding on Mount Soracte (in Italian, Soratte; the limestone massif that dominates the Tiber valley north of Rome) when the emperor sought his aid in curing the leprosy with which he had become afflicted. Sylvester descended from the mountain and healed Constantine.  In gratitude the emperor converted to Christianity, was baptized by Sylvester in the Lateran Baptistery, and then richly endowed the Roman church. In the early Middle Ages this supposed endowment came to include a grant of supreme temporal power in the western territories of the empire, the so-called Donation of Constantine. The developed legend includes such other defender-of-the-faith episodes as Sylvester's resuscitation of a bull that rabbis had caused to die by whispering "Jehovah" in its ear (Sylvester restored it to life by whispering "Jesus" to it) and his slaying of a noxious, diabolical great serpent (commonly referred to as a dragon) to whom in its underground lair pagans in Rome were offering sacrifice.

Some period-pertinent images of pope St. Sylvester I:

a) as depicted (lower register at far left, followed pope St. Clement I and by Christ) in a later eighth-century fresco (betw. 757 and 767) in the nave of Rome's chiesa di Santa Maria Antiqua:


A larger view, showing pope St. Leo I at S.'s right:


The identifying inscriptions are in Greek; that for S. reads O AGIOS SELBESTRIOS.

b) as depicted (at right; at left, St. Spyridon the Wonderworker) in the earlier eleventh-century mosaics (restored between 1953 and 1962) in the katholikon of the monastery of Hosios Loukas near Distomo in Phokis (grayscale; the images are in the building's seemingly less often photographed diakonikon):


c) as depicted (at far right; after popes St. Leo I and Gregory I) in an eleventh-century fresco in the diakonikon of the cathedral of Hagia Sophia (now Sv. Sofija) in Ohrid:


d) as depicted in a later eleventh-century sacramentary from Liège (ca. 1075; Paris, BnF, ms. Latin 819, fol. 69v):


e) as depicted in a twelfth(?)-century mosaic in Venice's basilica cattedrale patriarcale di San Marco in Venice:


f) as depicted (baptizing Constantine) in the upper roundel of the opened left wing of the mid-twelfth-century Stavelot Triptych, a reliquary in the possession of the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York:


The object as a whole (opened):


g) as depicted in the mid- or slightly later twelfth-century mosaics of the Cappella Palatina in Palermo:


h) as depicted (at far right, after pope St. Gregory I and St. Augustine of Hippo) in a probably later twelfth-century mosaic in the basilica cattedrale della Trasfigurazione in Cefalù:


i) as depicted (at far left, with Sts. Thomas of Canterbury and Lawrence of Rome) in the late twelfth-century apse mosaics (ca. 1182) of the basilica cattedrale di Santa Maria Nuova in Monreale:


j) as depicted (Baptism of Constantine) in one of four panels of a full-page illumination in the late twelfth-century so-called Bible of Saint Bertin (ca. 1190-1200; Den Haag, KB, ms. 76 F 5, fol. 36v, sc. 2A):


k) as depicted (third register from the top; Baptism of Constantine and other scenes from S.'s legend) in the late twelfth- or early thirteenth-century apse frescoes of the chiesa di San Silvestro in Tivoli:


Detail views:

http://tinyurl.com/ndw25bg [Baptism of Constantine / S. and the bull]

http://static.panoramio.com/photos/large/44678525.jpg [Baptism of Constantine / S. and the bull]

http://static.panoramio.com/photos/large/44678168.jpg [S. and the bull]

https://www.flickr.com/photos/renzodionigi/3475853978/ [S. and the dragon; color "enhanced"]

l) as depicted in an early thirteenth-century January menaion seemingly from Cyprus (Paris, BnF, ms. Grec 1561, fol. 7v):



m) as depicted (many times) in the earlier thirteenth-century St. Sylvester window (ca. 1210-1225) in Bay 8 of the basilique cathédrale Notre-Dame, Chartres:


n) as depicted (scenes from his legend) in the mid-thirteenth-century frescoes (1246) of the papal chapel dedicated to him in Rome's basilica dei Santi Quattro Coronati:



