Out with the old, in with the new. The difference between the new pope and his predecessor Benedict XVI was remarkably clear the moment Pope Francis first stepped out in his austere papal whites to greet the gathering of the faithful from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica.
There were no elaborate details. Gone was the Vatican tradition of velvet capes, fur trim, and solid gold rings. Pope Francis also wore the iron cross he had since he was anointed auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992 instead of the traditional gold cross former popes would use during their first meet and greet. Gone were the ceremonial and glorious vestments of Benedict XVI. Simplicity and humility is now in style.
The new pope breaks tradition.
Pope Francis has also chosen a humble papal ring in silver rather than gold with a design from the past instead of having one created specifically for him. He chose a ring designed by Italian sculptor Enrico Manfrini for Pope Paul VI. The “Fisherman’s Ring,” or episcopal ring traditionally set in gold, originally served both as a symbol of the papacy and a seal of the reigning pope. It is unusual to use a crest that already exists. It’s a break in tradition.
True to his namesake, the pope’s wardrobe depicts 13th-century St. Francis of Assisi, who turned his back on his family’s riches to live a simple life.
Pope Francis again breaks tradition and chooses black shoes instead of the ancient practice of wearing red shoes. Benedict, who wanted to bring back age-old Vatican customs, wore red shoes during his time. “Traditionally, in Catholic church, the color red commemorates blood of martyrdom. Fire and red are identified with the Holy Spirit,” said theology professor Lawrence Cunningham of Notre Dame. Red symbolizes the blood of Christ and Catholic martyrs. Since the 16th century, slippers would be handmade in red satin and embroidered in gold thread. Contrary to what everybody thought, unlike the “Devil,” Benedict did not wear Prada. His ruby-red shoes were custom-made by Antonio Arellano, his personal cobbler at Gammarelli and another pair by Adriano Stefanelli. Pope John Paul II also discontinued tradition when he wore cordovan brown leather loafers from his native Poland. “Those red shoes have made quite an impression,” said Vatican historian Alberto Melloni from The Washington Post. “Pope wears Prada, and Italy’s Abuzz,” wrote Daniela Petroff, December 23, 2005.
Pope Francis breaks away from Vatican convention and opts for a simpler style.
In keeping with the new pope’s desire “to see a Church that is poor and is for the poor,” tailor Paolo Serpone designed the ceremonial vestment in inexpensive white material decorated with subtle gold images of the cross and bundles of grapes for the pontiff’s inaugural mass. Serpone also made ceremonial robes for John Paul II and Benedict. Pope Francis favors a simpler design compared to Benedict’s Baroque inspirations.
During Benedict’s reign, he revived many dormant traditions. He was even described as “something of a clotheshorse” by The New York Times. Benedict revived papal magnificence. The former pope put his own spin on the classics, bringing back hats and capes with a bold choice of color. Italian media dubbed Benedict XVI the “Prada Pope” for what The Wall Street Journal called “the raft of designer labels floating around the new pontiff.” Perhaps Benedict will be most remembered by his fashion sense.
The pope now has new clothes.
At the other side of Rome, long before the faithful awaited the result of the conclave of cardinals to elect a new pope, the craftsmen of Ditta Annibale Gammarelli, papal tailors since the 18th century, set to make three sizes of papal garments for the chosen one. Historically, the moment white smoke comes out above the Sistine Chapel, indicating a new pope has been elected, the chosen one will be dressed in the garments of office: a floor-length white wool satin cassock; a white sash; a white moiré silk zucchetto, a pontifical skullcap and, if he chooses; a scarlet mozzetta trimmed in white ermine, a short elbow-length cape worn over the robe.
The pope’s clothes are wrapped in tradition and symbolism. Many of the vestments — an official or ceremonial robe — are based on age-old customs.
Here are a few articles you would see in the papal closet:
The cassock, also known as a soutane, comes in various styles. It serves as an undergarment for vestments. Pope Innocent V, the first Dominican pope, was credited with popularizing the white cassock in 1276.
