Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Papal resignation and conclave - 8

Papal resignation and conclave – 8


The papal tailor shop


At times such as this I wish my great uncle, godfather and namesake were still alive . . . because he was a tailor, so this subject would surely have interested him.


The name of this little tailor shop is Gammarelli, and it has a rather exclusive clientele, namely the pope. At every papal election the tailors here are called upon to prepare the white cassock which the new pope will have to put on immediately after his election. Of course they don't know what size cassock the new pope will need, so they prepare three of them: small, medium and large. The three garments are then displayed in the window of the shop where they will remain on display until a few days prior to the start of the conclave when they will be delivered to the Vatican.


If you have ever been to the Sistine Chapel you may remember that there is a small door just on the left side of the altar, the opposite side from the door through which you entered the chapel. The three cassocks will be placed in the room just inside that door. Within minutes after his election the new pope will walk into that room and put on the cassock which is closest to his size. Someone will be with him (but not the Gammarelli tailor) to make last minute adjustments if the fit is not exact. So when you see the new pope introduced from the center balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, know that what he is wearing is from Gammarelli.


This little tailor shop was founded by the Gammarelli family in 1798 during the pontificate of Pius VI (1775-1799) and has remained in the family ever since that time. As you see from the picture, the shop, in the center of Rome just behind the Pantheon, is small and unassuming. But there is a workshop on the second floor where the garments are made. Lorenzo Gammarelli, one of the owners explains that they received a call from the Vatican shortly after Benedict XVI announced his resignation. Five tailors then worked for ten days to complete the three cassocks. When asked if his shop would continue to provide the clothing of the pope emeritus, Gammarelli replied tactfully: "We have always served Benedict XVI and we would be happy to continue to do so".


I have had the pleasure of pointing out this little ecclesiastical tailor shop to several of you who are now reading this piece. And whenever I show it to people, usually before or after a visit to the Pantheon, I always explain what happens here when they are preparing to elect a new pope. So now you can observe for yourselves this rare sight which can be seen only for a few days just before the beginning of a papal conclave.




And speaking of the conclave, the opening date has not yet been decided. A few of the cardinal electors have not arrived in Rome, and they want them all to be present before they make that decision. They are all expected to be here for the General Congregation tomorrow (Wednesday), so we might see the date announced at that time. It could be an interesting topic of discussion because the cardinals themselves seem to be divided on the issue of when the conclave should begin.


The plan for these congregations, you will remember, was that there would be two per day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. They have now changed that to one general meeting in the morning, while the afternoon is spent in smaller, more intimate group meetings. If, as many believe, they go into conclave on Monday, March 11, Gammarelli and company will deliver the cassocks on Friday.


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