Tuesday, August 19


Great Catholic Moms Throughout History: St. Sylvia of Rome

The image above is one of the comparatively few ancient depictions we have of St. Gregory with his parents SS. Gordian and Silvia, presumably taken from an original dating from the pope's own time by the square halo. I did another one some years ago, before seeing this, for my own parents--my mother's name is Silvia, and images of her patron are rarer than archaeopteryx teeth*--and I got a fair number of details wrong. Still, it's gratifying to discover I'm not the only one to hit on the idea. Here's another one I found, perhaps based on the older image above.

Before there were Louis and Zélie Martin (currently up for beatification, incidentally) and after the Holy Kinship, you had Silvia and Gordianus, who had not only St. Gregory, but an astonishing number of saintly relatives. Her sisters-in-law Trasilla and Emiliana, are also considered saints, as well as another sister-in-law Gordiana, and, of course, her abovementioned husband Gordianus. It must have been something in the water. Wikipedia has the following:
Silvia was noted for her great piety, and she gave her sons an excellent education. After the death of her husband she devoted herself entirely to religion in the "new cell by the gate of blessed Paul" (cella nova juxta portam beati Pauli). Gregory the Great had a mosaic portrait of his parents executed at the monastery of St. Andrew; it is minutely described by Johannes Diaconus (P.L., LXXV, 229-30). Silvia was portrayed sitting with the face, in which the wrinkles of age could not hide the beauty, in full view; the eyes were large and blue, and the expression was gracious and animated. [...]

Silvia had built a chapel in her house. In 645, the monks from the monastery of Mar Saba (Palestine) settled in this house, and devoted it to the celebration of St. Sabas. In the ninth century an oratory was erected over her former dwelling, near the Basilica of San Saba.

Pope Clement VIII (1592-1605) inserted her name under 3 November in the Roman Martyrology. She is invoked by pregnant women for a safe delivery.
There is also another St. Silvia (better known as the traveller Egeria, and whose cultus as a saint seems to be quite obscure), whose sanctity appears to rest on her fondness for cold showers and pilgrimages, and a St. Silvia of Constantinople, who seems to have been a learned enemy of heresy, but other particulars are not forthcoming.

*i.e., they do exist, as strange as that may seem, somewhere, but it takes a lot of digging to get to them. Some particularly corroded frescoes of them flank the chancel at my favorite liturgical broom-closet, San Gregorio dei Muratori.

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