Cathedra Petri (Chair of St. Peter), St. Peter's

gilt bronze, marble, stucco, glass

View of the apse

Bernini designed a kind of gilt bronze container, or reliquary, for this ancient wooden chair, thought to have been used by St. Peter, as the first Bishop of Rome. The privileging of this chair (now really a throne) is a Counter-Reformation act, affirming apostolic succession. That is, it asserts a direct descent of Christian authority from St. Peter to the current pope. Even the relief at the back of the throne depicts Christ's command to Peter: Feed my sheep. The four theologians or church Fathers are at the legs of the chair but are hardly holding it up--it appears to levitate. But again this work of art reminds the viewer of the long history of Christian/Catholic theology. The angels and golden rays emanating from the dove of the Holy Spirit in the lighted window above emphasize as well the chair's symbolic significance. This work, visible through the columns of the baldacchino, occupies a crucial space in St. Peter's basilica and emphasizes the Counter-Reformation claim that the Catholic church is the true and legitimate religious institution.

See also Bernini's other works in St Peter's: the Tomb of Alexander VII, the statue of St. Longinus, the Baldacchino.

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© 2006 Mary Ann Sullivan. I have photographed (on site), scanned, and manipulated all the images on these pages. Please feel free to use them for personal or educational purposes. They are not available for commercial purposes.