Feast of the Chair of St. Peter

February 22, 2010

The Petrine feast days are as close as I get to patronal festivals (on the understanding that Peter = Rock = Crag = Craig).  Today is the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, which chair, for the especially literal-minded, is shown below.  In The Golden Legend Jacobus de Voragine very kindly enumerates four reasons for the institution of this feast.  In past years I have transcribed the first two of these reasons (one and two), and this year I give the third.

The feast of the Chair of Saint Peter used to be called the feast of Saint Peter’s Banquet, and this brings us to the third reason for its institution.  It was an ancient custom of the pagans (as Master John Beleth tells us) to offer a banquet on the tombs of their ancestors every year on a certain day in the month of February.  Then, during the night, demons consumed the food, but the pagans thought it was the souls of the dead, which they called shades, that wandered among the tombs and did away with the viands.  According to the same author the ancients said that when the souls are in the human body, they are called souls, when they are in the underworld, they are manes, ghosts, when they ascend to heaven, they are called spirits, and, when they are recently buried or wander around the tombs, shades.  The holy fathers of the Church wanted to eradicate this custom of the banquets but saw that it would be difficult to do so, and in its stead instituted the feast of the Chair or Enthronement of Saint Peter.  This combined the Roman and the Antiochene feasts on the same day when the old banquets were held, and so there are some even now who call this feast the Feast of Saint Peter’s Banquet.

- Jacobus de Voragine, Legenda Aurea
(trans. William Granger Ryan)

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