o) as depicted (with Constantine) in two panels of a mid-thirteenth-century ambulatory window (Bay 108, panels C3 and C4) in the cathédrale Saint-Julien, Le Mans:



p) as depicted (over the arch) in the later thirteenth-century frescoes (ca. 1263-1270) in the prothesis of the monastery church of the Holy Trinity at Sopoćani (Raška dist.) in Serbia:


q) as depicted (S. and the dragon) in a late thirteenth-century copy of French origin of the _Legenda aurea_ (San Marino, CA, Huntington Library, ms. HM 3027, fol. 13v; image greatly expandable):


r) as depicted (at left; at right, St. Servatius) in the late thirteenth-century Livre d'images de Madame Marie (ca. 1285-1290; Paris, BnF, ms. Nouvelle acquisition française 16251, fol. 87r):


s) as depicted in the late thirteenth-century frescoes (ca. 1295) by the painters Eutychios and Michael Astrapas in the church of the Peribleptos (now Sv. Kliment Ohridski) in Ohrid:


t) as depicted (at right; at left, St. Gregory of Nyssa) in the early fourteenth-century frescoes (ca. 1310) of the altar area in the church of the Aphendiko (or of the Hodegetria) in the Brontochion monastery at Mystras:


u) as depicted (at left; at right, St. Methodius of Constantinople) in the earlier fourteenth-century frescoes (betw. 1313 and 1318; conservation work in 1968) by Michael Astrapas and Eutychios in the church of St. George at Staro Nagoričane in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia:


v) as depicted in the earlier fourteenth-century frescoes (betw. ca. 1313 and 1320) by Michael Astrapas and Eutychios in the King's Church (dedicated to Sts. Joachim and Anne) in the Studenica monastery near Kraljevo (Raška dist.) in Serbia:


w) as depicted in the earlier fourteenth-century frescoes (1330s) of the altar area of the church of the Hodegetria in the Patriarchate of Peć at Peć in, depending on one's view of the matter, either the Republic of Kosovo or Serbia's province of Kosovo and Metohija:



x) as depicted (scenes from his legend) on the earlier fourteenth-century northern choir screen (ca. 1332) of the Hohe Domkirche Sankt Peter und Maria in Köln:


Detail view (receiving the tiara from Constantine):


y) as depicted (in two of six scenes from his legend) in the earlier fourteenth-century Hungarian Angevin Legendary (?betw. 1334 and 1342; Città del Vaticano, BAV, cod. Vat. Lat. 8541, f. 72r and 73v):

http://tinyurl.com/zmr2z68 [S. and the bull]

http://tinyurl.com/ho75tjx [S. and the dragon]

z) as depicted (S. and the dragon) in an earlier fourteenth-century copy of books 9-16 of Vincent of Beauvais' _Speculum historiale_ in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay (ca. 1335; Paris, BnF, ms. Arsenal 5080, fol. 300r):


aa) as depicted (at left, in a representation of the First Ecumenical Council; next to him, St. Alexander of Alexandria) in the earlier fourteenth-century frescoes (betw. 1335 and 1350) in the narthex of the church of the Holy Ascension at the Visoki Dečani monastery near Peć in, depending on one's view of the matter, either the Republic of Kosovo or Serbia's province of Kosovo and Metohija:


bb) as depicted (scenes from his legend) by Maso di Bianco in mid-fourteenth-century frescoes (1340) in the Cappella Bardi di Vernio in Florence's basilica di Santa Croce:

1) http://www.wga.hu/art/m/maso/bardi/05bardi.jpg

Detail views:

http://www.wga.hu/art/m/maso/bardi/06bardi.jpg [Baptism of Constantine]

http://www.wga.hu/art/m/maso/bardi/07bardi.jpg [S. and the bull]

