A papal chair made from American walnut

Pope Benedict XVI, seated in a chair specially made from American walnut, looks on during a meeting with U.S. bishops at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington April 16. (CNS/Paul Haring)The papal chair used by Pope Benedict XVI for yesterday’s vespers service and his address to the U.S. bishops afterward was fashioned from American walnut, a wood “characteristic of America,” said Lou Dicocco.

His family-run company received the commission to make the high-backed papal seat, two side chairs and two kneelers for the pope’s visit to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

“What better than the traditional American walnut” for Pope Benedict for his first visit to the United States as pope, said DiCocco. He spoke to Catholic News Service in a telephone interview in the days leading up to the papal visit. His company is the St Jude Shop in the Philadelphia suburb of Havertown.

St. Jude Shop, with its team of artists and artisans, has a long history of designing, building and installing pieces for church interiors. “We’re liturgical consultants by trade,” said DiCocco, whose mom and dad founded the business more than 40 years ago. The company recently completed one of the newest chapels at the shrine — Our Lady of La Vang chapel, a gift from Vietnamese-Americans. So the shrine was very familiar with the company’s work, he said.

He shared other details about the pope’s chair: The fabric used for the seat and back cushions was an ivory-colored damask. Just above the back cushion was a small oval shape bearing the papal coat of arms, whose intricate details were woven into the fabric with old-fashioned needlework. 

At first “we treated it like any other commission,” Dicocco said of the papal project, but then it hit the team that it was a project “like no other.” To craft something for the pontiff “is the highest honor in our faith,” he said.  

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