The Papal Vestments and Their Meaning


Papal vestments serve both practical and symbolic purposes. Although early practices subscribed to secular dress, Celestine I rebuked the practice in 429. As a result, Christians adopted the clothing of early Roman antiquity. This proved an important decision since the lack of photographs and portraits meant that the faithful had no way to recognize their religious leaders. Vestments, jewelry, and regalia adorned with royal symbols and colors signified the Pope as an important religious authority. Although Catholic vestments are similar to Papal vestments, certain improvements indicate the Pope's elevated status over ordinary practices.

Formal Vestments
The Pope wears records similar to those worn by other clergy, but several additions signify the Pope's high status. The Pope alone reserves the right to wear the pallium, which is the wide white wool circular band decorated with six crosses. The pallium is loosely draped around the neck and secured in place with golden pins. Although most Popes wear the pallium symmetrically, Pope Benedict XVI chose to wear it asymmetrically in step with Eastern Orthodox churches. The fanon is the double-layered poncho like cape worn benefit the pallium. The bottom layer of the fanon is worn by victories during mass. The mantum, or papal mantle, is a decorative open cloak that opens across the chest and is secured with a brooch known as a morse. The mantum is reserved for the Pope and can be red or white. Previous Popes was a falda, but its use has fallen out of practice. The falda is a skirt that extends beyond the other vestments; its length required footman to stand in front of and behind the Pope to lift so the Pope could walk. It has not been worn since the 1960s.

The tradition of red papal shoes harkens back to the red boots worn by secular Roman rulers. The Pope is the only clergy allowed to wear red shoes or slippers. Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis eschewed red shoes in favor of brown shoes.

Popes have 22 tiaras designated for their use; however, the use of the tiara fell out of practice in 1963 with Pope Paul VI. Instead, Popes wear the three-tiered crown during coronation and the mitre at other formal ceremonies. The three-tiered crown is found on the Papal coat of arms. The mitre is the white cloth crown with peaks in front and back that resembles the priestly head covers of the Old Testament. The mitre is a symbol of priestly authority.

Informal Vestments
While regular clergy wear black during informal occasions, the informal papal vestments are white. The Pope wears a white siman, which is like a cassock or robe, with a short shoulder cape. The siman is fastened above the waist with a wide fringed cloth strip. The fringe is always on the left side and may bear the Papal coat of arms. He may wear a mozzetta, which is a short red cap that that buttons up the front. The cape is red satin in the summer and red velvet during the winter. The mozzetta is made of serge during Lent and is white during Eastertide. A pectoral cross suspended from a gold cord is always worn with the informal vestments.

The Pope wears the zucchetto during ordinary events. This is the white skullcap that is similar to a yarmulke. When the weather necessitates heavier headwear, the camauro replace the zucchetto. It is like a zucchetto but covers the ears and is made of red wool or velvet and trimmed with white ermine. It is similar to the hats worn by ancient academies. Wear of the camauro fell out of practice for several years until Pope Benedict XVI restored it to use.

During private life, the Pope wears the cappello romano. This is a hat with a fall crown and wide brim. It resemblance to the planet Saturn has led the hat to also be known as the saturno. The saturno is never worn during official obligations or during religious services.

The Ring of the Fisherman is given to the Pope by the Camerlango of the Holy Roman Church after election. The gold ring depots Peter in a boat casting his net and is surrounded by the name of the Pope. The Pope wears the ring until his death at which time the Cardinal Chamberlain destroys it with a hammer. The Ring of the Fisherman was traditionally used to seal public documents and papal briefs.

The Pope carries the papal ferula, which is the staff topped by the crucifix. It is similar to a bishop's crosier. An umbraculum, which is a red and gold striped canopy that resembles an elaborate umbrella, is often transported over the Pope. It is thought to have originated as a way to keep the hot Roman sun off the religious official.