ROME (Reuters) - As the Vatican prepares to welcome 19 prelates to the high rank of cardinal, Pope Francis’ call for frugality has had little effect on business for the Gammarelli family, suppliers of sumptuous clerical robes for more than two centuries.
In January, when he announced plans to create new cardinals and set the ceremony’s date for this Saturday, Francis also sent them a letter asking that they not see their appointment as a promotion and not to waste money holding celebratory parties.
He also said they should be “clothed in the virtues and sentiments of the Lord Jesus” as they help him run the Church.
Since a cardinal’s ceremonial outfit is regulated by tradition, the pope was speaking figuratively.
Still, after such a papal statement one might expect to see a boost in clerical hand-me-downs or a rush to discount shops.
But there has been no slump in business for Rome’s high-end ecclesiastical tailors, favored by clergy for the quality and stylish finish famous in Italian craftsmanship.
Lorenzo Gammarelli, the sixth generation of the family which has been outfitting popes and prelates since 1798, said frugality has yet to trickle down, and that demand for fine red woolen socks, lace vestments and cassocks is unchanged.
The elbow-length cape the mozzetta, lace rochet and square hat the biretta worn by cardinals differ in price depending on the quality of materials used, but Gammarelli said there was no sign prelates were switching to less luxurious fabrics.
“In our experience, changes of this kind happen very slowly, so if they happen we expect they will occur in a few years,” Gammarelli said at the counter of his snug premises in central Rome, beside a stack of packages labeled with the names of cardinals awaiting collection.
Francis has made many gestures to signal a preference for simplicity and humility since he became the first non-European pope in 1,300 years almost a year ago.
He has called for a “poor Church, and for the poor”, opted to live in a simple boarding house rather than the Apostolic Palace, and travels in a blue Ford Focus rather than in a luxury car escorted by guards.
The approach extends to his clothes. While Benedict wore a gold cross, red papal shoes and an ermine-trimmed crimson cape, Francis prefers simple white robes, a silver-plated metal cross and ordinary black shoes.
Esquire magazine named Francis 2013’s best dressed man, saying his plain dress “signaled a new era”.
But Andrea Koray, a Franciscan monk who wears sandals and the brown robe of his order, said actions by Francis such as washing and kissing the feet of non-Christians at a traditional Lent ceremony were far more important indicators of change.
“I don’t want trivialize things by pointing to such gestures, like the cross is not made of gold or he doesn’t wear the same shoes as previous popes,” Koray said.
“These are trivialities, we shouldn’t pay too much attention to them. They are a sign, but his humanitarian gestures are more important,” he said.
Additional reporting by Antonio Denti, editing by Philip Pullella and Andrew Heavens