Church of Saint Sylvester the First
  • San Silvestro in Capite (Italian)
  • Sancti Silvestri in Capite (Latin)
Facade of San Silvestro in Capite, National Church in Rome of English Catholics in Rome, on Piazza San Silvestro. Beyond the portal, there is an atrium, with access to the church.
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41°54′11″N 12°28′50″E / 41.90311°N 12.48064°E / 41.90311; 12.48064
LocationPiazza di S. Silvestro 17A
Statusminor basilica,
titular church,
national church
DedicationPope Sylvester I
Architect(s)Francesco da Volterra
Carlo Maderno
StyleRomanesque, Baroque
Length40 m (130 ft)
Width20 m (66 ft)
Nave width14 metres (46 ft)
Cardinal protectorLouis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun

The Basilica of Saint Sylvester the First,[2] also known as (Italian: San Silvestro in Capite, Latin: Sancti Silvestri in Capite), is a Roman Catholic minor basilica and titular church in Rome dedicated to Pope Sylvester I (d. AD 335). It is located on the Piazza San Silvestro, at the corner of Via del Gambero and the Via della Mercede, and stands adjacent to the central Post Office.

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" refers to the canonical title of Pope Sylvester the First, to which in capite means in First, in Chief, or in Head. The basilica is also famous for a relic, a fragment of a head purported to be that of John the Baptist, kept in a chapel to the left of the entrance. A second Roman church dedicated to Pope Sylvester I is San Silvestro al Quirinale.

The current Cardinal-Priest is Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, Apostolic Vicar of Vientiane.


The original church was built with an adjoining Basilian monastery, in the 8th century by the Popes Paul I and Stephen III, atop ruins of a pagan temple dedicated to Sol Invictus, to house venerated relics of early Christian saints who were buried in the catacombs.[3] The church was rebuilt and the campanile with Romanesque arcades added in 1198 during the papacy of Innocent III, who transferred the relic of the head of St. John the Baptist to it and the name was changed to St. John in Capitol.[4]

In the 13th century the church was donated to the Poor Clares. It was rebuilt by the architects Francesco Capriani da Volterra and Carlo Maderno during 1591–1601, and subsequently restored in 1681.[5]

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 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, although the structures of the Catholic Church continue to be organized separately for England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The Scottish national church in Rome, Sant'Andrea degli Scozzesi, was deconsecrated in 1962.


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 was completed in 1703. It has an unusual giant order topped with four baroque statues: San Silvestro by Lorenzo Ouone, Saint Stephen by Michelangelo Borgognone, Saint Clare by Giuseppe Mazzoni and Saint Francis by Vincenzo Felice.[1]


Plan of S. Silvestro
Church interior
High Altar, commissioned in 1518 by Pier Soderini of Florence

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 Constantine call on San Silvestro (1610) were frescoed in the apse by Orazio Borgianni. In the baptistry apse, there is a Baptism of Constantine 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 & Stephen 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 head said to be John the Baptist's, enshrined at San Silvestro.

A convent, dedicated to Pope Sylvester I and Pope 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 [6]


  1. ^ a b Chiesa di San Silvestro – History
  2. ^ The Basilica is dedicated to Pope Sylvester the 1st.
  3. ^ "The Head of St. John the Baptist at San Silvestro in Capite", Atlas Obscura
  4. ^ "Church of San Silvestro in Capite ", Religiana
  5. ^ VV, AA (2016-01-03). La chiesa di Santa Maria in via Lata: note di storia e di restauro (in Italian). Gangemi Editore spa. p. 38. ISBN 978-88-492-9136-0.
  6. ^ Cardinal Title S. Silvestro in Capite

Media related to San Silvestro in Capite (Rome) at Wikimedia Commons

Preceded by
San Sebastiano fuori le mura
Landmarks of Rome
San Silvestro in Capite
Succeeded by
San Sisto Vecchio