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Why is St. Peter wearing a sling in his statue at the Vatican?

A bronze statue of the first pope sits regally in his basilica in Rome. But why is his left arm in a sling?

On the right side of St. Peter’s Basilica, just before the main altar, a small but majestic statue of the first pontiff sits on an elevated throne. His eyes gaze into the distance; his bearing is upright and noble; a golden halo rests on his head; his right hand is raised in blessing. His feet have been worn smooth by the constant touches of countless pilgrims that have passed through the Basilica over the centuries.

In his left hand, he holds the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven—the keys that have been passed on in an unbroken line of succession since the day Christ gave them to him. But Peter’s left arm is encased in a sling, as though it were injured or needed support. What a strange detail!

Strange in appearance, but profound in meaning. The sling is a reminder of human weakness. The weight of the keys of Peter is far too great to be borne by mortal strength; the pope must rely on the divine aid that Christ promised to His Vicar on earth. It is the Holy Spirit that guides the hand that holds the keys, not any human ability.

This theme is re-echoed in the Altar of the Chair, beyond the main altar in the back of the Basilica, where (as you may recall from a previous GetFed email), we see the Chair of Peter borne aloft by clouds. The four Church Fathers at the four corners only guide it; they do not bear its weight. Again, the Holy Spirit, portrayed in the alabaster window above the altar, is the Church’s true strength and support.

These are just a few of the things you’ll learn in Fr. Jeff Kirby’s captivating book 101 Surprising Facts About St. Peter’s and the Vatican. Easy-to-read and featuring beautiful, full-color photographs from the capital of Christendom, this book is enthralling for young and old alike. Get yours today!

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