QUAERITUR: The canopy over the Holy Father’s chair

I was not able to see any of the canonization Mass on Sunday.   Today, however, I received a question from a reader about the canopy over the Holy Father at his chair.

Whilst watching some of the Ceremonies from the Vatican last Sunday
(Oct.17th) I noted the use of a Canopy over the Papal Throne. To my mind this is the first use of the canopy in several decades ? (Since the iconoclastic 1960’s) However, none of the Catholic Blogs I frequent have even mentioned it !

Consider it mentioned!

The throne of a bishop should always have a canopy over it.

Anyone else want to chime in?  I am sure there are some knowledgeable readers out there with things to contribute.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in ASK FATHER Question Box and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Father Bartoloma says:

    The sun in St. Peter’s square is very powerful so the canopy is as much as a practical help as anything else. I’ve seen the pope in comfortable shade while the poor deacons are sitting and squinting on either side several feet away but still facing out into the piazza.

  2. scaron says:

    This canopy appears to be *inside* St. Peters. At least from the photo above. Love the design, and how substantial it looks. Ecclesiastical furniture should be substantial.

  3. Jacob says:

    The canopy reminds me of a galero.

  4. anna 6 says:

    I am sure that it serves a liturgical function, but probably a practical one too…
    it might even be doctor’s orders since the Pope wears a hat with increasing frequency like many fair 83 yr olds. Remember, he had a mole of some sort removed from his face this summer.

  5. scaron: appears to be *inside* St. Peters

    No. That is outside. The Mass was in the big parking lot outside not inside the basilica.

  6. I checked my photos of cathedrals in my area.

    Cathedral of Saint Louis — no canopy.
    Cathedral of Belleville — no canopy.
    Cathedral of Springfield in Illinois — no canopy, although this was before its recent renovation.
    Cathedral of Joliet — no canopy.

    The old cathedral in Saint Louis does have a canopy, but it no longer has cathedral status.

  7. Son of the Father says:

    At this same Mass they also proclaimed the readings on a small lectern on what is traditionally the Epistle Side, while the Gospel was chanted (both in Latin and Greek) from a more prominent and more decorative podium on what is traditionally the Gospel Side. Just wanted to add that bit of information as a “point of interest.”

  8. Adam Welp says:

    To continue Mark Scott Abeln’s theme:

    Cathedral of Indianapolis – no canopy.
    Cathedral of Louisville – no canopy.
    Cathedral of Evansville – no canopy, but a nice baldacchino over the altar.

    I can’t remember if the Old Cathedral Church (Basilica of St. Frances Xavier) of the now titular Diocese of Vincennes has a canopy.

  9. KevinSymonds says:

    I got the distinct impression from this canopy that it was made by Sally Field as the flying nun….

  10. The Ceremoniale Episcoporum (revised and published under the authority of Pope John Paul II in 1984 [Almost as bad as De Benedictionibus and probably to be consigned to the same fate…] ) says in Chapter 3 (on the Cathedral Church) in #47 (emphasis added):

    “The bishop’s cathedra or chair mentioned in No. 42, should be a chair that stands alone and is permanently installed. Its placement should make it clear that the bishop is presiding over the whole community of the faithful.

    Depending on the design of the church, the chair should have enough steps leading up to it for the bishop to be clearly visible to the faithful.

    THERE IS TO BE NO BALDACHIN OVER THE BISHOP’S CHAIR; but valuable works of art from the past are to be preserved with utmost care.”

    So, it seems clear that some of the beautiful baldachins (canopies) above bishops’ chairs, like the one in St. Patrick’s in NY, should NOT have been removed, but they were anyway. However, it is no longer required to have a canopy over a bishop’s chair. Of course, St. Peter’s is not a cathedral so there is no fixed cathedra there. The Pope’s cathedra is fixed in a visible place at the Lateran where, again, there is no canopy over it.

    I suppose this canopy for the Holy Father in the piazza was for practical, rather than liturgical reasons. They’ve been using it for a while now. Last Sunday was not its first appearance. Perhaps that’s why the blogs aren’t buzzing about it? Note, too, that it is topped by the Pope’s coat of arms in the original form…with the mitre, not the tiara.

  11. irishgirl says:

    anna 6-I didn’t hear anything about the mole removal.
    jacob-yes, that ‘canopy’ does look a little bit like a galero….good observation.

  12. Melody says:

    Quite often traditions are there for reasons other than symbolism, they are simply practical, and the people who try to get rid of them on the grounds of modernism should feel very, very foolish. It reminds me of the scientific studies confirming old wives’ tales and long known remedies.

    In addition to adding an element of traditional beauty and formality, the cover is simply logical. Our Holy Father needs protection from the sun so he doesn’t get sunburned or far worse. Also, (and I suspect this is part of the reason), the canopy blocks the line of site from above, potentially foiling some would-be assassin.

  13. Melody says:

    Argh, I meant “line of sight” of course…

  14. Mitchell NY says:

    I always like the pics from not so long ago that show the Pope beneath a canopy in St. Peter’s. It balances out the other large furniture in the room. The whole throne area aesthetically better with a canopy. If proportioned correctly it makes the other furnishings or objects not appear so blunt. The canopy is part of a “whole”. Without, the verticality always looks like there is something missing or empty. And the practical side is undeniable. I must admit I did not even consider that it somewhat shields him from some angles. Good point.

  15. edwardo3 says:

    Adam Welp:

    Just to clarify Indianapolis cathedral used to have a beautiful throne complete with a baldichino before the wreckovations in the mid 1980’s. The Pro-Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist still has its throne, installed in the late 19th century, complete with matching canopy, though it has recently been moved from its traditional place at the front of the Sanctuary toward the back, hopefully it will be restored to its traditional place soon. And yes, The Basilica of St. Francis Xavier in Vincennnes still has the original throne and canopy, complete with draperies from the 1830’s.

  16. anna 6 says:

    Irish Girl:
    Not to worry! It was apparently a minor procedure very common in fair skinned seniors (you will no doubt understand that as an “Irish Girl”!) It was done while he was on his Lenten retreat.

  17. skellmeyer says:

    The New Cathedral in St. Louis has a baldachin over the altar.

Comments are closed.