Chair of Saint Peter
|Latin: Cathedra Petri|
|Artist||Gian Lorenzo Bernini|
|Location||St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City|
The Chair of Saint Peter (Latin: Cathedra Petri) is a relic conserved in St. Peter's Basilica, enclosed in a sculpted gilt bronze casing that was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and executed between 1647 and 1653. The name derives from the Latin cathedra meaning chair or throne, which is used to denote the chair or seat of a bishop. The cathedra in St. Peter's Basilica was once used by the popes. Inside the Chair is a wooden throne, which, according to tradition, was used by Saint Peter. It was, however, actually a gift from Charles the Bald to Pope John VIII in 875.
Like many medieval reliquaries it takes the form of the relic it protects, in this case a chair. Symbolically, the chair Bernini designed had no earthly counterpart in actual contemporary furnishings. It is formed entirely of scrolling members, enclosing a coved panel where the upholstery pattern is rendered as a low relief of Christ giving the keys to Peter. Large angelic figures flank an openwork panel beneath a highly realistic bronze seat cushion, vividly empty: the relic is encased within.
The cathedra is lofted on splayed scrolling bars that appear to be effortlessly supported by four over-lifesize bronze Doctors of the Church: Western doctors St. Ambrose and St. Augustine of Hippo on the outsides, wearing miters, and Eastern doctors St. John Chrysostom and St. Athanasius on the insides, both bare-headed. The cathedra appears to hover over the altar in the basilica's apse, lit by a central tinted window through which light streams, illuminating the gilded glory of sunrays and sculpted clouds that surrounds the window. Like Bernini's Ecstasy of St Theresa, this is a definitive fusion of the Baroque arts, unifying sculpture and richly polychrome architecture and manipulating effects of light.
Above, on the golden background of the frieze, is the Latin inscription: "O Pastor Ecclesiae, tu omnes Christi pascis agnos et oves" (O pastor of the Church, you feed all Christ's lambs and sheep). On the right is the same writing in Greek. Behind the altar is placed Bernini's monument enclosing the wooden chair, both of which are seen as symbolic of the authority of the Bishop of Rome as Vicar of Christ and successor of Saint Peter.
Early martyrologies indicate that two liturgical feasts were celebrated in Rome, centuries before the time of Charles the Bald, in honour of earlier chairs associated with Saint Peter, one of which was kept in the baptismal chapel of Saint Peter's Basilica, the other at the catacomb of Priscilla. The dates of these celebrations were January 18 and February 22. No surviving chair has been identified with either of these chairs. The feasts thus became associated with an abstract understanding of the "Chair of Peter", which by synecdoche signifies the episcopal office of the Pope as Bishop of Rome, an office considered to have been first held by Saint Peter, and thus extended to the diocese, the See of Rome. Though both feasts were originally associated with Saint Peter's stay in Rome, the ninth-century form of the Martyrologium Hieronymianum associated the January 18 feast with his stay in Rome, and the February 22 feast with his stay at Antioch.
The two feasts were included in the Tridentine Calendar with the rank of Double, which Pope Clement VIII raised in 1604 to the newly invented rank of Greater Double. In 1960 Pope John XXIII removed from the General Roman Calendar eight feast days that were second feasts of a single saint or mystery: one of them was the January 18 feast of the Chair of Peter. The February 22 celebration became a Second-Class Feast. This calendar was incorporated in the 1962 Roman Missal of Pope John XXIII, whose continued use as an extraordinary form of the Roman Rite is authorized under the conditions indicated in the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. In the new classification introduced in 1969 the February 22 celebration appears in the Roman Calendar with the rank of Feast. Those traditionalist Catholics who do not accept the changes made by Pope John XXIII continue to celebrate both feast days: "Saint Peter's Chair at Rome" on January 18 and the "Chair of Saint Peter at Antioch" on February 22.
- "Interior of the Basilica". Vatican State. Retrieved 20 March 2013.
- In late seventeenth-century Venice, Andrea Brustolon constructed a few grandiose armchairs that employ similar sculptural figures doing duty as front legs and armrest supports.
- See Gesamtkunstwerk
- The Tribune: Altar of the Chair of St. Peter
- Catholic Encyclopedia: "Chair of Peter"
- Variationes in Breviario et Missali Romano ad normam novi Codicis Rubricarum, I — Variationes in calendario, 8.
|Smarthistory: Bernini's Cathedra Petri (Chair of St. Peter)|
- Altar of the Chair of St. Peter
- Catholic Encyclopedia: Chair of St. Peter — article contains photograph of the chair of Charles the Bald
- Encyclopaedia Britannica Online: Gian Lorenzo Bernini