Name given to seats on the south side of the sanctuary, used by the officiating clergy during the liturgy
Sedilia (plural of Latin sedile, a seat), the name given to seats on the south side of the sanctuary, used by the officiating clergy during the liturgy. The earliest examples are found in the catacombs, where a single stone seat at the south end of the altar was used by the celebrant. Similar single seats are found in Spain (at Barcelona, Saragossa, Toledo, and elsewhere) and England (at Lenham and Beckley). In course of time the number of seats was increased to three (for celebrant, deacon, and sub-deacon), which is the number usually found, though sometimes there are four and even five. They became common in England by the twelfth or thirteenth century, and were frequently recessed in the thickness of the wall of the church. In other European countries they are comparatively rare, movable wooden benches or chairs being usual. Some early English examples are merely stone benches, but the later ones were almost invariably built in the form of niches, richly decorated with carved canopies, moulded shafts, pinnacles, and tabernacle work. The piscina was often incorporated with them, its position being east of the sedilia proper. Four seats, instead of three, are found at Durham, Furness, and Ottery, and five at Southwell, Padua (S. Maria), and Esslingen. In many cases they are on different levels and the celebrant occupied the highest, i.e., the easternmost. But when they were all on, the same level, which is said to indicate the date at which priests began to act as assistants at Mass, there is some doubt as to which was the celebrant's. If there were only three, it was probably the central one, as in the present Roman usage, but with four or five nothing can be stated with certainty, though possibly the easternmost was considered the highest in dignity. Mention may here be made of the royal chair of Scotland given by Edward I to Westminster Abbey to be used as the celebrant's chair, and it is probably this same seat, on the south side of the high altar, that figures in the "Islip Roll".
G. CYPRIAN ALSTON