Learn more about Sedia gestatoria
The sedia gestatoria is the portable throne on which Popes are sometimes carried. It consists of a richly-adorned, silk-covered armchair, fastened on a suppedaneum, on each side of which are two gilded rings; through these rings pass the long rods with which twelve footmen (palafrenieri), in red uniforms, carry the throne on their shoulders.
The Sedia gestatoria is an elaborate variation on the sedan chair. Two large fans (flabella) made of white ostrich feathers—a relic of the ancient liturgical use of the flabellum, mentioned in the Constitutiones Apostolicae, VIII, 12—are carried at the sides of the sedia gestatoria.
The sedia gestatoria was mainly used to carry popes to and from papal ceremonies in the Basilica of St. John Lateran and St. Peter's Basilica. The sedia was used as part of papal ceremonial for nearly one millennium. Its origins are sometimes thought to date back to Byzantium where Byzantine emperors were carried along in a similar manner, but many sources indicate, the use of the sedia is of a much earlier date, probably being derived from rituals accompanying the leadership of the ancient Roman Empire.
This throne was used more especially in the ceremonies at the coronation of a new pope, and generally at all solemn entries of the pope to St. Peter's or to public consistories. In the first case three bundles of tow are burnt before the newly-elected pontiff, who sits on the Sedia Gestatoria, whilst a master of ceremonies says: "Sancte Pater sic transit gloria mundi," (Holy Father, so passes the glory of the world). The custom of carrying the newly-elected pope, and formerly in some countries the newly-elected bishop, to his church can be, in some instances, traced back very far and may be compared with the Roman use of the sella curulis, on which newly-elected consuls were carried through the city.
Already Ennodius, Bishop of Pavia (d. 521) records in his "Apologia pro Synodo" (P.L., LXIII, 206; "Corpus Script. eccl.", VI, Vienna, 1882, 328) "Gestatoriam sellam apostolicae confessionis" alluding to the cathedra S. Petri, still preserved in the choir of St. Peter's at Rome. This is a portable wooden armchair, inlaid with ivory, with two iron rings on each side.
Besides the constant use of the Sedia Gestatoria at the coronation of the pope (which seems to date from the beginning of the sixteenth century), etc., it served in the past on different other occasions, for instance when the pope received the yearly tribute of the Kingdom of Naples and of the other fiefs, and also, at least since the fifteenth century, when he carried the Blessed Sacrament publicly, in which case the Sedia Gestatoria took a different form, a table being adjusted before the throne. Pius X made use of this on the occasion of the Eucharistic Congress at Rome in 1905.
Pope John Paul I at first declined to use the sedia gestatoria, along with the papal tiara and several other symbols of papal authority, but was eventually convinced by the Vatican staff that its use was necessary in order to allow crowds to see him. Pope John Paul II declined to use the sedia gestatoria completely as did Benedict XVI. The sedia gestatoria has been functionally replaced in modern times by the motorized and secured "popemobile."
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