Saint of the Day – 20 June – St Pope Silverius (Died 538) Martyr – ruled the Holy See from 8 June 536 to his deposition in 538, a few months before his death. His rapid rise to prominence from a deacon to the papacy coincided the efforts of King Theodahad (nephew to Theodoric the Great), who intended to install a pro-Gothic candidate just before the Gothic War. Later deposed by Byzantine general Belisarius, he was tried and sent to exile on the desolated island of Palmarola, where he starved to death in 538. Patronage – Ponza, Italy.
Silverius was a legitimate son of Pope Hormisdas, born in Frosinone, Lazio, some time before his father entered the priesthood. Upon the death of St Pope Agapetas I, after a vacancy of forty-seven days, Silverius, then sub-deacon, was chosen Pope and ordained on the 8th of June, 536.
Theodora, the empress of Justinian, resolved to promote the sect of the Acephali. She endeavoured to win Silverius over to her interest and wrote to him, ordering that he should acknowledge Anthimus as a lawful bishop, or repair in person to Constantinople and re-ëxamine his cause on the spot. Without the least hesitation or delay, Silverius returned her a short answer, by which he peremptorily gave her to understand that he neither could nor would obey her unjust demands and betray the cause of the Catholic faith. The empress, finding that she could expect nothing from him, resolved to have him deposed. Vigilius, archdeacon of the Roman Church, was then at Constantinople. To him the empress made her application and finding him a man of great ambition, promised to make him Pope and to bestow on him seven hundred pieces of gold, provided he would engage himself to condemn the Council of Chalcedon and receive to Communion, the three deposed Eutychian patriarchs, Anthimus of Constantinople, Severus of Antioch and Theodosius of Alexandria. The unhappy Vigilius having assented to these conditions, the empress sent him to Rome, charged with a letter to the general Belisarius, commanding him to drive out Silverius and to contrive the election of Vigilius to the pontificate. Vigilius urged the general to execute the project. The more easily to carry out this project the Pope was accused of corresponding with the enemy and a letter was produced which was forged to have been written by him to the king of the Goths, inviting him into the city and promising to open the gates to him.
Silverius was banished to Patara in Lycia. The bishop of that city received the illustrious exile with all possible marks of honour and respect and thinking himself bound to undertake his defence, repaired to Constantinople and spoke boldly to the emperor, terrifying him with the threats of the divine judgements for the expulsion of a bishop of so great a see, telling him, “There are many kings in the world but there is only one Pope over the Church of the whole world.” It must be observed that these were the words of an Oriental bishop and a clear confession of the supremacy of the Roman See. Justinian appeared startled at the atrocity of the proceedings, and gave orders that Silverius should be sent back to Rome but the enemies of the Pope contrived to prevent it and he was intercepted on his road toward Rome and carried to a desert island, Palmarola,where he died on the 20th of June, 538 of starvation.
Pope Silverius was recognised as a saint by popular acclamation and is now the patron saint of the island of Ponza, Italy near to the island of Palmarola where he died. The first mention of his name is in a list of saints which dates to the 11th century. He is also called Saint Silverius (San Silverio). While Pope Silverius perished without fanfare and largely unlamented during the 6th century, the people from the neighbouring island of Ponza have honoured the virtuous St Silverio, a heritage that has reached the United States of America from the island, where many settlers have settled in the Morisania section of the Bronx. From there, they celebrate the Festival of San Silverio at Our Lady of Pity Church on 151st Street and Morris Avenue, just as they have for centuries, calling on him for help. According to Ponza Islands legend, fishermen were in a small boat in a storm off Palmarola and they called on Saint Silverius for help. An apparition of Saint Silverius called them to Palmarola, where they survived.