Clothes makers for the Pope

Services for John Paul II, the investiture of his successor have presently fixed the eyes of the world on the spectacle that is the Catholic Church. Choreography without a misstep for the ceremonies, clothes of great beauty – one realizes that the Vatican understands how to communicate. Under the pontificate of John Paul II the Catholic Church developed its media impact. A fascinating exhibition at Lyon called ‘They Clothe the Pope’ reveals to us the subtle elegance of the Pope’s garments. Bernard Berthod, the conservator of the exhibit guides us through it:

Over there is the garment that the Pope wore for the opening of the jubilee -Christmas of 1999 – and which is a futuristic article, in some ways, with a material woven from Lurex® which is a very contemporary fibre and which is beginning to prove itself, and will be the fibre of the 21 century, if you will an ensemble also forward looking, but the garment itself remains a traditional garment of the Roman Catholic Church.

Futuristic in fact is the least that you could say. References to the world of science fiction come to mind faced with this mantle – a large cape – with such flamboyance in red, blue and gold.

John Paul II while not initiating this work if you will put his confidence in the master of the liturgical celebrations – Monsignor Marini who organizes the major papal liturgies, and in putting his trust in him knew that he would permit reform, and even innovation at the liturgical level.

This choice of dress was the result of a well planned philosophy:

There is the idea of modernity. To say: the Church is of its time, is to say the Church works with today’s artists. Furthermore that idea of creating beauty, to say: we can create beauty, the liturgy, the mass, the worship of God – this is founded on beauty and that this beauty is seen through clothing. It is manifested in clothing just as it is evoked by music as it is shown in architecture. Therefore clothes ought to be beautiful and they should be beautiful while remaining simple. Because there also is the third condition, if you will, with what was worked out under the Bishops during the Second Vatican Council, forty years ago to … to try to unburden the Church from its aspect of wealth by saying we can create beauty without an inevitable high cost. The garments that are on exhibit here are clothes that were made in a very simple way. When you see that these are fabrics that are found commercially which are embroidered with simple things with stripes that are not necessarily of gold thread, glass beads, very simple things … basics, of raffia, of wool, but with these you can make very a beautiful decoration, a very fine ensemble, completely modern and it is this combinations therefore, that is the tradition of the Church, including beauty, as well as simplicity, and modernity.

Monsignor Marini and John Paul II have their preferred stylists:

The two couturiers-designers of the X Regio company including Stefano Zanella, a priest, and a couturier who works with him called Gianluca Scattolin, were those who received the most votes from the Pope, precisely because their clothes were well made, well conceived well thought out, and had the two clear aspects of tradition and modernity. At the same time they had lightness – since as you know near the end of his pontificate the Pope was very frail and needed clothes that were extremely light – and this also wasn’t easy to do requiring great expertise in the profession.

A skill that is proven evident in the mantle of Christmas 1999:

It is very symbolic. Even the cloth was designed by Stefano Zanella who wished to take a repetitive motif which shows a golden door, the gold door is the door to the jubilee, that’s it … the Jewish jubilee also uses the golden door if you will, it’s truly a basic element. We cross through that door for a better world, in some way, this is what the jubilee means. Thus the motive of the golden door which is crossed by two coloured beams of light, a red beam and a blue beam which are the two colours of Christ, Christ the man and Christ as God, if you will. And this repeating motif which is woven in golden Lurex thread associated moreover with silk will produce this very beautiful garment.

The mitres have changed as well:

The mitres have become, above all in Italy and Spain absolutely huge things that didn’t have any longer much … on one hand much elegance, or much meaning, they were a kind of shell shaped thing that was worn on the head and there, there was really a desire to go back to the medieval form of the mitre, the small Bishop’s hat, if you will which permitted a simple ornamentation but something more elegant and which didn’t give the impression of someone who was wearing something a little … a bit ridiculous in a way.

If John Paul has renewed the image of the Church, it is that it was a product of its time:

His predecessor Paul VI, if you will was confronted with the application of the Council and a host of things which … with persons who were people(with opinions) prior to the Council or others who were for the Council and Paul VI didn’t have the time to adopt all of that, this is … if I may say it, the pontificate of John Paul II and above all the second part of the pontificate of John Paul II in the 1990’s was a time of reflection on what the Council had said in staying within the tradition of the Church while associating itself with the modern world. Paul VI could not do it, it was too soon with respect to the Council. There were too many people in the wings and too many people closely implicated, if you will.

This work on image was not well received by everyone:

Of course, well, you know every time you do something there are critics and it could not go without notice that the pontificate of John Paul II had been in the media. This is a man who traveled greatly and whose image was widely seen and precisely because that image was much more visible than his predecessors … John XXIII, was seen very little, Paul II a little bit, but John Paul II was highly visible and it was necessary that that image be one at the same time traditional, that is to say to form a continuity with the other Bishops of Rome, the other Popes, and at the same time to show that he was well at home in the 20th century and in the beginning of the 21st century.

