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E06552: Aldhelm, in his prose On Virginity, names *Silvester (bishop of Rome, ob. 336, S00397) as an exemplary virgin who, among other acts, was instrumental in the foundation of Constantinople, where there are many 'temples' built in honour of *saints (S00518). Written in Latin in southern Britain, for the nuns at the monastery at Barking (south-east Britain), c. 675/686.

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posted on 20.09.2018, 00:00 by bsavill
Aldhelm, prose On Virginity, 25

Silvester, qui apud Romam pontificalis cathedrae suscepit sacerdotium, per omnes Europae provincias et florentis Ausoniae parrochias, quam glaciales Alpium altus praeruptis scopulorum cautibus cingunt, signis miraculorum crebrescentibus claruit, siquidem incontaminata corporis pudicitia fretus et iugis abstinentiae parsimonia praeditus ad letiferum Romae draconem in clandistino criptae speleo latitantem, qui virulentis faucibus et pestifero spiritus anhelitu aethera corrumpens miserrimum populum atrociter vexabat, per centenos latebrarum gradus introrsum descendisse fertur et eandem mirae magnitudinis bestiam, cui paganorum decepta gentilitas ad sedandam furoris vesaniam fanaticae lustrationis spurcalia turificabat, inextricabili collario constrictam perpetuae ultionis animadversione perenniter multavit et Romam, fallacis idolatriae cultricem, a funesto victimarum ritu evangelicis assertionibus et signis pariter coruscantibus correxit. Illud etiam non omittendum reor , in quo praecipuum conservatae castitatis documentum declaratur, videlicet quod imperatoris Constantini diuturna valitudo et elefantiosa corporis incommoditas accepto baptismatis sacramento statim ab eodem salubriter dicto citius curaretur et tam interioris hominis aestus quam exterioris gestus per caeleste cataplasma duplici medicamine sine tricarum obstaculo sanaretur.

Praeterea absurdum fore suspicabar, si celeberrimum illud spectaculi genus per totos mundi cardines vulgatum taciturnitatis silentio oppilatum vilesceret et a nostris litterarum apicibus intactum delitesceret, in quo triumphantis Christi victoria et Silvestri certantis castimonia geminae laudis praeconio crebrescunt. Nam Constantino orbem gubernante ad sinodale concilium populis catervatim confluentibus duodenos Iudeorum praeceptores et fariseorum rabbites dira disputationum spicula contra Christi tironem truciter torquentes divino confisus clipeo confutat. Idem namque praesul somnium Constantini rerum latentium praesagia portendens mira sagacitate prudenter patefecit,siquidem, imperator in civitate, quae Bizantium vocabatur, cum membra sopori dedisset et debitum naturae solveret , apparuit ei in visione nocturna quaedam anicula satis decrepita etiam paene mortua, quam imperante Silvestro suscitare orando iubetur. Orante autem Constantino illa anicula surrexit et facta est iuvencula pulcherrima velut rubicundo venustae pubertatis flore rubescens; quae cum casta contemplatione regalibus placuisset obtutibus , induit eam clamidem suam a et diadema auro obrizo gemmisque purpureis ornatum posuit super caput eius. Helena autem mater eius dicebat ei: 'Haec tua erit et non morietur nisi in fine mundi.'

Igitur expergefactus imperator futurarum ignorantia rerum acriter artatur, donec per simplam ebdomadis intercapidinem corpore frugalitatis parsimonia macilento rursus e in soporem solvitur, Cui vir vitae venerabilis Silvester septima die ieiunii sui adest iterum ei in visione dicens: 'Anus decrepita haec est civitas , in qua tu moraris, nomine Bizantium, cuius muri iam prae vetustate consumpti sunt et paene omnia moenia eius corruerunt. Ascende itaque illum equum tuum, in quo baptizatus in albis sedisti in urbe Roma et apostolorum et martirum limina circuisti, et hunc sedens tene labarum tuum, quod signo Christi ex auro et gemmis est pictum. Hoc labarum tenens in dextera tua demitte frenum equi, ut, quo eum duxerit angelus Deu, illuc eat; tu autem fixum cuspidem labari in terra sic trahe eum, ut semitam faciat transitus sui; per quam semitam exstrui facies muros et hanc veteranam civitatem et paene mortuam in iuvenculam suscitabis et tui nominis vocabulo nominabis, ita ut reginam illam facias omnium urbium. Erit enim in ea nomen domini Iesu Christi magnificum et erunt in ea templa Dei ad honorem omnium sanctorum constructa et filii tui post te et filii filiorum tuorum regnabunt in ea.

