What’s in a chair?

Next Saturday is the Feast of the Chair of St Peter. So what is that all about? In former times a chair was often seen as a symbol of authority, especially teaching authority. Professors are still sometimes described as holding the “chair” in English, economics or whatever- So also the Bishop of a diocese has his spiritual chair, represented by an actual chair in his principal church. From a Greek word for chair comes the name we give to that church – the “cathedral”.

Now St Peter was of course given that ministry of leadership and service by Our Lord (“You are Peter-”) which he exercised first in Jerusalem, then in ancient Antioch and finally in Rome. So Saturday’s feast symbolises the ministry of Peter and his successors, the Popes, in our present case Pope Francis.

The Pope’s actual chair or cathedra is in the Rome church of St John Lateran, which is therefore the “cathedral” of Rome, and where the Popes used to reside.

Nowadays, of course they live at the Vatican. So there is no actual cathedra at St Peter’s in the Vatican – despite it often being described as a cathedral. But what there is in St Peter’s is a huge symbolic cathedra. You will find it at the far end, beyond the Papal Altar and its canopy, and is attached to the wall. It is in the form of a magnificent bronze representation of a throne, held up by four giant Doctors of the Church.

Most interestingly of all, inside that masterpiece of the sculptor/architect Bernni – also responsible for the canopy and the piazza outside St Peter’s – is an actual ancient chair. This was originally believed to have belonged to St Peter himself, but when they removed it from the shrine in recent times it was dated by style to maybe the sixth century. So just as the whole of the magnificent church of St Peter’s is built over the humble remains of a fisherman of Galilee, so also the glorious sculpture and decoration contains a humble and ancient wooden chair. If you go to the Vatican, make sure to go right down to see the Chair of Peter, and ponder…


Fr Matthew


Hearts on fire

In this Year of the Word I have an excellent idea for Lent – to reflect together on the Bible and what we can gain from it during Lent. So this year you are invited to join our Lenten Project: “Hearts on Fire”. We will follow a series of themes put together for Churches Together in Britain and Ireland by Clare Amos, who works for the World Council of Churches and specialises in both scriptural and ecumenical matters.
But why “Hearts on Fire”? Think back to the reaction of the disciples on the roads to Emmaus in Luke 24:32 ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?’ What parts of the Bible do you have a special love for, or stick in your mind – or set your heart on fire? After the realisation dawns that their fellow traveller was none other than Jesus himself, the two disciples say to each other: ‘Were not our hearts burning within us…’ Taking this biblical story as its starting point, our meetings invite us to ‘open the scriptures’ and read them with both our hearts and our heads.
We in the 3 Churches have taken the lead on this project, and opened it out to our friends in the other churches of Churches Together in Llanishen and District. So we will follow the successful way we have adopted over recent years in Lent and Advent. Groups will be set up meeting in different places at different times and days during Lent – and sometimes afterwards, when groups have wished to!
Many people have spoken about how much they have gained from our groups over recent years, and I’m sure it will be the same this time. When we meet in Christian love, and share our thoughts and prayers, inevitably we all grow. Lent is all about conversion in preparation for the Holy Week and Easter, our celebration of what the Lord has done for us through the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. So now, with a few weeks to go yet, think and pray carefully about your Lent. What better way to enter the spirit of Lent in this Year of the Word than to meet together to “Break the Word” together with other Christians.
Details will follow very shortly – so watch this space!

Fr Matthew

Bright face in the darkness

Once again I turn to poet Malcolm Guite to help us reflect on today’s feast day, the Presentation of the Lord, also known as Candlemas (and previously as the Purification of Our Lady). There is not so much religious poetry around today, and he has the ability to help enter us more deeply, I think.

So the angles, shepherds, Wise Men have gone. Mary and Joseph now sink into the crowds of parents going up to the Temple at Jerusalem. Guite invites us to join them – or let them join us in our “busyness” – to know “the peace that Simeon and Anna knew”.

Read the poem slowly and picture the scene…

A Sonnet for Candlemas

They came, as called, according to the Law.
Though they were poor, and had to keep things simple,
They moved in grace, in quietness, in awe,
For God was coming with them to His temple.

Amidst the outer court’s commercial bustle
They’d waited hours, enduring shouts and shoves,
Buyers and sellers, sensing one more hustle,
Had made a killing on the two young doves.

They come at last with us to Candlemas
And keep the day the prophecies came true
We glimpse with them, amidst our busyness,
The peace that Simeon and Anna knew.

For Candlemas still keeps His kindled light,
Against the dark of our Saviour’s face is bright.

from “Sounding The Seasons” published by Canterbury Press
Fr Matthew