Friday, February 22, 2013

At the Vatican, The Vacancy Calls For Umbrellas

Even if the sede vacante doesn't take effect for another six days, some might want to get used to the image at right – that's the ombrellino (the "little umbrella"), which will again replace the papal tiara over the crossed keys of the Vatican's "logo" during the interregnum between B16's resignation and the emergence of his successor to symbolize the lack of a Pope.

Beyond topping formal Vatican documents and the masthead of the daily L'Osservatore Romano between pontiffs, the city-state's post office traditionally issues stamps featuring the device to mark the interregnum, a release said to be highly-coveted among collectors.

While we're talking PopeArms, one point that bears watching early in the next pontificate will be whether Benedict's successor will maintain Joseph Ratzinger's break from tradition in ditching the triregno – the "triple crown" retired from actual use by Paul VI at the close of Vatican II – on his own shield, replacing it with a three-striped mitre to represent the Pope's authority as that of a bishop, not a secular monarch. (Given as a gift to Paul from the people of Milan – where Giovanni Battista Montini served prior to his 1963 election – the last tiara is kept on display in the crypt of Washington's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Several others remain in the Vatican collections, and – however unlikely – it's indeed fully possible that the next Pope can choose to be crowned again in place of the simpler ritual of "installation" that's been employed throughout the post-Conciliar period.)

While the shift was explained at the time as Benedict's way of signaling "the necessity of a church in continual purification from earthly temptations, that it may shine forth uniquely in the world as a sign of the power of the Spirit," the heraldic hat-swap never ceased to infuriate traditionalists, some of whom in Vatican circles tried to keep the crown in circulation, only to be shut down in short order.

Within a year of making the change, Benedict named his heraldist – the longtime Italian diplomat Andrea Cordero Lanza de Montezemolo – a cardinal and archpriest of St Paul's Outside the Walls, the post currently held by the junior member of the 11-vote US delegation going into the next Conclave, Milwaukee's own Cardinal James Harvey.