The reference in capite (Lat. caput, capitis head) is generally attributed to the head of St. John the Baptist which has been kept in the church since the XIIth century (but at Damascus they claim to house the same relic in the Umayyad Mosque); it is possible however that it came from the sentence in capita domorum (at the end of the houses), indicating that S. Silvestro was located at the end of the populated part of the city during the Middle Ages and until the early XVIIth century.
In 1758 when Vasi drew this etching the area was fully built. The fašade of the church was redesigned in 1703 by Domenico De Rossi (the small coat of arms belongs to Clement XI, the reigning pope).
The view is taken from the green dot in the 1748 map below. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Nunnery of S. Maria Maddalena; 2) Street leading to Via del Corso. The small map shows also: 3) S. Silvestro in Capite; 4) SS. Andrea e Claudio dei Borgognoni; 5) Via Borgognona; 6) Casa dei Borgognoni. 1) is covered in another page. The dotted line in the small map delineates the borders among Rione Campo Marzio (upper half), Rione Colonna (in the middle) and Rione Trevi (lower end).
The view in June 2009
In 1871-1878 the nunnery adjoining the church was greatly modified and turned into the main post office for Rome. In the 1880s the nunnery of S. Maria Maddalena delle Convertite of which Vasi showed the rear side was replaced by Palazzo Marignoli, a large building in neo-Renaissance style. In 1940 the square was enlarged by demolishing the buildings between S. Silvestro in Capite and SS. Andrea e Claudio dei Borgognoni.
(left) Fašade; (centre) Romanesque bell tower; (right) two columns of the Temple to the Sun
The church is dedicated to St. Sylvester I, who was pope at the time of Emperor Constantine and to St. Stephen III who was pope in 752-757 (you may wish to see a larger image of their statues). It was built by Pope Paul I, St. Stephen's brother, on premises of the Temple to the Sun erected in 273 by Emperor Aurelian who promoted that cult in an attempt to strengthen the unity of the Roman Empire. The atrium houses some ancient columns which were found by excavating beneath the level of the current church.
The immense building was raised by Aurelian on the edge of the perpendicular cliff of the Quirinal, facing the Campus Martius - for two purposes: first, to commemorate his conquest of the kingdom of Palmyra and the capture of Queen Zenobia; secondly, to provide the populace of Rome with an easy and unobstructed ascent from the plain of the Campus Martius to the top of the hill.
Rodolfo Lanciani - Rome in the light of recent discoveries - 1892
(above-left) Relief showing "Immagine Edessena"; (above-right) relief depicting the head of St. John the Baptist (also in the image used as background for this page; for other similar reliefs/paintings you may wish to visit S. Giovanni Decollato); (below) ancient relief in the atrium of the church
Behind the Church and Convent of the Penitent Whores, stands the Church of San Silvestro in capite, so called from the Picture of our
Saviours Head and Face, which our Saviour
himself made by miracle, and sent to the King of Edessa. (..) Now this Picture is kept here in
this Monastery; and with great Probability, seeing it was here that divers Greeks Monks, driven
our of their Country (..) for their defence of Sacred Images, were entertained by the Pope Paul the first; and its very likely
that these good Men brought with them this famous Picture of our Saviour to save it from the
fury of the Inconoclasts.
Richard Lassels' The Voyage of Italy, or a Compleat Journey through Italy in ca 1668
In addition to the head of St. John the Baptist, the church housed the Image of Edessa (aka Mandylion), a painted cloth portraying the face of Jesus Christ. It is an acheiropoieta (made without hands) image, i.e. it was not painted by a human being. In 1869 the relic (it opens in another window) was moved to the Vatican.
The interior of the church was entirely renovated after 1593.
(left) SS. Andrea e Claudio dei Borgognoni; (right) Casa dei Borgognoni in Piazza di Spagna
Bankers and merchants from Burgundy are recorded in Rome since the XVth century. During the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) and especially between 1630 and 1642 many inhabitants of the Franche ComtÚ (the part of Burgundy ruled by the King of Spain) sought refuge in Rome. In 1650 a group of them founded a national brotherhood, which grew in 1678 when another group of refugees came to Rome due to the annexation of the French ComtÚ by France. They lived between Piazza di Spagna and Via del Corso and a street (Via Borgognona) and a house are still named after them. In 1728-1731 the brotherhood built a national church in a small square near S. Silvestro. The church was designed by Antoine DÚrizet, a professor at Accademia di Francia who designed also SS. Nome di Maria.
(left to right) Lantern of the church; statue of St. Andrew by Luc BrÚton (very similar to that in S. Pietro by Franšois Duquesnoy); statue of St. Claudius of Besanšon by Guillaume Antoine Grandjacquet; coat of arms above the entrance to Casa dei Borgognoni: it shows a sword surrounded by the motto "BenchŔ (though) di spada (with a sword) armato (armed) io son (I am) cortese (courteous)"; it was designed by Jacques Courtois, but it was placed on the building by his brother Guillaume
In 1638 Jean Courtois, a painter of sacred images from Burgundy, came to Rome with his family; his sons Guillaume and Jacques also became painters, the latter specialized in depicting battles building upon his short military career. They Italianized their surname into Cortese and in 1672 Guillaume, who was known as il Borgognone went to live at Casa dei Borgognoni. You may wish to see the ceilings he painted at Valmontone and at Ariccia and another of his works at S. Giovanni in Laterano.
The church is now part of the French religious institutions in Rome (Pieux Etablissements de la France) which include also S. Luigi dei Francesi, S. Ivo dei Brittoni, S. Nicola dei Lorenesi and SS. TrinitÓ dei Monti.
Next plate in Book 8: Chiesa e Monastero di S. Apollonia.
Next step in Day 1 itinerary: Piazza Colonna.
Next step in your tour of Rione Colonna: Palazzo di Propaganda Fide.
Next step in your tour of Rione Campo Marzio: Chiesa della SS. TrinitÓ.
Next step in your tour of Rione Trevi: Palazzo Del Bufalo.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Nelle rovine delle Terme di Domiziano si crede che sia stata edificata questa chiesa nell' anno 261. da s. Dionisio Papa, per˛ con quella parsimonia, e segretezza, che si ricercava in quei primi tempi; ma dipoi da s. Paolo I. fu eretta con somma magnificenza, e fu insigne collegiata. Vi stettero dopo alcuni Monaci fuggiti dalla Grecia, i quali venuti meno nell' anno 1286. fu concessa la chiesa, e monastero alle Religiose di s. Chiara. Queste ora hanno rinnovato il monastero, e la chiesa ancora, ornandola magnificamente con marmi, stucchi dorati, e pitture diverse. La volta fu dipinta a fresco da Giacinto Brandi, e la crociata dal Roncalli coll'ajuto di Giuseppe Agellio, e del Consolano suoi allievi; le pitture per˛ nella tribuna sono del Geminiani. Il s. Antonio nella prima cappella a destra e i laterali sono di Giuseppe Chiari; il s. Francesco nella seconda Ŕ ai Luigi Garzi; il s. Gregorio nella terza di Giuseppe Ghezzi; la ss. Vergine, san Giuseppe, ed altri Santi nelle due cappelle, che sieguono sono del sopraddetto Geminiani, ed il ss. Crocifisso colle pitture laterali nell'ultima Ŕ di Francesco Trevisani.
pochi anni sono eretta in onore di s. Andrea Ap. e di san Claudio col disegno di Mons¨ DerisŔ Francese, e per˛ vi sono delle pitture fatte da francesi.