On February 11, a drowsy winter day, Annibale Gammarelli was working in his tailor’s workshop located in the building of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, close to the Pantheon and the Basilica of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. At about midday a friend of his called him and told him excitedly: “Benedict XVI has resigned!” Annibale could not believe his ears — a Pope’s resignation was something unheard of. Being familiar with the Vatican, he did not expect this. He was bowled over.
His tailor’s workshop, a family-run business, was established in 1798, and for over two hundred years, priests, bishops, cardinals, aristocrats and diplomats have frequented this small shop bearing the inscription: “Sartoria per ecclesiastici” (tailor’s workshop for clergy). However, the Gammarelli family have gained worldwide fame as the Popes’ tailors; they have been tailoring clothes for the Popes since the time of Pius IX. When a Pope dies, they begin to prepare the clothes for the newly-elected bishop of Rome. I last visited Annibale after John Paul II’s death. Normally, the new Pope’s clothes are prepared in the period of mourning following the death of his predecessor. But this time the Pope has not died. And this is what we start to talk about.
Mr. Gammarelli, you usually begin to prepare the new Pope’s clothes when the incumbent Pope dies. What happened this time?
Annibale Gammarelli: Something unprecedented happened this year. We had got to know about Benedict XVI’s decision to resign as early as February 11, but we were waiting to receive official orders from the Vatican. Last Sunday, February 24, the Master of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations, Monsignor Guido Marini, called me and asked me to prepare the clothes for the new Pope. We usually tailor sets in three sizes: small, medium and large. Each set includes a white wool cassock, a red cape called a mozzetta, and some accessories: a gold string, a zucchetto and a belt with golden tassels which will bear the new pope’s coat of arms. This time they have ordered wool clothes without asking for a silk set, as it is now wintertime.
Do your clothes fit the Popes?
We usually go to the Vatican soon after the end of the conclave to tailor a cassock for the new Pope so that he may appear at the Loggia of Blessings. After that they call us to take more accurate measurements. Nevertheless, our clothes may happen to fit the newly-elected Pope, as was the case with John XXIII in 1958.
… and this was the case with John Paul II, wasn’t it?
The election of Karol Wojtyła took us all by surprise. We didn’t think of him when we tailored the clothes. Yet there was no problem: our large size fit him perfectly.
When will you display the new Pope’s clothes in your window?
At first we thought of displaying them on Friday, March 1, the beginning of the vacancy of the Holy See. But then, out of respect for Benedict XVI, we decided to remove them and leave our window empty. We will put the new Pope’s clothes on display when we reopen next Monday, March 4.
… and from that moment you will wait to receive news from the Sistine Chapel.
That’s true. As soon as the conclave starts, we will be ready to go to the Vatican at any moment.
Many people envy you because you are the first ones outside the Vatican to meet the newly-elected pope.
Tailoring clothes for the Popes is a great honor and privilege for our family.