Today we honor the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist, the Forerunner of Our Lord. According to Fr. Zuhlsdorf*, the feast began as the feast of the translation of St. John’s head to the Basilica of San Silvestro in Capite** (St. Sylvester “in the Head”) in Rome. This basilica was the occasion of a serendipitous event when I was studying Latin with Fr. Reginald “Reggie” Foster, O.C.D., in Rome during the summer of 2007.
I was wandering around the Eternal City a few weeks into the class. Having already visited all of the main pilgrim churches (St. Peter’s, St. John Lateran, Santa Maria Maggiore, etc.), I muttered to myself, “I’m surprised I haven’t run into a head of St. John the Baptist. There’s supposed to be one in Rome.” I then looked up and saw a basilica I’d never noticed before, and said, “Really, *another* basilica? How many of these are there? Oh, well, ‘when in Rome.'” Upon entering, I discovered the shrine where they preserve what is purported to be the relic of St. John’s head (definitive proof is lacking).
The basilica is dedicated to Pope St. Sylvester I. A legend (unfortunately, it’s only a legend) says that St. Sylvester baptized the Emperor Constantine in the Baptistery of St. John Lateran. The fresco over the apse portrays this fictitious event. So the basilica definitely has a baptismal theme.
In any case, I remember today that my uncle and godfather was named John (he died three years and two days ago), and the name John ran in my mother’s family for several generations. Also, my father’s Funeral Mass was offered in the parish church of St. John the Baptist in Savanna, IL, where my mother and I have attended Mass many times. So I wish a happy name day to all the John’s out there, whether they live in Rome or the Driftless Area or points in between.
*For some reason, I can’t get links to work today. Here’s the link to Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s article: http://wdtprs.com/blog/2016/08/29-august-beheading-of-john-the-baptist-and-diminishing-returns/
**For more information about the basilica, click here: http://romanchurches.wikia.com/wiki/San_Silvestro_in_Capite