The Basilica of San Silvestro in Capite is the English national church in Rome. The church stands on the Piazza di San Silvestro and was built in the 8th century. The Romanesque bell tower is the result of a renovation in 1210. At the end of the 17th century a new, extensive restoration took place.
Basilica of San Silvestro in Capite Rome
Address, opening hours and admission
The address of Chiesa di San Silvestro in Capite is Piazza di San Silvestro, 17/a – Rome (tel. +39 066977121). . Opening Hours: Monday to Saturday from 07.00 to 19.00 and Sunday from 09.00 to 12.45 and from 15.30 to 18.30 hrs. Entrance fee: Free.
The San Silvestro in Capite Church is built on the ruins of the Tempio del Sole (“Temple of the Sun”). Construction began in the 8th century under Pope Stephen II and was completed under his brother, Paul I. After this, the church was entrusted to the Benedictines.
The basilica is dedicated to Pope Sylvester I.
The church was called in Capite, after a relic, part of the head of John the Baptist which was venerated there.
Originally, the church was dedicated to Saint Dionysius. Historians believe this was either the French bishop Saint Denis or the former pope Dionysius (259-268).
From the 12th century the church is dedicated to Saints Stephanus, Dionysius and Sylvester. The former was Pope Stephanus I (254-257).
In 1286 the Benedictines were expelled from the monastery and the Franciscan Order of the Poor Poor Clares was entrusted with the church.
At the end of the 16th century the church got its present appearance. Francesco da Volterra started this work in 1588. Work was finished in 1601. However, the architect, who died in 1594, did not live to see this.
Between 1667 and 1697 various artists, including Carlo Rainaldi, gave the church a baroque facelift.
After a renovation in 1703, Dionysius disappeared from the dedication. An inscription on the facade only mentions the popes Stephanus and Sylvester. There were also only two statues on the facade. The new consecration probably took place after the relics of the two saints were buried in the church. The new façade was the work of Giovanni Antonio de Rossi.
After the Poor Clares were expelled from the monastery in 1876, the building was converted into Rome‘s main post office. The church came into the hands of the Irish Pallottines in 1910 and still is.
When entering through the gate, one first enters a courtyard, where dozens of marble decorations can be seen. The largest of these was found in 1906, when a crypt was to be excavated in front of the church.
The statues on the façade depict Popes Sylvester and Stephanus and Saints Francis and Clara of Assisi.
The Romanesque bell tower from 1198 is the oldest surviving part of the church and has five floors.
Above the entrance we see a so-called Mandylion, an image of a piece of cloth on which the face of Jesus can be seen.
Inside the church, which consists of one single nave, you can see an even more Mandylions. In the pediment of the altar aedicula Rainaldi depicted one and on the wooden pulpit the face of Christ as well as the head of St. John on a plate are depicted.
To the left of the actual entrance is a chapel in which, supposedly, part of John the Baptist‘s head is on display.
Ludovico Gimignani painted the fresco in the apse, which represents “The Baptism of the Emperor Constantine”. Although it is Pope Sylvester who is depicted performing the baptism, in reality it was Eusebius of Nicomedia who baptized the emperor. This happened in 337, when Sylvester had been dead for two years.
The large ceiling fresco of the “Assumption of the Virgin” was painted by Giacinto Brandi in 1682.