See caption
Navicella by Francesco Berretta, 1628, copy of an original mosaic by Giotto
Wikimedia Commons

The Barque of St Peter was an ancient Christian symbol for the Church, representing it being “tossed on the sea of disbelief, worldliness and persecution, but finally reaching safe harbor with its cargo of human souls.”[1] The Catholic Church believes that the role of St Peter, the first pope, and his successors, is to steer the barque[a]A barque is a type of sailing vessel. of the Church.[2]

The Gospel of Mark relates how Jesus one day decided that he and his disciples should cross the Sea of Galilee, but a fierce squall threatened their boat part-way into the journey. The disciples woke Jesus, who was asleep in the stern, and he ordered the wind to be still. Then Jesus rebuked his disciples: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”(4:35–41) In many depictions the ship’s mast appears as a cross, which may have been a convenient way to disguise it during the early days of Christianity.[1]

The maritime symbolism has persisted in church architecture, with many navesCentral part of a church, used by the laiety. being shaped like upside-down boats.[3]


a A barque is a type of sailing vessel.



Baroch, Dorothy Hill. Listen to the Heartbeat of the Church. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2015.
John Paul II. Eucharistic Celebration With the New Cardinals: Homily of John Paul II. 22 Feb. 2001,