Saint Sylvester and Constantine I medieval image

On this day in history: Feast of Saint Sylvester

History of Italy

31st December is the Feast of Saint Sylvester (Festa di San Silvestro) in Italy. Coinciding with New Year’s Eve it is a time for celebration with fireworks, parties and concerts.

New Year’s Eve in Italy is known as the Festa di San Silvestro (Feast of Saint Sylvester). It is in memory of Pope Sylvester I who died on this day in 335 in Rome. Whilst it is not a public holiday, it is a time to party with feasts, concerts and firework displays.

Pork and lentils reign on the menu, with cotechino (Italian sausage), zampone (stuffed pig’s trotter) and lenticchie (lentils) very popular dishes.

Pork is said to represent the fullness or richness of life, while lentils are supposed to symbolise wealth or money. Many Italians believe the coming year could bring prosperity if these foods are eaten on New Year’s Eve. Another custom is to throw old things out of the window at midnight. This symbolises your readiness to accept the New Year.

Who was Sylvester?

Sylvester I was pope from 314 until his death in 335. It was during his pontificate that the Christian Roman Empire became established. Some of Rome’s great churches, the Basilica of St John Lateran, the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem and the old St Peter’s Basilica, were also built during his time as pope.

Not much is known of his early life. Sylvester was consecrated pope on January 31, 314. St. Sylvester was the first Pope of Rome to reign entirely under the liberty of the Church, guaranteed by the Edict of Milan in 313.

The most important event of his reign was the Council of Nicaea in May 325. The Council condemned the Alexandrian Christian priest Arius, founder of Arianism – a heretical doctrine teaching that Jesus (God the Son) was neither equal with God the Father nor eternal. However, it is uncertain what role Sylvester had – if any – in the negotiations.

According to subsequent legend, Sylvester converted and baptised Constantine, who was the first Roman emperor to become a Christian, and miraculously cured him of leprosy.

The 31st December will also know be remembered for the death of Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, who died in 2022.

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