In the back of St. Peter’s Basilica is the Papal Chair. This work of Baroque art took 9 years to build and was finished in 1666. As has been stated in an earlier blog on the Baldacchino, art in the Baroque period focused on an action. The action of the Papal Throne is similar to the action of the Baldacchino in that it is also a descent of the Holy Spirit, but the Chair is specific to Peter and the line of Popes. The Holy Spirit comes down upon Peter not only to bestow the gift of infallibility to the Pope in matters of faith and morals, but also that through Peter we too may receive the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit.
The action of the coming of the Holy Spirit is depicted in the breaking of boundaries around the throne and the image of the Holy Spirit (photo above). As the clouds and angels pour into the Basilica, the rays of light from the Holy Spirit leap out, even covering some of the words of scripture printed around the ceiling.
As for the Throne itself, from afar it would seem as if the statues surrounding it are holding it up, but this is not so. If one looks closely, the hands of the statues do not touch the Chair. The Chair of St. Peter is held aloft structurally by the clouds and rays of the Holy Spirit. This is to symbolize that the power of Peter comes from heaven alone.
At the foot of the Throne, stand four statues. The two on the left are of Eastern Church Fathers, St. John Chrysostom and St. Athenasius, and the two on the right are Western Church Fathers, St. Augustine and St. Ambrose. These statues show the unity of the one Church under Peter.
Resources: our Virtual Pilgrimage to St. Peter’s Basilica part 1 (watch whole video on YouTube here)
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