SAINTS

DEC. 31: ST. SYLVESTER I

(4th century)

Sylvester was the first pope to rule after Christianity was accepted by the Roman Empire after the edict of Milan in 313 AD. He had been a priest in Rome and was elected pope in 314.

The landscape of the city of Rome took a major turn with the collaboration of Sylvester and Emperor Constantine I.

The first Basilica of St. Peter was constructed to mark the grave of the first pope on the Vatican hill above an ancient temple dedicated to Apollo. St. Sylvester and Emperor Constantine also collaborated on the Lateran Basilica (seat of the Bishop of Rome) and baptistery, which were built adjacent to the former imperial palace where the Pontiff lived, as well as the (Roman) Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, and the Basilica of St. Paul outside the walls.

Sylvester’s memory, however, is most closely tied to the church of St. Martin and Sylvester (known as the titulus Equitii, owing to its building sites having been donated by a priest, Equitius) which still stands in Rome’s Monti neighborhood.

Sylvester’s faith so moved his contemporaries, that they publicly honored him as “confessor”, i.e., one who, though not suffering martyrdom, lived a life completely given to Christ.

Pope St. Sylvester also contributed to the development of the liturgy. It was most probably during his reign that the first Roman Martyrology was composed, and his name is associated with the creation of the ancient Roman school of sacred song.

Pope St. Sylvester is patron of the chivalric order called the Militia Aurata, or “of the Golden Spur,” which, as tradition would have it, was founded by Emperor Constantine I in person. After various events throughout the centuries, in 1841, Pope Gregory XVI, in the framework of a vast reform of the equestrian orders, separated the Order of Pope St. Sylvester from the Militia Aurata, assigning to the Order of St. Sylvester particular statutes and decorations. In 1905, Pope St. Pius X made further amendments, which are still in force. The Order includes four classes: Knight/Dame, Knight/Dame Commander, Knight/Dame Commander with Star (Grand Officer), Knight/Dame Grand Cross.

Adapted by A. J. Valentini from: St. Sylvester I, Pope – Information on the – Vatican News. (n.d.). Vatican News. Retrieved Dec. 24, 2020, from https://www.vaticannews.va/en/saints/12/31/st–sylvester-i–pope.html