2) http://www.wga.hu/art/m/maso/bardi/08bardi.jpg

Detail views:

http://www.wga.hu/art/m/maso/bardi/10bardi.jpg [S. and the dragon]

http://www.wga.hu/art/m/maso/bardi/12bardi.jpg [S. revivifies the pagan priests]

cc) as depicted (at right; at left, his immediate predecessor, pope St. Miltiades) in a mid-fourteenth-century copy, from the workshop of Richard and Jeanne de Montbaston, of the _Legenda aurea_ in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay (1348; Paris, BnF, ms. Français 241, fol. 58r):


dd) as portrayed in a later fourteenth-century head reliquary (1367) in the Permanent Ecclesiastical Art Exhibition in Zadar:


ee) as depicted (S. and the dragon) by Agnolo Gaddi in a later fourteenth-century panel painting (ca. 1380-1385) in the Philadelphia Museum of Art:


ff) as depicted (left margin at top) in a pen-and-ink drawing in a later fourteenth- or earlier fifteenth-century abridgement of Godfrey of Viterbo's _Pantheon_ (Paris, BnF, ms. Latin 4935, fol. 64v): 


gg) as depicted (enthronement) in a late fourteenth- or early fifteenth-century copy of the _Legenda aurea_ in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay (Rennes, Bibliothèque de Rennes Métropole, ms. 266, fol. 32r):


hh) as depicted (scenes from his legend) in four earlier fifteenth-century panel paintings by Battista da Vicenza (active betw. 1404 and 1438) in the Musei Civici in Vicenza:





ii) as depicted in an early fifteenth-century copy of the _Elsässische Legenda aurea_ (1419; Heidelberg, Universitätsbibliothek, Cod. Pal. germ. 144, fol. 275v):


jj) as depicted (S. and the dragon) by the court workshop of Frederick III in a mid-fifteenth-century copy of the _Legenda aurea_ (1446-1447; Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, cod. 326, fol. 23v):


kk) as depicted (displaying the Tablets of the Law to the disease-stricken Constantine) in a later fifteenth-century copy of the _Chronique dite de Baudouin d'Avesnes_ (Paris, BnF, ms. Français 279, fol. 219v):


ll) as depicted (at far left, holding the Tablets of the Law) as in the later fifteenth-century apse frescoes (variously attributed to Leonardo da Bressanone or to his follower Simone da Tesido) of the chiesa/chiesetta di San Giorgio / St. Georgskirche in Tesido / Taisten (BZ) in the South Tirol:


mm) as depicted (S. and the bull) in a later fifteenth-century copy (1463) of Vincent of Beauvais' _Speculum historiale_ in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay (Paris, BnF, ms. Français 51, fol. 111r):


nn) as depicted (central register, second from right) by Carlo Crivelli in his later fifteenth-century Altarpiece of Massa Fermana (1468) in the chiesa dei Santi Lorenzo e Silvestro in Massa Fermana (FM) in the Marche:


oo) as depicted (bust-length portrait and scenes from his legend) by Andrea de Litio in a later fifteenth-century panel painting (variously dated to ca. 1470 and to 1480) in the chiesa di San Silvestro in Mutignano (TE) in Abruzzo:


pp) as depicted in a later fifteenth-century missal for the Use of Salzburg (1476; Universitätsbibliothek Salzburg, MS. M III 12, fol. 160v): 


qq) as depicted (right margin at top) in a hand-colored woodcut in the Beloit College copy of Hartmann Schedel's late fifteenth-century _Weltchronik_ (_Nuremberg Chronicle_; 1493) at fol. CXXVIIIv:


rr) as depicted (enthroned with the dragon at his feet) in an early sixteenth-century fresco (ca. 1511), attributed to Dionisio Cappelli, in the chiesa di San Silvestro in Colle di Arquata, a _frazione_ of Arquata del Tronto (AP) in the Marche:


ss) as depicted in the earlier sixteenth-century frescoes (1445 or 1446) by Theofanis Strelitzas-Bathas (a.k.a. Theophanes the Cretan) in the katholikon of the Stavronikita monastery on Mt. Athos:


tt) as depicted in an earlier sixteenth-century fresco (1546/47) by George / Tzortzis the Cretan in the katholikon of the Dionysiou monastery on Mt. Athos


A happy Sylvester to all!

John Dillon


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