The Chair of Saint Peter  the Apostle (feast- February 22)

Rome was nothing to write home about before St. Peter and St. Paul Planted the faith and were both crowned with martyrdom under Nero, around the year 64 AD. Christ made Peter the head of the church when he said, ” …and on this rock, I shall build my church and the kingdom of Hell shall not prevail over it…”. Ever Since, Christ’s declaration over St. Peter has led him through the leadership of Christ’s Church – the Christians.

The chair of St. Peter, also known as the Throne of Saint Peter, is an object conserved in St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican city, Rome. The object is a wooden throne that tradition claims the Apostle St. Peter used as the leader of the Christians in Rome and first Pope of the Catholic church. The throne is covered in a sculpted gilt bronze casing designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Pope Benedict XVI described the chair as “a symbol of the special mission of Peter and his Successors to tend Christ’s flock, keeping it united in faith and in charity.

The wooden throne was a gift from Holy Roman Emperor Charles the Bald to Pope John VIII in 875. It has been known for some centuries to have been removed from the Bernini altar. After a study was carried out, it was concluded that it was not a double, but a single, chair with a covering and that no part of the chair dated earlier than the sixth century

The Chair is the Cathedral (a Latin word for “Chair” or “Throne”) of St. Peter’s Basilica and oversees the chair or seat of a bishop, hence “cathedral” oversees the Bishop’s church in an Episcopal See and the Popes formerly used the Chair. It is quite different from the Papal Cathedral in St. John Lateran Archbasilica, also in Rome, which is the actual cathedral church of the Pope.

The chair is made from timber from the oak tree and has metal rings attached to each side for a reason. The back and front of the chair are trimmed with carved ivory.

Symbolically, the chair Bernini designed had no earthly counterpart in actual contemporary furnishings. It is formed entirely of scrolling members, enclosing a room panel where the upholstery pattern is rendered as a low relief of Christ instructing Peter to tend to His sheep. Large angelic figures flank an openwork panel beneath a highly realistic bronze seat cushion, vividly empty- the relic is encased within.

The Cathedral is lofted on splayed scrolling bars that appear to be effortlessly supported by four bronze Doctors of the church. Western doctors Saint Ambrose and Saint Augustine of Hippo on the outsides, wearing miters, and Eastern doctors Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Athanasius the insides, both bare-headed. The cathedral appears to be over the altar in the basilica’s apse, lit by a central tinted window through which light streams, illuminating glory of sun rays and sculpted clouds that surrounds the window and above it on the golden background of the frieze, is the Latin inscription: “O Pastor Ecclesiae, tu Omnes Christi Pascis agnos et oves” meaning, O pastor of the Church, you feed all Christ’s lambs and sheep. On the right is the same writing in Greek and 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 the Vica of Christ and successor of Saint Peter.

Two liturgical feasts were celebrated in Rome before the time of Charles the Bald, in honor of earlier chairs associated with Saint Peter, one of which was kept in the baptismal chapel of St. Peter’s Basilica, the other at the Catacomb of Priscilla and the dates of these celebrations were January 18 and February 22. No surviving chair has been identified with either of these chairs. The feasts, however, became associated with an abstract understanding of the “Chair of Peter”, which signifies the episcopal office of the Pope as Bishop of Rome. This is an office considered to have been first held by Saint Peter and has since been extended to the diocese, the See Rome.

In 1960 Pope John XXIII removed from the General Roman Calendar the January 18 feast of the Chair of Peter, along with seven other feast days that were second feasts of a single saint or mystery. The February 22 celebration now becomes a Second-Class Feast. The calendar was incorporated in the 1962 Roman Missal of Pope John XXIII while its continued use was authorized Pope Benedict XVI.

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