The Chapter of Saint Peter is a college of clergy, established around the second half of the eleventh century, with the task of ensuring the liturgical and sacramental care of Saint Peter’s Basilica.
Initially, it was composed of a variable number of canons, under the direction of the Cardinal Archpriest of the Vatican Basilica. Only in the second half of the thirteenth century did the Chapter's staff begin to be defined by statute, which, through progressive enlargements, in the last century came to number almost one hundred people.
In the first centuries of its history, the Chapter of Saint Peter represented a reflection of the city’s society, linking its fortunes to those of some of Rome’s most prominent families, in particular the Orsini. From the second half of the fifteenth century, however, the presence of foreigners among the canons of Saint Peter’s became more and more significant, making the Chapter an increasingly cosmopolitan body.
The prestige accorded to the canons of Saint Peter by their specific function within the Roman clergy and by the particular sacredness of the Vatican Basilica, where they were called to exercise their ministry, is reflected in the generosity continually shown to the Chapter by the popes.
The role of the canons, however, did not end with the choral psalmody and the daily Eucharistic celebrations: in its first centuries of life, the Chapter was also entrusted with the material care of the Basilica. Since the construction of the present Basilica (1506), however, this task gradually passed to the Fabric of Saint Peter. On the other hand, more or less at the same time, as the urbanization of the area around the Basilica intensified, the canons saw an increase in their pastoral care tasks.
Other important institutional tasks of the Chapter of Saint Peter, from the very beginning, were the administration of the patrimony of the Basilica and the custody of the ecclesiastical furnishings (and even today the Chapter is the custodian of the Treasury of Saint Peter, exhibited in the Museum of the Basilica). The task of administering the patrimony of Saint Peter’s also entailed for a long time the responsibility for the material care and officiating of an extensive network of branch churches, located in various regions of Italy.
Besides their institutional tasks, the Canons of Saint Peter have long distinguished themselves in the promotion of devotional cults: for example, inspiring the birth and activity of the Archconfraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, or by promoting the veneration of the Virgin Mary through the solemn crowning of Marian images, at first only in Rome, but later also in other Italian cities and the rest of the world.
In the social field too, the Chapter of Saint Peter maintained close ties with the city for centuries, providing dozens of marriage dowries to girls in need every year.
A revision of the chapter statutes is currently underway, aimed at modernizing its profile, adapting it to the renewed spiritual and devotional needs of our times.
© Fabric of Saint Peter