Cathedra (Latin cathedra; Gr. καθέδρα — from κατά, down, and ἕδρα, a seat). In classical archaeology cathedra means a chair with a back, but without arms, and usually used by women. Cathedrae were also used by teachers of gymnastics while giving instruction, and, later, by all public teachers. Following this usage of the word, the term has been applied to the chair or office of professors in universities or other high schools of learning. The English word chair is used in the same way.
In the early Christian Church the term cathedra was applied to the seats bishops and presbyters occupied during divine service in such rooms as Christians were permitted to assemble in before they were allowed to build churches. In many of the crypts in the Catacombs at Rome and elsewhere are seats cut in the rocks, supposed to have been thus used. Later, when church edifices were erected, the cathedrae were placed in the middle of the semicircular apsis at the eastern or rear end of the church, and occupied by the choir. In Rome many of the cathedrae were taken from the public baths, and were thus of marble, and decorated with designs from classical mythology. Later, they were decorated with symbolic designs of the Christian faith, as the head of a lion, representing the force and vigilance of a good bishop; the head of a dog, representing his vigilance and fidelity; or a dove crowned with a nimbus over the back of the chair, representing the Holy Spirit which was to shed light into his heart. The cathedrae of the 5th and 6th centuries were often inlaid with ivory and precious stones, after the style of the Alexandrian mosaics. Later, they were richly decorated and heavily gilt. Very early in the history of the Church they were held as precious mementoes of favorite bishops. Traditions, unworthy of credit, are attached to the reputed chairs of St. Peter in the Vatican (Rome), of St. Mark in Venice, and of St. Paul in Salonica. In the Gaulic Church, for a time, the bishops were buried seated in their chairs, which were afterwards taken up and preserved with great respect.
In the paintings of the Catacombs, in early mosaics and miniatures, cathedrae are often represented with either a literal or figurative meaning. Thus, in the Catacombs, a bishop is represented stretching out his hand to a woman and to a sheep, thus representing the audience and the flock; in another, the bishop is holding up the Word; God the Father is represented on a cathedra receiving the gifts of Cain and Abel; the Redeemer is thus seated, receiving the crowns of gold from the seven elders, SEE APOCALYPSE; Christ is seated on a cathedra surrounded by eight martyrs. Two chairs in two niches, with a table between them bearing the open Bible, represent a council (in the Baptistery of Ravenna). In the church of Santa Maria della Mentorella (in Latium) is a work in gilded bronze, representing the twelve apostles on seats; between them is a cathedra supporting the open Bible, as the source of all authority; above is a lamb, bearing a cross with a banner, having the inscription "Ego sum estium et ovile ovium — "I am the gate and thefold of the sheep;" a chalcedony in Cortena has a cathedra with Ι᾿χθύς cut on it. — Bingham, Orig. Ecclesiastes bk. 8, ch. 6 §10.