An Image of Pope St. Peter
This is an image of Pope St. Peter sitting on the throne from the Jubilee Year of 1950. Although the artwork of the item is crude, the plastic container embedded into the statue has a little case of dirt from his tomb. The container has the symbol of the papacy on it, the cross keys and tiara.
A Relic from the Original Chair of St. Peter with the Pontifical Coat of Arms, the Cross Keys & Tiara
The artifact featured here is an oval reliquary measuring 52 X 46 cm, with a relic of the original Chair of St. Peter enclosed in glass, with sealing wax and silk threads intact. The wax seal and unbroken threads authenticate the relic, as does the document of authenticity accompanying the item. The image of the papal cross keys & tiara are what drew the Curator to this particular item.
As can be seen in the photo, the original throne is decorated with small carved ivory plaques showing the labors of Hercules and some celestial constellations. The chair is actually visible through Bernini’s canopy.
An ancient tradition holds that the Apostle himself sat upon it during sermons. However, the archaeologist G.B. De Rossi, who was able to examine the venerable relic during one of the centenary festivities in 1867, the last time that the Chair was put on show, concluded that only the acacia wood skeleton dates from the early age, while the other parts in oak, anchored to the skeleton by strips of iron and the ivory plaques, belong to a re-construction of the Chair made in the Byzantine period.
This reliquary is thought to be the original acacia wood dating from the time of St. Peter himself using the chair.
About the Present Chair of St. Peter, the Bernini Masterpiece, with the Original Chair Within
Every year on February 22, the Church celebrates the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, to commemorate St. Peter’s teaching in Rome. Already in the second half of the 18th century an ancient wooden chair inlaid with ivory was venerated and traditionally held to be the Episcopal chair on which St. Peter sat as he instructed the faithful of Rome. In fact, it is a throne in which fragments of acacia wood are visible, which could be part of the chair of St. Peter, encased in oak and reinforced with iron bands. Several rings facilitated its transportation during processions. Pope Alexander VII commissioned Bernini to build a sumptuous monument which would give prominence to this ancient wooden chair. Bernini built a throne in gilded bronze, richly ornamented with bas-reliefs in which the chair was enclosed: two pieces of furniture, one within the other. On January 17, 1666 it was solemnly set above the altar.
The base of the altar is made of black and white marble from Aquitaine and red jasper from Sicily. Four gigantic statues (about 5 m. tall) in gilded bronze surround the Chair which looks almost as if it were suspended amidst the clouds. The two outer statues are figures of two Doctors of the Latin Church: St. Ambrose and St. Augustine; the two inner statues, with bare heads, are of two Doctors of the Greek Church: St. Athanasius and St. John Chrysostom. These saints represent the catholicity of the Church and at the same time, the consistency of the theologians’ teaching with the doctrine of the Apostles.
Above the Chair are two angels bearing the tiara and keys, symbols of the Roman pontiff’s authority. On the Chair, are three bas-reliefs picked out in gold, which refer to the same number of Gospel episodes: the Consignment of the keys, Feed my sheep, and the Washing of the feet.
The whole composition is crowned by the fantastic gilt and stucco Gloria peopled by a host of angels among rays of light and gigantic billowing clouds. In their midst is the precious window of Bohemian glass, divided into twelve sections as a tribute to the Twelve Apostles; a brilliant dove stands out against it, the symbol of the Holy Spirit, the soul of the Church which he never ceases to help and to guide. Vanvitelli decorated the vault with gilded stucco. In the three medallions are portrayed: the Consignment of the Keys, the Crucifixion of St. Peter and the Beheading of St. Paul.
Tracing the Papacy Through the Old Testament: A Commentary by Father Richard Kunst
February 22 in a liturgical feast day that I am particularly fond of: the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. It is a feast that commemorates the teaching authority of the pope, the Vicar of Christ.
There is so much that can be written about the papacy and our understanding of Christ’s special representative on earth, but for me one of the most inspiring views of the chief shepherd of the Catholic Church comes from the scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments.
It might surprise some readers to think that the Old Testament has anything to do with the papacy. We commonly think of the Old Testament as just the stuff that happened before Jesus, that the Old Testament is the Jewish book and the New Testament is the Christian book.
In reality, the Old Testament is a Christian book since, from the Christian perspective, it was written to prepare us for the coming of Jesus Christ. If we did not have the Old Testament, we would never have been able to identify Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah.
With this in mind, we have to realize that Christ did not come into existence 2,000 years ago when Jesus was born. Jesus Christ is God the Son, the second Person of the Trinity. He has always been. So if God the Son has always been and the Old Testament’s purpose was to prepare us for his coming, then God the Son has to be active in the Old Testament.
God the Son is in the Old Testament in what theologians refer to as “types” of Christ. God the Son shows up in different forms, for example in the pillar of cloud that led the chosen people through the desert to the Promised Land.
Another type of Christ is the bronze serpent that God commands Moses to make after the people were bitten by serpents. God tells Moses to make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole so that anyone who had been bitten could look at the serpent and he would be healed. The serpent is a type of the crucified Christ.
Another one of the many types of Christ in the Old Testament, again during the Exodus event, was when the Hebrews were dying of thirst. Moses struck the rock. After doing so, water flowed out to save the people from death. The rock was a type of Christ, and so thereafter throughout the Old Testament God is often called the Rock, the saving Rock.
Now fast-forward 1,800 years from the Exodus to Jesus. Jesus sends out the Twelve two by two to spread the word that the Kingdom of God is at hand. When they come back, Jesus takes a poll as to what the people are saying about him. The answer? Some people think he is the Baptist come back from the dead, others think he is Elijah come down from heaven or one of the other prophets. Then Jesus puts them on the spot and says, “OK, Apostles, but who do you say that I am?” Simon answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). What Jesus then says to Simon is crucial: “Blessed are you, Simon, son of John, for no mere man has revealed this to you but my Heavenly Father, and so I say to you, you are Peter (Kepha, Petros, Rock), and upon this ROCK I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:17-18).
Do you see what is happening? In the Old Testament, God the Son was represented as a Rock. The Rock that was struck by Moses so as to save the Hebrews was a type of Christ. Now God the Son in the flesh inverses the sign and points to Peter and says: “You now are the Rock, the new type of Christ; you will be my representative and my church will be built upon you as Rock.”
The Gospel scene in the 16th chapter of Matthew is all about the birth of the papacy as the new type and representative of Christ. This is why the pope is so central to who we are as Christians. He is the new Rock, and where the pope is, there is the church, the Body of Christ. Every time we see him on TV or read about him in magazines or the newspaper, our hearts and souls should churn with love for God. We should hang on every word the Holy Father speaks because he is speaking for the Rock who saved Israel; he is speaking for Christ, God the Son. —Father Richard Kunst
Please visit February 18, Crux (on line magazine) for an excellent article regarding this feast day
Feast of Chair of Peter: An Invitation to the Right Kind of Power