Pius IX carried into Vatican I on the Sedia
Gestatoria -- 1870. note the large fans, the
flabella, on either side of the Pope.
My biggest concern is that I would think that it might be a bit dangerous. Should anyone take a shot at the pope while he is high above the crowd it would be difficult to get him down quickly before a second or even a third shot could be fired. Or an attack on the footmen carrying the sedia gestoria—bring down a couple of them and send the Pope toppling down to perhaps serious injury. Popemobiles can be speeded up—not as fast as one would like, but fast enough—and on ground level, the pope can be easily surrounded by aides and bodyguards while he is gotten to safety or medical attention as needed. The Sedia Gestatoria might be glamorous but I don’t think it is a good idea. However, I don’t get a vote in these things so we will see.
As I check out sedia gestatoria, there is debate on how long the portable throne has been used. It has certainly been around for at least six hundred years and some sources say a thousand. Indeed some say that it is simply an adaptation of the custom of carrying Roman consuls through the streets of Rome on their chairs of office hoisted onto the shoulders of captive peoples. Indeed, it seems to have been a common practice in the later years of the Roman Empire when Christianity was the State Religion, that not only the Pope but many bishops were carried shoulder high to their being consecrated and/or installed in their cathedrals. Ennodius Magnus, a sixth century bishop of Pavia, specifically mentions the custom of carrying the Pope in a chair elevated on the shoulders of bearers, presumably minor clerics of the pontifical household, but it is not clear whether this was a usual practice or specifically connected with his enthronement in the Lateran Basilica. In the context of Ennodius’ claim, some sources such as the old Catholic Encyclopedia (1917) mention the “cathedra Petri”—and ancient chair said to be the “cathedra” (bishop’s chair) of Saint Peter kept enshrined in Bernini’s magnificent tribune above the Altar of the Chair in the apse of Saint Peter’s Basilica as proof. The chair in question, a lovely construction of wood and ivory panels, has rings through which the bearing poles could be, and probably were inserted. The problem is that the chair has, subsequent to the 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia, been dated to a gift from the emperor Charles the Bald to Pope John VIII. For some years the original chair was on display in the Treasury of Saint Peter’s though it is now returned to Bernini’s supersized reliquary and a copy of it put on display. The chair does indeed have rings affixed to the side and so the custom of carrying the pope on a portable throne can be dated at least back to the ninth century but reasonably could be a continuation of even more ancient practice. What I am trying to get information on are the flabella—the large ostrich plumed fans which were carried for centuries alongside the pope as he rode on the sedia gestatoria. I remember that they were originally a gift from the Sultan of Egypt to a pope, but I cannot find dating for the gift. I will keep searching.