This is our final visit to the cathedral of Rome.
Let us begin with the papal altar. This altar is reserved for the Holy Father. He is the Bishop of Rome and this is his cathedral. The altar is actually built around the table used by the first pope, Saint Peter, to celebrate Mass. Above the altar is a towering gothic baldacchino. Silver busts of Saint Peter and Saint Paul can be seen behind gilded grating. These are in fact reliquaries containing the heads of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Their bodies are buried in their respective basilicas.
Behind the altar, in the apse of the church, is the pope’s chair, his cathedra. Pope Benedict XVI first sat in this chair on May 7, 2005. This is when he took possession of his cathedral church.
Above the papal throne is a beautiful, mostly thirteenth century mosaic that depicts divine grace coming down to Earth through the cross of Christ. The top section of the mosaic dates back to the fourth century. It shows Christ surrounded by angels. Below Christ is a dove (the Holy Spirit) which causes a river of grace to flow from a ninth century cross. The river is divided into four smaller rivers (the gospels) which go on to nourish all living creatures.
That fourth century mosaic, contains one of the very first legal images of Christ. Imagine walking in here so many years ago. After all the persecutions, after all the hiding, you’re finally able to worship in public and you have a glorious image of your Lord looking out at you.
Tomorrow is our last stop on this pilgrimage of the Lenten Station Churches. We’ll return to Saint Mary Major.