The Last Saint of the Year: St Sylvester on Dec 31

Evelyn Waugh (one of my favorite authors) in his historical novel Helena had a throwaway line, which was a joke about today’s (Dec 31) saint. Pope Saint Sylvester was the Pope of Constantine and Waugh jokingly has a comment that states that if Pope Sylvester every did become a saint, he would be relegated to the last day of the year…

The forged legend of the Donation of Constantine (8th century) claims that Constantine offered his crown to Pope Sylvester  (314-335). Sylvester then gives it back to Constantine. The importance image here is that Constantine abdicated (briefly) and that the Pope as the Vicar of Christ then re-established Constantine has the Roman Emperor. The message is clear: only the Pope can make kings and emperors out of laymen. The story was already in circulation in the 500s.

The medieval legend was that Pope Sylvester also baptized Constantine. I’ve even seen the obelisk at the Lateran baptistry that reads “Constantine was baptized here.” Here’s an image by Raphael which depicts the alleged baptism of Constantine by Pope Sylvester:


Saint Sylvester, last saint of the year, pray for us.

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