Evigilans autem Constantinus statim ad ecclesiam perrexit indicans que episcopo civitatis, viro sancto nomine Sisinnio, somnium, quod prius viderat, et offerens Deo munera et communicans sacramentum dominicum ascendit equum et perrexit, quo eum duxit angelus domini atque per semitas labari fundamenta creverunt. Appellata est autem civitas Constantini, quod graeco sermone interpretatur Constantinopolis, usque in hodiernum diem. Igitur Silvester transacto pontificatus officio et consummato vitae curriculo cum palma virginitatis scalam Iacob ascendens angelorum coetibus admiscitur et beato supernorum consortio feliciter perfruitur.


'SILVESTER, who took up the office at the pontifical see of Rome, was renowned for the famous signs of his miracles throughout all the provinces of Europe and the parishes of blossoming Italy, which is bounded by the icy passes of the Alps with their sheer cliffs of rock – since indeed, relying on the uncontaminated chastity of body and endowed with the abstemiousness of continual abstinence, he is said to have gone down inside, through the hundred steps of its den, to the lethal dragon of Rome lurking in the secret cavern of the crypt, which, fouling the air with its poisonous maw and the pestilent exhalation of its breath, was fiercely molesting the general populace. Silvester punished for ever this very monster of amazing size – to which the beguiled heathenism of the pagans offered up the pollution of idolatrous sacrifice in order to appease the insanity of its fury – with the chastisement of perpetual revenge, constricting (the dragon) with an inextricable collar. And so he reformed Rome, the worshipper of deceitful idolatry, from the fatal practice of offering victims by his evangelical declarations and by miracles of equal luminosity. I also think that that (incident) should not be omitted, in which an outstanding proof of preserved chastity is made evident, namely that the long illness of the emperor Constantine and the elephantine disorder of his body was cured more quickly than the telling of it, as soon as the sacrament of baptism had been accepted, to his salvation, from the aforementioned Silvester; and the fever of the interior man as much as the condition of the exterior was healed by a double remedy through the celestial poultice, without any interference of quackery.

Besides, I think it absurd if that most celebrated form of miracle, bruited through all the corners of the world, were to lose its lustre, stopped up by the silence of speechlessness, and, not touched on by the letter-forms of my script, should remain secret – (that phenomenon) in which the victory of Christ triumphant and the chastity of Silvester militant are spread abroad by the renown of a dual praise. For, when Constantine was governing the world (and) people were flocking in throngs to a synodal council, Silvester, trusting in the divine shield, confutes twelve instructors of the Jews and rabbis of the Pharisees who were savagely hurling the dire shafts of disputation against this soldier of Christ. And the same bishop wisely explained with marvellous acuteness a dream of Constantine which portended the indications of hidden things; namely that when the emperor, (being) in the city which was called Byzantium, had given his limbs over to sleep and was paying the debt of nature, there appeared to him in a nocturnal vision a certain old woman, very decrepit – in fact near to death – whom he is ordered at Silvester's command to resuscitate by praying. (When) Constantine prayed, that old woman arose and became an extremely beautiful young lady, blushing with the golden flower of exquisite youth. When she had pleased the royal inspection in chaste contemplation (of her), he covered her with his cloak and placed a diadem adorned with burnished gold and shining gems on her head. But Helena his mother said to him: "She shall be yours and shall not die except at the end of the world."

Thereupon, when he awakened, the emperor was bitterly constrained by his ignorance of future events until, after the simple space of a week – his body (having become) lean with the abstemiousness of temperance – he is again given over to sleep. Silvester, the man of venerable life, is present before him on the seventh day of his fast, saying to him once again in his vision: "The decrepit old woman is the city in which you are staying, called Byzantium, whose walls are wasted away because of their age, and nearly all its fortifications have collapsed. Mount, therefore, that horse of yours, on which you sat when you were baptized, in white linen, in the city of Rome, and (on which) you toured the shrines of the apostles and martyrs; and sitting on him take up your ensign which is decorated with the sign of Christ in gold and jewels. Holding this ensign in your right hand, release the reigns of your horse so that he may go wherever the angel of God shall lead him; and you drag the point of your ensign fixed in the earth in such a way that it makes a path by its passage; along this path you shall have walls constructed and (so) shall resuscitate this veteran and nearly dead city into (the likeness of) a young lady; and you shall name her with your own name so that you make her the queen of all cities. The name of the Lord Jesus Christ shall be glorious in it, and there shall be temples of God built in honour of all the saints; and your sons after you and the sons of your sons shall reign in it."

