From Academic Kids

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The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Chicago preaches from his cathedra, placed in front of the altar on special occasions.

A cathedra is the chair or throne of a bishop. It is a symbol of teaching authority in the Roman Catholic Church, Church of England and its Anglican Communion and to a lesser extent in Lutheran churches. Cathedra is the Latin word for a chair with armrests; its Roman connotations of authority reserved for the Emperor were adopted by bishops after the 4th century. A church into which a cathedra is installed is called a cathedral or co-cathedral — the seat of a particular church called a diocese.


Cathedra Petri

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The triumphal Cathedra Petri, the "Chair of Peter" in St Peter's Basilica, Rome, designed by Bernini

The definitive example of a cathedra is that encased within the Triumph of the cathedra Petri designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1657 and completed and installed in 1666. As early as the 8th century, an ancient wooden chair overlaid with ivory plaques depicting the Labors of Hercules and some of the signs of the Zodiac was venerated as the episcopal chair of St. Peter himself. In fact, it is a Byzantine throne enframing fragments of acacia wood encased in the oak carcass and reinforced with iron bands. Several rings facilitated its transportation during processions. Pope Alexander VII commissioned Bernini to build a sumptuous monument which would present this relic in a truly triumphant manner. Bernini's gilded bronze throne, richly ornamented with bas-reliefs encloses the relic. On January 17, 1666 it was solemnly set above the altar of Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. Four over-lifesized sculptures of Doctors of the Church form an honor guard: St. Ambrose, St. Athanasius (left); and St. John Chrysostom, and St. Augustine (right).

Celebrated on 22 February in accordance with the calendar of saints, the Feast of Cathedra Petri honors the founding of the church in Rome and gives thanks for the work of Saint Peter.

Ex cathedra

The term ex cathedra, meaning "from the throne", is used to designate official pronouncements of the pope when he teaches the whole world. As a throne or armchair symbolizes the power to teach, the cathedra in this case refers to the teaching authority over the whole church rather than to an actual chair. According to Catholic dogma, the pope's statements ex cathedra are infallible.


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The cathedra of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Honolulu is placed behind the altar as ordained by the Second Vatican Council.

The traditional position of the cathedra was in the apse, behind the high altar, which had been the position of the magistrate in the apse of the Roman basilica which provided the model type—and sometimes the actual structures—for early Christian basilicas. In the Middle Ages, as altars came to be placed against the wall of the apse, the practice of placing the cathedra to one side became standard. Since the Second Vatican Council the altar is free-standing and faces the people, so that priest and people pray in a mutual dialogue around the table of the Lord; in cathedrals built or renovated after the reforms of Vatican II, the cathedra is often returned to its previous position behind the altar.

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