|San Silvestro in Capite|
|English name:||St Sylvester at the Head|
|Dedication:||Pope St Sylvester|
|Clergy:||Irish Pallottine Fathers|
|Titular church||Desmond Cardinal Connell|
|Built:||1591 - 1601|
|Architect(s):||Francesco da Volterra|
|Artists:||Carlo Rainaldi Orazio Borgianni Ludovico Gimignani et.al.|
|Address:|| Piazza San Silvestro |
|Phone:||06 67 97 775|
Alternate Name: Monasterium SS. De Capite Ordinis S. Clare.
The first church here was built by Pope Stephen III and Pope Paul I in the 8th century, above a pagan temple of the Sun. It was built specifically to receive bones from the catacombs, along with bones from other saints and martyrs. A convent, dedicated to St Sylvester and St Stephen I, was also built here.
It was rebuilt in 1198.
At first, it was served by Greek monks. In the 13th century, the church and cloister was given to Poor Clares, also known as The Order of St. Clare, who had the present church built by Francesco da Volterra 1591-1601. It was restored in 1681.
The church has an atrium, which isolates the church from the life of the world outside. There is a jet of drinking water on the left. The courtyard floor is decorated with a large white x which extends to each corner of the vacant space, surrounded by walls, many of which are encrusted with fragments of inscripted early Christian monuments, and other fragmented stone markers.
In 1198, during San Silvestro in Capite's reconstruction, a tall belltower, known as a campinale, was added to the exterior of the structure. The tower consists several arcuated brick tiers, with the top five tiers being trabeated. Much of the church's fame and attraction has come from the centuries old campinale.
Part of the adjacent convent buildings are now used by the Post Office.
The relics of Pope St Sylvester, Pope St Stephen I and Pope St Dionysius were exhumed and re-enshrined beneath the high altar when the new church was consecrated in 1601. It is thought that the high altar, which is older that the present church, was designed, or at least influenced by, Michelangelo. Piero Soderini who was the patron of the church and friend of Michelangelo, commissioned the piece while Michelangelo was creating the façade for the Medici’s San Lorenzo in Florence. A series of letters discovered, have proven that Michelangelo and Soderini were at least in contact about the subject of the altar. St. John The Baptist's head, whose cranium the church is named after, rests upon Michelangelo's tabernacle altar. It is unclear as to whether the head actually belonged to St. John the Baptist, since other sites have claimed to own the corporal relic. The canopy, by Carlo Rainaldi, was added in 1667. To the sides of the altar are paintings attributed to Orazio Borgianni. They depict messengers from Constantine seeking Pope Sylvester at Monte Soratte and the martyrdom of Pope Stephen.Above the altar is the Baptism of Constantine by Pope Sylvester, by Ludovico Gimignani, painted about 1688. Sylvester was Pope during the reign of Constantine, and legend claimed that he had baptized the emperor. The legend has proved to be untrue.
The confessio is a late addition, made in 1906. It holds relics from the catacombs, brought to the first church that was built here. An 8th century list of the saints whose relics were brought here can bee seen by the door. You may enter the crypt, where you will find huge blocks of masonry of Republican date. It is though that they are connected to the ancestral property of the two brothers who built the church in the 8th century. There is a Roman mosaic of birds at a bath on the wall.
The painting in the vault of the nave, the Assumption, is by Giacinto Brandi, made in the 17th century. In the cupola, best seen from in front of the confessio, is the Glory of the Father by Pomerancio.
In the second chapel on the right, is the Stigmata of St Francis, painted in 1610 by Orazio Gentileschi. San Silvestro in Capite has been renowned for its large collection of Francesco Trevisani paintings and frescos. Trevisani traveled from Florence to Rome, in order to work on the paintings. Having been a miniscule figure in the art world until that point, Trevisani was launched into the public eye, and became well known from his frescos. Trevisani created the paintings for San Silvestro in Capite’s crucifixion church. These paintings include but are not limited to The Agony in the Garden from 1695, and The Road To Cavalry from the same year. The Passion, painted in 1695 by Trevisani, can be found in the first chapel on the left.
Two recurring themes in the church are the head of St John the Baptist on a plate and the face of Christ on a veil. One of the best examples can be seen on the pulpit. The head refers to the relic of St John the Baptist that is kept here, in a chapel to the left by the entrance. The reliquary is from the 13th and 14th century, but has been restored. The authenticity is uncertain, as St John's head is also venerated in other places. Nonetheless, it has given the church its name, 'in capite'. The image on a veil refers to the tradition that a portrait of Christ was made for a King of Edessa. It is said to have been preserved here, but it is now lost.
The organ is from the 17th century.
Opening hours (may change): Daily 07.00-12.30; Sundays of Holy Days of Obligation 09.00-12.30 and 15.30-19.30.
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