San Silvestro in Capite

The Church of Saint Sylvester in Capite (Italian: San Silvestro in Capite, Latin: S. Silvestri in Capite) is a Roman Catholic minor basilica and titular church in Rome dedicated to Pope Saint Sylvester I. Built in the 8th century as a shrine for the relics of the saints and martyrs from the Catacombs, the church is the National church of Great Britain.

The Latin words "in capite" refer to a fragment of the head of St. John the Baptist, putatively kept as a relic, in a chapel to the left of the entrance. A second Roman church dedicated to Saint Sylvester is San Silvestro al Quirinale.

The Cardinal-Priest of the titulus S. Silvestri in Capite is Desmond Connell.


The original church was built in the 8th century by Pope Paul I and Pope Stephen III, atop ruins of a pagan temple dedicated to Apollo, to house venerated relics of early Christian saints who were buried in the catacombs. The church was rebuilt and the campanile with Romanesque arcades added in 1198 during the papacy of Innocent III, while in the 13th century the church was donated to the Poor Clares.

It was rebuilt by the architects Francesco da Volterra and Carlo Maderno during 1591-1601, and subsequently restored in 1681. The relics of Pope Sylvester I, Pope Stephen I and Pope Dionysius were exhumed and re-enshrined beneath the high altar when the new church was consecrated in 1601. The church also contains the relics of Saint Tarcisius.

The church of San Silvestro was granted to the English Catholics by Pope Leo XIII in 1890, and is now served by Irish Pallottine Fathers. Mass is thus regularly celebrated in the English language. The church is the National Church in Rome of Great Britain.

The Cardinal Priest of the Titulus S. Silvestri in Capite is Desmond Connell, former Archbishop of Dublin. He was appointed on February 21, 2001 to succeed Basil Hume. It also serves as a church for the Philippine Community in Rome.


The church has an atrium and narthex, which isolates the church from the busy square outside. There are fragments of early Christian sculpture, many with inscriptions, embedded in the walls of the atrium.

The facade has an unusual giant order topped with four baroque statues (1703):San Silvestro by Lorenzo Ouone, Saint Stephen by Michelangelo Borgognone, Saint Clare by Giuseppe Mazzoni and Saint Francis by Vincenzo Felice.


It is believed that the high altar, which predates the present church, was influenced by the style of Michelangelo. The interior is rich in marble, gilding, and artistic decoration. The nave has an Assumption with Saints frescoed (1680) by Giacinto Brandi. The main altar carved ciborium or canopy (1667) by Carlo Rainaldi. The cupola was frescoed (1605) by Cristoforo Roncalli. A Martyrdom of San Stephan I and a Messengers of Costantine call on San Silvestro (1610) were frescoed in the apse by Orazio Borgianni. In the baptistry apse, there is a Baptism of Costantine by Ludovico Gimignani. The transept has a History of San Silvestro (1690) also by Gimignani, and a Madonna with Child by Baccio Ciarpi.

In the first chapel to the right is a Madonna with child & Saint Anthony of Padua & Stephan I and other saints (1695) by Giuseppe Chiari. In the second chapel is a Saint Francis receives stigmata (1610) by Orazio Gentileschi accompanied by paintings of the life of the saint by Luigi Garzi. In the third, a Pentecost by Giuseppe Ghezzi. The left transept has a Madonna & child by Terenzio Terenzi. In the third chapel on the left is a fresco of the Immaculate Conception by Gimignani. On the walls are an Adoration by the Magi and Visitation by the Milanese il Morrazzone. In the second chapel is a Pope San Marcello has a vision of the Sacred Family and a Transit and Glory of San Giuseppe by Gimignani. In the first chapel are canvases of the Passion (1695) by Francesco Trevisani.


A convent, dedicated to Pope Sylvester I and Pope Stephen I (Saint Stephen I), was built adjacent to the church. The nuns remained in that convent until 1876 when they were dispossessed. The convent has recently been renovated and continues to serve as the main Post Office of Rome.

List of Cardinal-Priests since 1517

List of the cardinal titulars of the church


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