And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

tirsdag 31. desember 2013

Pope Sylvester and the Dragon

Today, the last day of the year, is the feast day of Pope Sylvester (d. 335), whose legendary afterlife had an important place in the Middle Ages. According to a later forgery, known as the Donation of Constantine, Pope Sylvester received all worldly power in the West from the emperor, presumably in gratitude for having cured him of leprosy (or so the legend goes), and this document was an important tool in the investiture struggle and the other skirmishes between Pope and Emperor that marked the High Middle Ages. This document was later proved to be a forgery by Lorenzo Valla (c.1407-57), and this critical refutation has by some been seen as the starting point of the literary aspect of the quattrocento humanist Renaissance.

Sylvester resuscitating the dragon's victim, Maso di Banco (d.1348)
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Sylvester binding the dragon, Battista da Vicenza (15th century)

Another legend concerning Pope Sylvester tells that a dragon once terrorised Rome with a noxious vapour which killed the citizens. In the Middle Ages, bad smell was a sign of wickedness, and this dragon was indeed a force of evil. Pope Sylvester then made his way to the dragon's lair, bound it in the name of God and brought its victims back to life. There are also other legends, some of which can be read about more thoroughly here.

It is in a way fitting that the last day of the year is the feast of a saint bringing the dead back to life, as the New Year mark our long way toward spring and the return of life. Best wishes for 2014.

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