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Papal Fashion Statements


(from Clerical Whispers)

Satin capes. Leather shoes. Embroidered stoles. Ermine trim. Gold rings. 

What sounds like a list of extravagant accessories inspired much discussion during the recent papal transition.

Naturally, news reports and expert analysis focused on the historic nature of Benedict XVI's resignation and the election of a pope of firsts—first Jesuit, first Francis, first from the Americas.

Woven into the media's narratives, a parallel narrative unfolded as fabric, thread and robes provided a visual account of a church in transition.

Even now, more than two months after Pope Francis' election, the news media follows the pope's every move to see what he will "say" next through his actions and appearance. Francis has already established himself as a pope of images and dress has proven to be an important part of his vocabulary. 

The richly symbolic garments of Catholic prelates have always been infused with meaning.

They speak a language that is theological, historical and structural.
A "vestimentary code"—everything from the ermine-trimmed mozetta of the pope to the simple brown habit of Franciscan friars—contributes to a sort of "Catholic dialect" of clothing that communicates within the church itself and to the world at large.

Shortly after the election of Pope Francis, Matt Malone, SJ, wrote a piece
for America placing the attention to clothing in the context of a "sacramental worldview," where symbols, and particularly material symbols, matter. He also reminds us that proper Catholic sartorial protocol has been meticulously legislated.

Yet, transitional times often see the challenging and relaxing of past norms, and the establishment of new ones. Clothing participates in conversations about the past and the future. It is not just that clothing matters, butwho wears what and when, stitching together a grammar of transition.

The unprecedented circumstances of Pope Benedict's abdication required new definitions.

Unlike the previous two popes who resigned, Benedict was neither coerced by a council nor locked up by his successor. Though he has vowed to remain hidden to the world, he will continue to occupy a position that has not been occupied before.

The Vatican spokesperson, Federico Lombardi, SJ, was dogged with questions about new definitions: What would Benedict be called? Where would he live? And what would he wear?

At a press conference two days before Benedict's resignation, Lombardi announced that the pope emeritus would continue to wear the white cassock and skullcap, but without the sash and elbow-length cape known as a mozzetta.

The media also made much of Benedict's decision to put aside his famous red shoes for brown leather loafers made in Leon, Mexico.




Article posted on 17th of June 2013

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