Papal Staff

The Papal Staff is an official emblem of the papal jurisdiction and tends to be seen more in ceremonial occasions and processions.

The Papal Staff

In addition to the familiar Crossed Keys, the Papal Staff (Papal Cross, Pastoral Staff or Ferula) is an official emblem of the papal jurisdiction.

There is no reason at all why the Papal Staff should be the same design from one pope to the next. Like his coat of arms, tiara and other insignia, the pope is at liberty to choose whatever cross he wishes.

Papal Staff
Popular version
The Triple-bar Cross
Earlier version
The Triple-bar Cross
Budded version
Papal Staff
Pope Benedict's version
(Click image to enlarge)
Pope Benedict XVI with the ferula similar to the one used by Pius IX in 1877, but slightly smaller and lighter
(Click photo to enlarge)

On the front of Benedict's Papal Staff was a paschal lamb in the centre and at the four points of the cross are symbols of the four Evangelists. The grid etching on face of the cross represents a fisherman's net; a reference to St. Peter. On the back of the cross there is a Chi Rho etched in the centre. Also on the back at the four points are the faces of the fathers of the Eastern and Western Church, Augustine and Ambrose, Athanasius and John Chrysostom. Benedict's coat of arms is on the top of the cross.

Pope Benedict used several cross types in the course of his regular duties, including the crucifix, Latin Cross, fabulous jewelled crosses and an odd one with a bent cross-beam (see separate page on the Pope's Cross).

The cross designated as the Papal Staff tends to be reserved for extraordinary ceremonial occasions, such as opening the Holy Door. And whilst the occasion might have included some sort of procession, this cross is not strictly speaking a Processional Cross; rather, it has been used as an archbishop would use his crozier. 

Papal Staff
Pope John Paul II with a Triple-bar Papal Staff

For designs with multiple horizontal bars, like the Byzantine Cross, the bars symbolise the titulus at the top for the sign-board, patibulum in the middle for the victim's arms, and suppedaneum beneath for the feet. They also correspond to several ecclesiological positions, including:

  • the pope's triple roles as leader of worship, teacher and community leader
  • the pope's triple religious authorities as Bishop of Rome, Patriarch of the West, and successor of St. Peter, Chief of the Apostles
  • the pope's powers and responsibilities: temporal, spiritual, and material
  • the pope's extra bar of authority over the two-bar Archiepiscopal or Patriarchal cross

and tenets, such as:

Other triple-barred crosses

Sean M. Wright adds: The pope does not carry a crozier curved like a Shepherd's Crook, since the curve of the crook indicates limited authority. Therefore, the pope carries a cross.

The Patriarch title was renounced in 2006


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