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The Cathedra of Saint Peter

Written and read by Pietro Zander

The “Cathedra Sancti Petri Apostoli” is traditionally considered to be the episcopal throne of Saint Peter: an ancient wooden throne, symbol of the Petrine primacy and the Pope’s magisterium, with ivory plaques depicting the labours of Hercules and with friezes, again in ivory, dating from the Carolingian age (9th century).

To protect it, the architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini created a large monument in gilded bronze, which was completed in 1666 after ten years of particularly demanding and onerous work, especially for the fusion of the bronze statues and elements, weighing 74 tonnes. The throne, containing the relic, is flanked by two angels and is crowned with the papal insignia of the keys and tiara, reaching a height of 14.74 metres.

On the back of the throne, Christ is depicted entrusting Peter with the leadership of the Church (“Pasce oves meas”, Jn 21:15-17), while at the sides there are bas-reliefs depicting the “Consignment of the keys” on the right (Mt 16:18-19) and the “Washing of the feet” on the left (Jn 13: 5-11). Four statues of the Greek and Latin Doctors of the Church, almost six metres high, border the throne: the front two represent Saint Ambrose (left) and Saint Augustine (right), while in the second row there are the statues of Saint Athanasius (left) and Saint John Chrysostom (right). On the black Aquitaine marble base there are the coats of arms of Pope Alexander VII (1665-1667), who commissioned the work from Bernini.

In the upper part, the central window of the apse is closed by a stained-glass window with the dove of the Holy Spirit which, located approximately 20 metres high in an animated Glory of angels and putti in gilded stucco, is immediately visible to those who pass through the door of the basilica. On the occasion of the solemn festivities of the Cathedra of Saint Peter, on 22 February, Bernini’s monument is illuminated with over a hundred candles.

© Fabric of Saint Peter