The exposition is also a chance to deepen our knowledge of the symbolic Catholic rituals:

There are four, even five liturgical colours, if you will that set the tempo of liturgy, that set the rhythm of the liturgical year, the bright colours, white, for joyous celebrations, for Christmas, for Easter, for the celebrations of Christ, for the ascension, and so on; mournful celebrations, then require sombre garments, black or purple, today purple is used more than black if you will, which is really somewhat a question of style it could be said because black was probably … was judged too sad, too funereal, to be precise so that for the last five years violet has been preferred over black. Red is associated with the Pentecost, and then equally as your listeners have seen for the funerals of the Pope, it is also the funereal colour of the Pope. The Pope is not buried with purple or black clothes, he is buried in red clothes. This also is something that found it’s beginnings in the Middle Ages, even the late antiquity, since the Pope of the western world, that is of Rome, felt himself the heritor of the glory, of the grandeur of the eastern empire. The eastern emperor was born within walls of porphyry, he that was born in crimson, in red. Thus the Pope took crimson for himself, and wore, while he was living, a red cape, and after death he kept this same colour red since he was buried in crimson, as one born within porphyry, you see this is special. Therefore when Paul VI re-established the liturgical colours, following the Council, he wanted to keep this red colour for the Pope.

So there is also green, green which is a colour I would say can be used anytime, which is there for celebrations for which there is nothing else in particular. For slightly ordinary days one wears green. By the same token there is pink, which is very rarely used, which is used two times a year: just before Christmas, the third Sunday of Advent, to mark a moment of joy during the Advent and similarly the same thing during Lent, the fourth Sunday of Lent which is at Rome the Sunday of the Rose, which is the Sunday where the Pope conducts a celebration a bit special, of the blessing of a rose, of a jewel in the form of a rose, a jewel which he will send once a year to a sanctuary somewhere in the world. Last year, before the arrival of the Pope, Our Lady of Lourdes received the Golden Rose. And it is because he celebrates the Golden Rose that he is dressed in pink.

The death of Pope John Paul II will not put an end to these innovations. Monsignor Marini has already prepared something new – or more accurately a return – for his successor:

The sign of the Bishops of antiquity, from the fourth century, the sign of the Bishop is a white woollen scarf, a large scarf of white wool which shows within the assembly that this person is the Bishop. And the Bishop of Rome wore this scarf, very early, as did the Byzantine Bishop, the Bishop of Constantinople. Therefore this holy scarf which is woven in simple white wool would be the sign of the Bishop well before the mitre, well before the head covering, the two pointed hat which is the mitre that everyone recognises. This holy scarf as the chasuble, itself would shrink through the centuries and would loose it’s identity, in some ways to no longer be the only sign of the Bishop of Rome but later be the sign of the metropolitan archbishops and other bishops who are authorised to wear it to then became a quite small ribbon of wool that is put around the neck which no one notices in the end, and the idea of Monsignor Marini – the master of liturgical celebrations of the Holy Seat – it is that this scarf should regain importance. And he thinks that for the next Pope, well that it will be in this way, with the holy scarf that we will recognise the next Pope. That will be the way of distinguishing him, since it is necessary to recognise him one way or another and that the tiara, the former papal head wear the pointed tiara, was left behind under Paul VI. So Monsignor Marini thinks that the scarf would be a very beautiful symbol, a very beautiful visible sign at the time of installation of the future papal leader and that we have here as you have seen two prototypes of this scarf, this great scarf. And even John Paul II has tried one the night of … the eve of Christmas, the day of Christmas 1999, he tried this scarf precisely to see a little what it would be like. It is more modest, if you will that the tiara but much more likable, it is much more interesting because it is really the tradition of the Church of the early centuries if you will.

The work on image is well in sync with the times:

We have had a tendency after the Council really to want to drop everything, above all in France and in the Anglo Saxon countries and we realize that in abandoning truly too many symbols that we loose our way somewhat. I believe that … above all when we speak through … with the young, young people want simple things but significant things. That there be a simplification and that more artists take in interest in the decoration, in the way of doing things, this would certainly be desirable and that we perhaps give up silk which has become very costly along with other similar materials in place of … for contemporary fabrics, and why not, there is no reason not to, to give way to contemporary artists, in order that the liturgy evolve within the framework of the art, if you will, so that it does not become something predetermined, but I don’t think that there will be a loss of symbols, on the contrary, one has rather the impression that today’s youth, more that thirty or forty years ago, wants symbols.

$Id: 2005_04_act.htm 35 2021-02-12 12:17:35Z alistair $

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