A Brief Review of the History, Function and Forms of the Prelatial Faldstool

One of the benefits of being a site with a 'speciality' (i.e. liturgical art) is that we get to focus on traditional objects of liturgical art that seldom get much if any attention, and today that object is the "faldstool." So what is the faldstool? Well, at its simplest, it is a chair, typically backless, that is used traditional in pontifical functions by prelates who are pontificating outside of their own area of jurisdiction. In other words, while the ordinary of a diocese would use his pontifical throne, auxiliary bishops, or visiting bishops would instead use the faldstool if they were to execute pontifical functions in that location.  In other words, it was used similarly as a sign of the fact he did not have jurisdiction in that place in the same way that the mantelletta was traditionally used by prelates who did not have jurisdiction in that place to signal the same. 

So when was this used? Well there are various places that the rites call for its use, including the celebration of various sacraments, but it is most prominently seen in the pontifical Mass -- and in fact, ceremonial manuals for the usus antiquior make specific ceremonial distinctions being "Pontifical Mass from the Throne" versus "Pontifical Mass from the Faldstool." 

The form of the faldstool can be divided into two basic forms, the first being akin to an antique folding chair (like that shown above) frequently made from wood (though it might be made of other materials as well) sometimes gilt, other times stained, some being more ornamental and others more simplified, with a cushion set upon it for the prelate to sit upon. The second form is similar but made from metal and then in turn covered by a liturgical covering that is in the same colour as the liturgical vestments of the occasion (or in other instances the colour might represent the rank of the prelate sitting upon it).  

In terms of decoration, some faldstools have the most interesting of details, It was not uncommon that the four top points might have some ornamental carvings. In the course of my research into the matter I have come across some that contain images of the Four Gospels, others which depict Jonah's whale, and still others showing lions, birds and angels.  Claw-like feet where also common. Those that were intended to be covered by a liturgical covering are generally much more simplified with the ornamentation coming from the covering itself. 

In terms of use, the exact date of its origins are unknown to me, but has been used for at least a millenium as medieval ceremonials mention its use. 

So with that background in mind, here are a few examples of the faldstool taken from different centuries -- and one will see that the form of it has remained fairly consistent.

Seventeenth Century Examples

Eighteenth Century Examples

Nineteenth Century Examples

If you are curious about the structure of the liturgical covering shown on some of these examples, here is what one of them, taken from the seventeenth century, looks like when fully laid out:

For your enjoyment, here are a few more of these coverings taken from different centuries. Each of these contain prelatial stemma, but of course this is not required (and in fact in places like Rome, this would be much less commonly seen). 

17th century

17th century - Detail

18th century

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