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Legend of Silvester

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Constantine hands over imperial power to Sylvester
Constantine hands over imperial power to Silvester

Certainly many of us celebrate the last day of the year, called New Year’s Eve. But how many people know exactly where this name actually comes from?

Celebrated on December 31 at the end of the year, it takes its name from the name that appears on the card on that day. The figure behind it is Saint. Silvester was a bishop who ruled from January 31, 314 to December 31, 335. There is little information about it, but there is an interesting story, most likely made up. Silvester lived during the reign of Emperor Constantine I the Great, who is especially famous for issuing the Edict of Milan, under which Christianity became a tolerated religion within the empire.

Well, the story says that Constantine, initially a fierce persecutor of Christians, contracted leprosy, and Bishop Silvester healed him. In gratitude for this deed, Constantine was to be baptized. What is most intriguing is the effect of this legend. People whose imaginations were influenced by this story, in the eighth or ninth century, fabricated a document called the donation of Constantine, in which the emperor recounts the circumstances of Silvester’s healing and baptism, and then lists the donations that would express his gratitude. The Bishop of Rome and his successors would receive primacy over the various churches, dominion over all of Italy and other Western countries, the right to imperial insignia and honours, as well as to judge the entire clergy. This document was taken seriously until the 15th century when it was conclusively proven to be a forgery.

Author: Piotr Siedlecki (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
  • Aleksander Krawczuk, Poczet cesarzy rzymskich, Warszawa 1991

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