Much ink has been spilt about Bernini`s Cathedra Petri (Throne of St Peter) (1657–66) in the Vatican Basilica.
Commissioned by Pope Alexander VII (1655 to 1667), it was one of three elements to ennoble the Basilica and its precincts: the view through the Baldacchino to the Cathedra Petri in the apse; the piazza and its colonnades; and a projected entrance pavilion, the Terzo Braccio (never built)
The piazza colonnades and the Cathedra Petri are simultaneous and interrelated projects
For the pilgrim to the Vatican, Bernini envisaged Piazza San Pietro, as where the dome became
the head, the façade the chest and shoulders, and the colonnades the embracing arms of the mother church
On entering the Basilica, the Pilgrim is faced with the view of the Cathedra through the Baldacchino.
In the distance one sees the suspended, brazen chair to which the four Holy Fathers of the Latin and Greek Church with angels are conjoined, the luminous infiltration of the Holy Spirit, and the implosion and explosion of the ‘Gloria’
It is a celebration of the singularity and the unity of the Church under the Papacy
It was on the Feast of the Chair of St Peter this year (19th February) when he also celebrated the consistory creating new cardinals) that Pope Benedict set himself the task of preaching on the Feast of the Chair of St Peter and Bernini`s Masterwork
"Dear brothers and sisters, this Gospel episode that has been proclaimed to us finds a further and more eloquent explanation in one of the most famous artistic treasures of this Vatican Basilica: the altar of the Chair.
After passing through the magnificent central nave, and continuing past the transepts, the pilgrim arrives in the apse and sees before him an enormous bronze throne that seems to hover in mid air, but in reality is supported by the four statues of great Fathers of the Church from East and West. And above the throne, surrounded by triumphant angels suspended in the air, the glory of the Holy Spirit shines through the oval window.
What does this sculptural composition say to us, this product of Bernini’s genius?
It represents a vision of the essence of the Church and the place within the Church of the Petrine Magisterium."
In his analysis the Pope looked at the individual elements of the work and then at the entirety of the work.
The homily is worth looking at for a proper interpretation of this great work of religious art
The themes of "first seat, the rule of faith, foundation of the church" are there. But it is not the whole story.
Perhaps one has to also look at the reliefs that decorate the front and sides of Bernini’s Cathedra Petri: Feed my Sheep; Christ giving the keys to heaven to Peter; and Christ washing the feet of his disciples
It is the third image of love and humility that the Pope emphasised in his homily:
"After considering the various elements of the altar of the Chair, let us take a look at it in its entirety.
We see that it is characterized by a twofold movement: ascending and descending. This is the reciprocity between faith and love. The Chair is placed in a prominent position in this place, because this is where Saint Peter’s tomb is located, but this too tends towards the love of God. Indeed, faith is oriented towards love.
A selfish faith would be an unreal faith. Whoever believes in Jesus Christ and enters into the dynamic of love that finds its source in the Eucharist, discovers true joy and becomes capable in turn of living according to the logic this gift.
True faith is illumined by love and leads towards love, leads on high, just as the altar of the Chair points upwards towards the luminous window, the glory of the Holy Spirit, which constitutes the true focus for the pilgrim’s gaze as he crosses the threshold of the Vatican Basilica.
That window is given great prominence by the triumphant angels and the great golden rays, with a sense of overflowing fullness that expresses the richness of communion with God. God is not isolation, but glorious and joyful love, spreading outwards and radiant with light."