Where is the Chair of Saint Peter? A History

Today (Feb 22) is the Feast of the Saint Peter’s Chair. The “chair” is an Old Testament sign of magisterial authority, as Christ Himself gave witness:

“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice” (Mt 23:2-3).

Today’s commemoration honors the preeminent magisterial authority of Saint Peter to whom was given the Keys of the Kingdom. Peter’s office as the Vicar of Christ recalls the promise of God to the “royal steward” or “vicar” in the royal household of the Davidic king. This prophecy promises that the king’s steward will “become a throne of honor”:

“And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I will fasten him like a peg in a sure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his father’s house” (Isa 22:22-23).

Yet did Saint Peter as the first Vicar of Christ have his own physical cathedra (Greek: “chair”)? There is a third century anti-Marcionite poem that seems to testify to this historicity of Peter’s cathedra:

Hac cathedra, Petrus qua sederat ipse, locatum
Maxima Roma Linum primum considere iussit.

– “Adversus Marcionem” (Patrologia Latina II, 1099)

The Latin translates:

“On this chair whereupon Peter himself sat
The great Rome placed Linus and commanded him to sit.”

Saint Linus is of course the successor of Saint Peter, that is the second pope of Rome. Is this “cathedra, Petrus qua sederat ipse,” a literally chair or is it merely a poetic illusion to Peter’s authority? I suppose that there is no way to know for sure – but Tertullian (cf. De præscriptione hæreticorum, 36) and others seem to suggest or assume that a true chair existed in Rome and had been employed by Peter at some point.

Regardless, the chair depicted above is the alleged “Chair of Saint Peter”. It is enshrined in the apse of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. I don’t know whether carbon dating has been performed on it. If you’re aware of any studies or archeological investigations, please send them my way.

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