A tall folded cap with a top deeply cleft crosswise and the outline of the front and back resembling that of a pointed arch is the official headdress worn by popes and bishops as a symbol of priestly authority. Benedict would usually wear taller and more colorful miters compared to John Paul II. According to ABC News, “miters come in several styles: simplex or simple, made of white linen or silk, pretiosa or precious, adorned in precious stones; and auriphrygiata or gold, made of gold cloth or white cloth with a gold fringe usually worn during celebrations.”
A chasuble is a sleeveless outer vestment that is put on during liturgical services. It’s a bell-shaped full garment reaching over the feet, which symbolizes the virtue of charity, and the yoke of unselfish service for the Lord.
The pope wears a pallium over a chasuble when celebrating Mass or on other special occasions. It is a long circular band of fabric, usually in wool around two inches wide that covers the pope’s shoulders and extends down the length of his body. Benedict introduced a special pallium — worn only by a pope during his inauguration — in 2005. It is wider and longer than ordinary and has red crosses distributed around it, which represents the blood of Christ. It is kept in place by three golden pins symbolizing the nails that crucified Christ.
A short cape-shaped garment covering the shoulders and reaching only to the elbow with an open front fastened with a row of small buttons, similar to a hood, is called a mozzetta. The pope wears five versions: a summer one in red satin; the red velvet with white ermine fringe for winter; the red serge mozzetta worn during Masses for the deceased; the red clothed version worn during Lenten and Advent season; and the white damask silk trimmed with white fur Paschal mozzetta. Benedict reintroduced the winter and the Paschal mozzetta after John Paul II discontinued its use.
The cappa, meaning choir cape, is a long liturgical mantle, open in front and fastened at the breast with a band or clasp. Sometimes it has a hood.
Pope Paul V (1605-1621) had a unique, elaborate papal style that inspired many. Benedict XVI’s 2008 Ash Wednesday purple brocade robe with gold thread embroidery was referenced from one of Paul V’s intricate cloaks.
Reminiscent of a Santa hat, the camauro, a red-velvet cap trimmed with white ermine, is worn only in winter instead of the standard skullcap worn by bishops and cardinals. The cap is reserved only for the pope. Benedict resurrected this vestment from the papal wardrobe, which has been in tradition since the 12th century. Pope John XXIII (1958-1963) was the last to wear this medieval papal head covering before its revival.
Other papal headgear includes a white silk skullcap or zucchetto, which the pope always wears. Reminiscent of the ringed planet Saturn, the saturno is a hat with a wide circular brim and rounded crown worn outdoors. Made either of beaver fur or felt, it serves no ceremonial purpose. It was John Paul II’s favorite.
The most regal of all ornamental headpieces is the papal tiara, a tall, cone-shaped crown decorated with jewels. Pope Clement V (1305-1314) was one of the first to wear a papal tiara. He also introduced the three-tiered style, the triregnum, according to Herbert Norris, author of Church Vestments: Their Origin & Development. It has many symbolic interpretations and is traditionally used for coronation ceremonies. This elaborately bejeweled papal accessory can weigh as much as 10 pounds. No pope since Paul VI has been crowned with it.
Historically, the popes wear red shoes. Traditionally, the red shoes are festooned with a large gold cross or gold buckle. All successive popes except John Paul II wore red shoes.
In the decades since the second Vatican Council ended in 1962, the popes have considerably dressed-down, abandoning the more formal regalia their forefathers customarily wore.
No other men aside from those in the world of rap bling can get away with red slippers, vintage jewels and fur-trimmed capes. No matter what, there will always be a fascination with papal fashion choices.
Benedict XVI honored Catholic tradition and embraced the ceremonial and elaborate Renaissance period. It was his desire to bring back the Church’s traditional liturgy and doctrine and his garb choice reflected this. Barely in office, we have yet to witness the sartorial voice of Pope Francis. Aiming to reconnect the Vatican to Catholics worldwide, we can already get a glimpse of Pope Francis veering towards more austere sartorial choices.
The pope wears new clothes. Is a new beginning in sight? Will the Church become more attractive again to the already disillusioned flock? Let’s wait and see.
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