The Life of Pope Sylvester  

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At the same time Constantine Augustus built by request of Silvester, the bishop, the basilica of blessed Peter, the apostle1, in the shrine of Apollo, and laid there the coffin with the body of the holy Peter2; the coffin itself he enclosed on all sides with bronze, which is unchangeable: at the head 5 feet, at the feet 5 feet, at the right side 5 feet, at the left side 5 feet, underneath 5 feet and overhead 5 feet: thus he enclosed the body of blessed Peter, the apostle, and laid it away.

And above he set porphyry columns for adornment and other spiral columns3 which he brought from Greece.

He made also a vaulted roof4 in the basilica, gleaming with polished gold, and over the body of the blessed Peter, above the bronze which enclosed it, he set a cross of purest gold, weighing 150 lbs., in place of a measure5 and upon it were inscribed these words: "CONSTANTINE AUGUSTUS AND HELENA AUGUSTA THIS HOUSE SHINING WITH LIKE ROYAL SPLENDOR A COURT SURROUNDS," inscribed6 in clear, enamelled letters upon the cross.

He gave also7 4 brass candlesticks, 10 feet in height, overlaid with silver, with figures in silver of the acts of the apostles, weighing each 300 lbs.;
3 golden chalices, set with 45 prases and jacinths, weighing each 12 lbs.;
2 silver jars, weighing 200 lbs.;
20 silver chalices, weighing each 10 lbs.
2 golden pitchers, weighing each 10 lbs.;
5 silver pitchers, weighing each 20 lbs.;
a golden paten with a turret of purest gold and a dove8, adorned with prases, jacinths and pearls, [white stones,] 215 in number, weighing 30 lbs.;
5 silver patens, weighing each 15 lbs.;
a golden crown before the body, that is a chandelier, with 50 dolphins, which weighs 35 lbs.;
32 silver lamps in the body of the basilica, with dolphins, weighing each 10 lbs.;
for the right of the basilica 30 silver lamps, weighing each 8 lbs.;
the altar itself of silver overlaid with gold, adorned on every side with gems, 400 in number, [with 210] [adorned on every side with 210] prases, jacinths and pearls, weighing 350 lbs.;
a censer of purest gold adorned on every side with jewels, 60 in number, weighing 15 lbs.

Likewise for revenue, the gift which Constantine Augustus offered to blessed Peter, the apostle, in the diocese of the East:
in the city of Anthiocia9:
the house of Datianus, yielding 240 sol.;
the little house in Caene10, yielding 20 and one third sol.;
the barns in Afrodisia, yielding 20 sol.;
the bath in Ceratheae, yielding 42 sol.;
the mill in the same place, yielding 23 sol.;
the cook shop in the same place, yielding 10 sol.;
the garden of Maro, yielding 10 sol.;
the garden in the same place, yielding 11 sol.;

near the city of Anthiocia:
the property Sybilles, a gift to Augustus, yielding 322 sol.,
150 decades11 of papyrus, 200 lbs. of spices,
200 lbs. of oil of nard,
35 lbs. of balsam;

near the city of Alexandria:
the property Timialica, given to Constantine Augustus by Ambrosius, [Ambronius,] yielding 620 sol.,
300 decades of papyrus,
300 lbs. of oil of nard,
6o lbs. of balsam,
150 lbs. of spices,
50 lbs. of Isaurian storax;
the property of Eutymus, who left no heir12, yielding 500 sol.,
70 decades of papyrus;

in Egypt13:
near the city of Armenia14, the property of Agapus, which he gave to Constantine Augustus;
the property of Passinopolis, yielding 800 sol.,
400 decades of papyrus,
50 medimni of pepper,
100 lbs. of saffron,
150 lbs. of storax,
200 lbs. of spices of cinnamon,
300 lbs. of oil of nard,
100 lbs. of balsam,
100 bags of flax,
150 lbs. of cariophylum15,
100 lbs. of Cyprian oil,
1000 fine stalks of papyrus;
the property which Hybromius gave to Constantine Augustus, yielding 450 sol.,
200 decades of papyrus,
50 lbs. of spices of cinnamon,
200 lbs. of oil of nard,
50 lbs. of balsam;

in the province of the Euphrates, near the city of Cyrus16:
the property of Armanazon, yielding 380 sol.;
the property of Obariae, yielding 260 sol.

