Page 5, 22nd October 1976

22nd October 1976
Page 5
Page 5, 22nd October 1976 — FROM the first centuries AD the bishop's throne was the symbol of his power to rule and duty to teach.

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Locations: Milan, Canterbury, Venice, Rome


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FROM the first centuries AD the bishop's throne was the symbol of his power to rule and duty to teach.

The origin of the throne

The Early Christian thrones were simple wood or stone constructions situated in the apse facing the assembled worshippers across, the altar. Examples which can still be seen are in the Coemeteriurn M auk and the underground chapel of St Agnese, Rome, both of the third century.

The simple thrones gradually gave way to elaborate construe'ons of marble and carved stone — or in ivory, like the throne of Bishop Maximian, preserved in Ravenna.

As churches increased in size it became customary to elevate the throne so that the bishop could be seen as he gave his homily and presided over the gathering. One of the most imposing must have been at Torcello, near Venice, where the throne is reached by a flight of seven steps: but three steps were common.

In Syria and other eastern countries in the fifth and sixth centuries it was not unusual to find the bishop seated facing the altar half way down the nave in the midst of the congregation in a special arrangement called the Synchronous.

During the eleventh and twelfth centuries many Italian thrones were constructed by the Cosmati in typical inlaid marble, the back-rest being composed of a huge circle of marble surrounded by mosaic. A very beautiful example exists in St Lorenzo al Verano, Rome.

Sometimes the decoration and carving was based on animal forms. St Ambroggio, Milan, has lion armrests.

Throughout the Romanesque period the throne continued to be positioned behind the altar. English thrones of this period ire rare, and possibly include only the remains at Norwich Cathedral and the one in Canterbury.

The events which caused the celebrant at Mass to cross over and stand with his back to the people during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries also altered the traditional position

of the throne to the Gospel side facing across the Sanctuary, and canopies were erected vying _with the reredos for prominence.

Curiously, as the canopy became more elaborate so the throne itself reverted to a simpie armchair. Many such exam-pies are to be seen in England and abroad.

Modern examples of the throne are not partidularly noteworthy: the direct descendant of the ancient bishop's throne in modern churches is the Presidential Chair, often now situated in the ancient position facing the congregation.

D. M. Chappell

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