Papal tailor gearing up for new pontiff

By Benedicta Cipolla
Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) -- When "Habemus papam!" (We have a pope!) rings out from the balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square, most of the faithful will be waiting for the name of the 265th leader of the Catholic Church, their upturned gazes fixed on his face.

Filippo Gammarelli will be anxiously scrutinizing the new pontiff's body.

As papal tailor, Gammarelli will be more concerned with measurements and mental calculations for the outfits the new pope will need in the days following the election.

While it is not certain the next pope will call upon his services, Gammarelli's shop -- founded in 1798 by his forebear, Antonio Gammarelli -- served every 20th-century pontiff except for Pope Pius XII, who stuck with his family's tailor.

Two or three days before the April 18 start of the conclave, Gammarelli will deliver three sets of outfits to the Vatican, identical except for size: small, medium and large.

About 10 tailors and seamstresses were racing to finish the order just 48 hours before the deadline. One woman worked only on hand-sewn buttonholes, 30 per cassock, while another employee focused his attention on more than 200 silk-covered buttons.

Each set consists of a white wool cassock with attached capelet, a white silk cassock and matching red capelet with buttons up the front, a skullcap, a sash and red leather shoes.

After the election and before the new pope's presentation to the public, he will quickly don the outfit that best approximates his size and sartorial taste.

"We hope one of them will fit, more or less," Gammarelli said in an interview with Catholic News Service in his store, located on a tiny street behind the Pantheon in an area chock full of stores selling clerical garb.

Pope John XXIII, one of the more rotund pontiffs in recent memory, almost burst the buttons of his first cassock, while the slender and short Pope John Paul I found even the smallest outfit too long.

When Pope John Paul II stepped onto the balcony, clad in one of the shop's white cassocks, Gammarelli breathed a sigh of relief.

"He carried himself beautifully. Before the last few years, when he began to be stooped over, he was a handsome man," Gammarelli told CNS. "He was easy to work with, very simple."

Once an order comes in from a new pope, Gammarelli and his team head to the Apostolic Palace to take measurements, which they keep on file for future requests.

Books dating back decades contain the arm, waist, inseam and head measurements of thousands of priests, bishops and cardinals, who can phone in an order from across the globe -- unless, of course, weight fluctuations have impacted their sizes.

Much of the pomp and circumstance surrounding the papacy died out with Pope Paul VI, who got rid of the papal tiara and insisted on an unadorned marble slab to mark his tomb.

Likewise, the last half-century has brought a paring down of pontifical and other ecclesiastical clothing. Pope Pius abolished cardinals' silk trains, and thus also the servants trailing behind to carry them, and the decorative ermine trim and ostrich-plumed fans favored by pontiffs past went the way of the papal court and portable throne that footmen carried through the crowds.

Which is not to say ermine trim might not come back someday: "The pope can have whatever he wants," said Gammarelli.


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