Now, waking, Constantine went directly to the church and telling to the bishop of the city, a holy man called Sisinnius, the dream which he had just had, and offering gifts to God and taking the sacrament of Holy Communion, he mounted his horse and set out where the angel of the Lord led him; and the foundations grew along the paths of his ensign. And it is called the "city of Constantine", which in the Greek language is rendered "Constantinopolis", up to the present day. Thereupon Silvester, having completed his (term of) office as pontiff and

History

Evidence ID

E06552

Saint Name

Silvester, bishop of Rome, ob. 336 : S00397 Apostles, unnamed or name lost : S00084 Martyrs, unnamed or name lost : S00060 Saints, unnamed : S00518

Saint Name in Source

Silvester apostoli martires sancti

Type of Evidence

Literary - Other

Language

Latin

Evidence not before

675

Evidence not after

686

Activity not before

312

Activity not after

686

Place of Evidence - Region

Britain and Ireland

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

St Albans St Albans Verulamium

Major author/Major anonymous work

Aldhelm

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - unspecified

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracle with animals and plants Healing diseases and disabilities Revelation of hidden knowledge (past, present and future) Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Monarchs and their family Pagans Jews Women Ecclesiastics - bishops Angels

Source

Aldhelm’s prose treatise On Virginity (De Virginitate), for Abbess Hildelith and the nuns of Barking (south-east Britain), survives in twenty manuscripts, the earliest of which are 9th c. Together with its later, poetic counterpart, it forms what Bede described in 731 as a ‘twinned work’ (opus geminatum), although there is a notable difference between the content and style of the two sections, the second part constituting more than a straightforward ‘versification’ of the first (see E06659). Aldhelm (ob. 709/10) appears to have been a son of Centwine, king of the Gewisse or West Saxons (south-west Britain) from 676 until 682/5, when he abdicated and retired to a monastery. We do not know when Aldhelm himself took religious vows, but he definitely attended, perhaps for many years, Archbishop Theodore and Abbot Hadrian’s school at Canterbury (from shortly after 670?), and possibly studied at the Irish foundation of Iona, off the coast of north-west Britain (perhaps in the 660s?). Around 682/6 he became abbot of the West Saxon monastery of Malmesbury, and in 689 probably accompanied King Cædwalla on his pilgrimage to Rome (see E05710 and E06661). In 705/6 he was appointed ‘bishop west of the wood’ in his home kingdom (later identifiable with the diocese of Sherborne). (For all aspects of Aldhelm’s career see now Lapidge, 2007.) At the core of On Virginity is a lengthy catalogue of exemplary virgins, first men (Old Testament prophets; New Testament figures; martyrs and other saints of the Roman Empire), then women (Mary; martyrs and other saints of the Empire), followed by some remarks on a group of non-virginal, Old Testament sancti who in some sense prefigured Christ. As with Bede in his Marytrology (725/31), Aldhelm makes good use of Roman Martyrdoms and Acts in his accounts of many post-Biblical saints. Although he does not seem to have had the same range of hagiographical material at hand as Bede later would at the monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow (north-east Britain), his use of the texts is more creative, and he extensively reworks them in his characteristically florid prose style. The prose On Virginity presents difficulties with dating, but the author’s reference to himself in its preface as only a ‘servant’ (bernaculus) of the Church would seem to place it before his abbacy in 682/6 (ibid., 67-9). Meanwhile – if the twelfth-century chronicler John of Worcester is correct – Aldhelm’s chief dedicatee Hildelith only appears to have taken control over Barking in 675, thus allowing us to date the work cautiously to somewhere within 675/86. This is significant, since it suggests that the many Martyrdoms which Aldhelm used among his sources (including several translated from the Greek) were available to him in southern Britain before his probable visit to Rome in 689.

Discussion

Aldhelm's main source for this passage is The Acts of Silvester (E03229) (Lapidge and Herren, 1979, 176).

Bibliography

Edition: Ehwald, R., Aldhelmi opera (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores Antiquissimi 15; Berlin, 1919). Translation: Lapidge, M., and Herren, M., Aldhelm, The Prose Works (Cambridge, 1979). Further reading: Lapidge, M., "The Career of Aldhelm," Anglo-Saxon England 36 (2007), 15-69.

Continued Description

having accomplished the span of his life, ascends Jacob's ladder with the palm of virginity (and) is introduced into the companies of angels, and enjoys in blessedness the holy fellowship of heavenly citizens.'Test: Ehwald 1919, 257-60. Translation: Lapidge and Herren 1979, 82-4.

Usage metrics

Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

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