Friday, December 31, 2010

Feast of St. Sylvester

Constantine hands Pope Sylvester I a statuette of Roma Aeterna (eternal Rome)

Today is the feast of St. Sylvester, who is the name-Saint of my son. To be honest, I knew nothing about the Saint before Sly came around. Tom's family has a long-standing tradition wherein each first-born son is named after his grandfather (which means that the two names "Sylvester" and "Thomas" alternate each generation). So the name of Tom's first-born son had already been decided many years before he even existed.

I really disliked the name at first. In my high school years of dreamily thinking up names for my future children, something so old-fashioned as Sylvester would never have made the list. But it meant a lot to Tom to give his son that name. And besides, I have a lot of respect for tradition, and thought it would be shameful to kill this one just because I didn't like the sound of the name. And now that he's born, I of course can't imagine him being called anything else.

I made sure to say a special prayer to the Saint today on Sly's behalf. And in honor of the day, I did a little "research" into his life. I use that term loosely. Because while we own a very extensive library of wonderful old Lives of the Saints books and resources here (Tom is quite the bibliophile), I took the slacker route, and did a Google search instead.

Here are a few known facts: He was the 31st Pope, during the reign of Constantine. He oversaw construction of the Lateran Basilica, and several other great churches. He fought and helped destroy several heresies during two church Councils. He died in 335.

While he's obviously regarded as a great Saint, there is not a ton of information available about him. There are a few legends of him floating around, which are always the most interesting parts, anyways. One from The Golden Legend, which was quoted on Fisheaters, has him battling a dragon:

In this time it happed that there was at Rome a dragon in a pit, which every day slew with his breath more than three hundred men. Then came the bishops of the idols unto the emperor [Constantine the Great] and said unto him: O thou most holy emperor, sith the time that thou hast received Christian faith the dragon which is in yonder fosse or pit slayeth every day with his breath more than three hundred men.

Then sent the emperor for S. Silvester and asked counsel of him of this matter. S. Silvester answered that by the might of God he promised to make him cease of his hurt and blessure of this people. Then S Silvester put himself to prayer, and S. Peter appeared to him and said: Go surely to the dragon and the two priests that be with thee take in thy company, and when thou shalt come to him thou shalt say to him in this manner: Our Lord Jesu Christ which was born of the Virgin Mary, crucified, buried and arose, and now sitteth on the right side of the Father, this is he that shall come to deem and judge the living and the dead, I commend thee Sathanas that thou abide him in this place till he come. Then thou shalt bind his mouth with a thread, and seal it with thy seal , wherein is the imprint of the cross. Pope St. Sylvester's Miracle (detail), by Maso di BancoThen thou and the two priests shall come to me whole and safe, and such bread as I shall make ready for you ye shall eat.

Thus as S. Peter had said, S. Silvester did. And when he came to the pit, he descended down one hundred and fifty steps, bearing with him two lanterns, and found the dragon, and said the words that S. Peter had said to him, and bound his mouth with the thread, and sealed it, and after returned, and as he came upward again he met with two enchanters which followed him for to see if he descended, which were almost dead of the stench of the dragon, whom he brought with him whole and sound, which anon were baptized, with a great multitude of people with them.

Thus was the city of Rome delivered from double death, that was from the culture and worshipping of false idols, and from the venom of the dragon. At the last when S. Silvester approached towards his death, he called to him the clergy and admonished them to have charity, and that they should diligently govern their churches, and keep their flock from the wolves. And after the year of the incarnation of our Lord three hundred and twenty, he departed out of this world and slept in our Lord, etc.

Many European countries refer to New Year's Eve as "Silvester" or "Sylwester." Before midnight tonight, when you'll kiss your sweetie, sip your champagne, bang pots and pans or make a general ruckus, remember to thank this great Saint for everything he did for the Church, and ask him for his blessings!


  1. I had never known! Thanks for this very interesting post~

    Also, Sylvester fits him :)

  2. My husband's family names the son after grandfathers as well so Robert and Something...for generations.