December 31st is the feast day of St. Sylvester, that is Pope Sylvester I (314-335), well known as the recipient of the Donatio Constantini, in which Emperor Constantine transferred power over Rome to the pope. The document is actually an 8th century forgery, as already proved by Nicholas of Cusa and Lorenzo Valla in the 15th century. Pope Sylvester also carried out several miracles - for example resurrecting a bull which was killed by a sorcerer during their contest or defeating a dragon which terrorized the populace of Rome. You can read his legend (from the Legenda Aurea) here. The Hungarian Angevin Legendary illustrates his story in six scenes (all in the main body of the codex, which is at the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana); I am including the two scenes mentioned above.
|Pope Sylvester revives a bull|
BAV Ms. Vat.Lat. 8541, f. 72r
|Pope Sylvester pulls a dragon out of the lake|
BAV Ms. Vat.Lat. 8541, f. 73v
In this post, however, I would also like to commemorate another Sylvester, Pope Sylvester II (reigned 999-1003), that is, the scholar Gerbert d'Aurillac. Gerbert became pope with the support of Emperor Otto III, and played a crucial role in establishing the Kingdom of Hungary as the newest Christian monarchy of Europe. He established the first archbishopric of Hungary at Esztergom, which became the center of the Hungarian church. The pope also approved the coronation of Hungary's newly baptized ruling prince, István - who became Hungary's first king. According to early chronicles and legends, the pope sent a crown to Stephen for this event. The coronation of St. Stephen took place on January 1st, 1001 (by most accounts). For his role in establishing Hungary as a Christian Kingdom, Stephen was canonized in 1083.