1. The great Constantinian basilica of St. Peter stood with some alterations and many additions until it was torn down by the popes of the Renaissance to make way for the present edifice. The mosaic of the triumphal arch, which represented Constantine offering a model of the church to Christ, seems to have kept its place to the last and the stamp of the emperor was on the bricks of which the basilica was built. For a good brief description of old St. Peter's see Frothingham, Monuments of Christian Rome, pp. 25-29; Lanciani, Destruction of Ancient Rome, pp. 3I-32; Duchesne, op. cit., pp. 193-194, n. 61. The last-named quotes from some of the surviving contemporary descriptions of the church and reproduces a ground plan published by Alfamno in 1590. There is a mass of literature on the subject to which it is impossible to refer here. On the site see supra, p. 5, n. 5.
2. The following rather confused description of the tomb of St. Peter is the oldest and also the fullest in existence. The sarcophagus itself, enclosed still to all probability in Constantine's bronze casing, lies in a small subterranean chamber connected by a deep vertical shaft with the confession beneath the present high altar. In 1594, when the foundations of this altar were being laid, Pope Clement VIII and three cardinals saw at the bottom of the shaft, which the architect had laid open, a cross of gold lying upon the tomb, but the pope ordered the shaft immediately filled up and it has never since been opened. Whether the cross was the one placed there by Constantine is not certain. The tomb was early made inaccessible, undoubtedly to protect it from invading marauders.
3. The porphyry columns apparently supported the ciborium above the altar, the spiral columns next mentioned formed a line or colonnade in front of the confession, separating it from the nave. Several of the latter may still be seen, adorning niches in the pillars that support the cupola of the present cathedral, and one is venerated in a side chapel. They served as models evidently for the huge bronze spiral columns of the modem baldachino. They were preserved with particular reverence because of a tradition that arose in the Middle Ages to the effect that they had originally stood in the Temple at Jerusalem. They are represented in Rafael's cartoon of the healing of the impotent man at the Gate Beautiful.
4. I.e. the vaulting of the apse.
5. "In mensure locus," an unintelligible expression. Other manuscripts give "in mensuram loci," which might mean that the cross was as large as the chamber allowed.
6. The inscription is recorded nowhere else and, as it stands here, is obviously incomplete. De Rossi suggests the insertion of three words and the alteration of one ending which would make it read, "Constantine Augustus and Helena Augusta beautify with gold this royal house which a court, shining with like splendor, surrounds." Mommsen, Op. Cit., p. 57, n. on line 13. Duchesne thinks that the "royal house" is the subterranean tomb chamber, which during the fourth century was probably accessible to the devout and not impenetrably sealed until the invasions of the fifth century; in that case the surrounding court would be the basilica itself., Duchesne, op. cit., p. 195, n. 67.
7. Orosius relates that during Alaric's sack of Rome in 410 the precious vessels of St. Peter's were deposited for safe keeping in the house of an aged, consecrated virgin. They were discovered by the barbarians but before they were carried off Alaric learned that they were the property of the apostle and restored them all in state to the basilica. Historia adversum Paganos, lib. VII, c. 39, ed. Zangemeister, Teubner, pp. 202-293.
8. Vessels shaped like small turrets or towers and like doves were used to enshrine the Host.
9. Antioch, it will be remembered, was traditionally the seat of Peter's first bishopric. See supra, p. 4.
10. Caene, Afrodisia and Ceratheae are all quarters of the city of Antioch.
11. The decade was apparently a package containing ten sheets.
12. The property had, therefore, reverted to the imperial exchequer.
13. After 386 A.D. Egypt did not form part of the administrative division of the Orient, as here, but constituted a separate division alone. Duchesne, op. cit., p. cl.
14. I do not know what city is meant here.
15. Perhaps a corruption for "carpheotum," a superior kind of frankincense.
16. Perhaps Cyrrhus, a city in Syria.




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