Tuesday, 4 November 2008

2. Obeisance of the Canons

The Pope now arrives in the atrium of St Peter's, and the sedia is carefully set down. Mgr Dante struggles to find and release the Holy Father's feet from the yards of precious cloth, and, wobbling a little, the Pope moves to the little throne that has been prepared. He sits down, and is joined by Cardinals Canali (left) and Ottaviani (right). 
The canons of St Peter's now come and do homage. Technically it is they, not the Pope, who are in charge of things in St Peter's; traditionally they even presented the Pope with a little purse of money as a stipend after each celebration 'for a Mass well sung'. Therefore they are the first to welcome him to the basilica. Most of the canons are priests past their prime and in sort-of retirement which is why some of them are a little less athletic than others. Their job had always been to sing the Divine Office in St Peter's each day, for which they were granted a substantial apartment, their living, and some pocket money. The office ceased to be sung in its entirety in about 1948, but the canons are still there, never having been fired.

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