Friday, 2 January 2009

5. The Altar of St Gregory

The Pope gets back onto the Sedia, and it moves off again into the main part of the basilica. The Palatine Guard take a deep breath and carry on with their lugubrious Godfather music. The procession goes up the main nave and then turns left into the near aisle of the great south transept (what would be north in most churches). Here is the Capella Clementina, dedicated to St Gregory the Great (who is buried in the altar there). It had been Pope Clement VIII who decorated this chapel for the Holy Year of 1700, and hence the name. Pope Gregory, a man of outstanding erudition, was the man who saved Rome from the Lombards and who dispatched St Augustine to England to do some converting of the Saxons.
Again the Pope gets down and kneels to pray, though he isn't allowed long at all, and moves to the throne which has been set up. Here, he receives the obeisance of the cardinals, the archbishops and bishops, abbots, and the penitentiaries of St Peter's Basilica. The Cardinals, as you can see, ascend the throne with the trains of their cappae magnae spread out behind them. These trains had been nine feet long until Pope Pius XII, in the early 1950s, had them cut in half. I think Pope John lengthened them again. I suppose they are only worn at Gricigliano these days. Having kissed the Pope's hand (they used to kiss all sorts of other parts of him), their train is gathered up by Mgr Dante or his assistant and neatly hung over the Cardinal's arm.
The obeisances received, the Pope blesses all the prelates with the words Sit nomen Domini benedictum. That concludes this part of the ceremony.