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All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to romapip@quipo.it. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in January 2010.

Chiesa e Monastero di S. Silvestro in Capite (Book 8) (Map B2) (Day 1) (View C6) (Rione Colonna), (Rione Trevi) and (Rione Campo Marzio)

In this page:
The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
Today's view
S. Silvestro in Capite
S. Claudio dei Borgognoni and Casa dei Borgognoni

The Plate (No. 153)

Chiesa e Monastero di S. Silvestro

The reference in capite (Lat. caput, capitis head) is generally attributed to the head of St. John the Baptist which has been kept in the church since the XIIth century; it is possible however that it came from the sentence in capita domorum (at the end of the houses), indicating that S. Silvestro was located at the end of the populated part of the city during the Middle Ages and until the early XVIIth century.
When Vasi drew his etching the area was fully built and the fašade of the church was renovated in 1703 by Domenico De Rossi (the small coat of arms belongs to Clement XI, the reigning pope at that time).
The view is taken from the green dot in the 1748 map below. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Monastery of S. Maria Maddalena; 2) Street leading to il Corso. The small map shows also: 3) S. Silvestro in Capite; 4) S. Claudio dei Borgognoni; 5) Via Borgognona; 6) Casa dei Borgognoni. The dotted line in the small map delineates the borders among Rione Campo Marzio (upper half), Colonna (in the middle) and Rione Trevi (lower end).

Small ViewSmall Map


The church today
The view in June 2009

At the end of the XIXth century the monastery adjoining the church was transformed into the Central Post Office and today for many Romans S. Silvestro means just the Post Office; the square was enlarged in 1940 by pulling down the buildings between S. Silvestro and S. Claudio dei Borgognoni; it currently houses the terminal of many city bus lines.
The monastery of S. Maria Maddalena delle Convertite of which Vasi shows the rear part was pulled down and it is now replaced by Palazzo Marignoli, a modern building in neo-Renaissance style.

S. Silvestro in Capite

(left) Fašade; (centre) bell tower; (right) two columns of the Temple to the Sun

The church is dedicated to St. Sylvester I, who was pope at the time of Emperor Constantine and to St. Stephen III who was pope in 752-57; it was built by Pope Paul I, St. Stephen's brother on the site of a Temple to the Sun erected in 273 by Emperor Aurelian who promoted that cult in an attempt to strengthen the unity of the Roman Empire. The courtyard houses some ancient columns which have been found by excavating beneath the level of the current church which was entirely renovated after 1593, with the sole exception of the medieval bell tower.

(left) Relief showing "Immagine Edessena"; (right-above) head of St. John the Baptist; (right-below) ancient relief in the courtyard of the church

In addition to the head of St. John the Baptist which according to tradition was brought to Rome during the pontificate of Pope Innocent II (1130-43), the church housed the Image of Edessa, a painting portraying the face of Jesus Christ; in 1869 the relic was moved to the Vatican.
For more reliefs/paintings portraying the head of St. John visit S. Giovanni Decollato.

S. Claudio dei Borgognoni

S. Claudio dei Borgognoni
(left) SS. Andrea e Claudio dei Borgognoni; (right) Casa dei Borgognoni

Bankers and merchants from the Duchy of Burgundy have lived in Rome since the XVth century. During the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) and especially between 1630 and 1642 many citizens of the Franche ComtÚ (the part of Burgundy which belonged to Spain) sought refuge in Rome. In 1650 a group of them founded a national brotherhood, which grew in 1678 when another group of refugees came to Rome due to the annexation by France of the French ComtÚ. The refugees lived between Via del Babuino and Via del Corso and a street (Via Borgognona) is still named after them. In 1728-1731 the brotherhood built a national church in a small square near S. Silvestro. The church was designed by Antoine DÚrizet, a professor at the French Academy in Rome who also designed Santo Nome di Maria (click here for a list of national churches in Rome).
In 1638 Jean Courtois a painter of sacred images from Burgundy came to Rome with his family; his sons Guillaume and Jacques also became painters, the latter specialized in depicting battles building upon his short military career. They Italianized their surname into Cortese and in 1672 Guillaume, who was known as il Borgognone went to live in a small palace at the end of Via Borgognona in Piazza di Spagna.

The head of St. John
(left to right) Lantern of the church; statue of St. Andrew by Luc BrÚton (very similar to that in St. Peter's by Franšois Duquesnoy); statue of St. Claudius of Besanšon by Guillaume Antoine Grandjacquet; "coat of arms" above the entrance to Casa dei Borgognoni: it shows a sword surrounded by the motto "BenchŔ (though) di spada (with a sword) armato (armed) io son (I am) cortese (courteous)"; it was designed by Jacques Courtois, but it was placed on the building by his brother Guillaume

Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:

Chiesa e Monastero di S. Silvestro in Capite
Nelle rovine delle Terme di Domiziano si crede che sia stata edificata questa chiesa nell' anno 261. da s. Dionisio Papa, per˛ con quella parsimonia, e segretezza, che si ricercava in quei primi tempi; ma dipoi da s. Paolo I. fu eretta con somma magnificenza, e fu insigne collegiata. Vi stettero dopo alcuni Monaci fuggiti dalla Grecia, i quali venuti meno nell' anno 1286. fu concessa la chiesa, e monastero alle Religiose di s. Chiara. Queste ora hanno rinnovato il monastero, e la chiesa ancora, ornandola magnificamente con marmi, stucchi dorati, e pitture diverse. La volta fu dipinta a fresco da Giacinto Brandi, e la crociata dal Roncalli coll'ajuto di Giuseppe Agellio, e del Consolano suoi allievi; le pitture per˛ nella tribuna sono del Geminiani. Il s. Antonio nella prima cappella a destra e i laterali sono di Giuseppe Chiari; il s. Francesco nella seconda Ŕ ai Luigi Garzi; il s. Gregorio nella terza di Giuseppe Ghezzi; la ss. Vergine, san Giuseppe, ed altri Santi nelle due cappelle, che sieguono sono del sopraddetto Geminiani, ed il ss. Crocifisso colle pitture laterali nell'ultima Ŕ di Francesco Trevisani.
Chiesa di san Claudio della nazione di Borgogna
pochi anni sono eretta in onore di s. Andrea Ap. e di san Claudio col disegno di Mons¨ DerisŔ Francese, e per˛ vi sono delle pitture fatte da francesi.

Next plate in Book 8: Chiesa e Monastero di S. Apollonia
Next step in Day 1 itinerary: Piazza Colonna
Next step in your tour of Rione Colonna: Palazzo di Propaganda Fide
Next step in your tour of Rione Campo Marzio: Chiesa della SS. TrinitÓ
Next step in your tour of Rione Trevi: Palazzo Del Bufalo