Today's Gospel in Art - Feast of St Peter's Chair

  • Patrick van der Vorst
  • (Updated )

Chair of Saint Peter, by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. 1647-1653, © Christian Art Today

Chair of Saint Peter, by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. 1647-1653, © Christian Art Today

Gospel of 22nd February 2020 - Matthew 16:13-19

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi he put this question to his disciples, 'Who do people say the Son of Man is?' And they said, 'Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.' 'But you,' he said 'who do you say I am?' Then Simon Peter spoke up, 'You are the Christ,' he said 'the Son of the living God.' Jesus replied, 'Simon son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.'

Reflection on the Chair of St Peter

Today is a feast day which has a rather peculiar name: the Chair of St Peter. How does the chair of an apostle merit a holy day? Let's first of all look at the object itself. The Chair of St Peter is a relic kept at the very back of St Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. It is a basic wooden relic throne that tradition claims was used by St Peter himself when he was leading the early Christians in Rome. The chair is now enclosed in a sculpted gilt-bronze ornamental chair designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, which he completed between 1647 and 1653. In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI described the chair as 'a symbol of the special mission of Peter and his Successors to tend Christ's flock, keeping it united in faith and in charity'. The chair is of course only a few feet away from St Peter's tomb. The wooden throne chair was a gift from Holy Roman Emperor Charles the Bald to Pope John VIII in 875.

In today's Gospel reading Christ says, 'You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church'. Whilst the chair in St Peter's might look opulent in its magnificence, the chair is not intended to be a regal throne or a vain assertion of power. No, it is placed at the very end of the basilica to be an authentic reflection of the office entrusted by Jesus Christ to Saint Peter (as per today's reading) and his successor shepherds of the Church. I have stood in front of that chair many times and each time it reminds me of the responsibility placed in our hands by Jesus Christ,… as disciples of Christ, just as much as St. Peter was. Our humble roles are very different and modest compared to what St Peter achieved, but the responsibilities are exactly the same: to spread the Word of God…


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Tags: Christian Art Today, Patrick van der Vorst, Bernini, Chair of St Peter

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