By Ioannis Tzortzakakis

December 31 is the feast day of Pope Saint Sylvester I, in the Roman Catholic world. He was the first bishop of Rome to use the title “Pope”. Born in Rome, his papacy started on 31 January 314 and ended with his death in 335. During his stay in the papal throne he built some of the most magnificent basilicas in Rome, such as Saint John of Lateran’s and the old St. Peter’s in Vatican. He is believed to have played a key role in the Edict of Milan, the first signed degree of religious tolerance and freedom, in 313. In addition, it is also said that he baptized the Emperor Constantine; yet according to Eusebius of Caesarea, Constantine was baptized while dying in Nicomedia by the bishop Eusebius. Another connection between Sylvester and Constantine is the Donation of Constantine. Constitutum Donatio Constantini is a forged Roman decree, possibly composed in the 8th century, which was supposedly issued by Constantine in 324, with which the Emperor gives to the Pope of Rome Silvestro I and his successors the political control and the spiritual authority of Rome, Italy and the whole of the Western Roman Empire.

The frescos in the chapel of Bardi di Vernio in Santa Croce, Florence narrate the life of Saint Sylvester based on the Golden Legend by Giacomo da Varagine.

Reliquary with part of the skull of Pope Saint Sylvester I, 1367, Permanent Exhibition of Religious Art, Zadar (Croatia).

Constantine giving the Donation to Sylvester, 13th century, Santi Quattro Coronati, Rome.

Maso di Banco, Pope Sylvester I portrayed slaying a dragon and resurrecting its victims, chapel of Bardi di Vernio, Santa Croce, Florence.

Workshop of Raphael, The Donation of Constantine. Stanze di Raffaello, Vatican City.

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