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Outfitting the Cardinals

February 27, 2001|RICHARD BOUDREAUX

ROME — Whenever a pope appoints new cardinals, Rome's handful of clergy tailors have a month before the installation ceremony to sew by hand the distinctive attire worn by "princes" of the Roman Catholic Church. Last month's appointment of 44 cardinals, the most ever in one batch, sent careful craftsmen such as Michele Ombroso at the Euroclero shop into a frenzy.

The job wasn't as daunting as it might have been in centuries past. The 100-foot trailing cape and the ermine cap were abolished from the cardinal's wardrobe shortly after World War II. Gone too are the silver buckled shoes. Velcro has replaced fasteners to hold together the sash that girds the waist.

But outfitting 44 cardinals is still a sartorial challenge on such short notice. The outfit, which costs about $1,500, consists of a crimson wool cassock lined in crimson silk; a white apron-like tunic called a rochet topped by a short crimson cape known as a mozzetta; a crimson and gold tasseled cord; a crimson mohair sash; and a pair of crimson socks. Atop it all sit the best known cardinal accessories, the only ones they receive from the pope during the ceremony--a crimson skullcap called zucchetto and the crown-like biretta, a four-cornered hat with three ridges.

The threads came together in time to produce a sea of red in St. Peter's Square last week during three days of ceremonies for the new cardinals. A Syrian cardinal chose to keep the distinctive black kalimafi headgear of his Eastern Rite. Sunglasses, worn by another cardinal, were optional.

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