The Meaning Behind the Pope’s Clothes

2 minute read

Everyday Attire

President Barack Obama and Pope Francis walk through the colonnade prior to an Oval Office meeting at the White House on Sept. 23, 2015 in Washington.Alex Wong—Getty Images

In contrast to the more gaudy traditional styles championed by his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI—who was no stranger to a pop of color, to say the least— Pope Francis typically dons simple black shoes with the all-white cassock, the ankle length garment he’s shown in here, he wears during informal functions. The cassock is traditionally worn with a coordinating mozzetta, a short cape that symbolizes his authority.


Pope Francis attends the Midday Prayer Service at the Cathedral of St. Matthew on Sept. 23, 2015 in Washington.Mark Wilson—Getty Images

The Pope also frequently sports a stole, a wide piece of fabric worn draped across the shoulders.


Pope Francis walks to the altar arrives to give mass at Revolution Square on Sept, 20, 2015 in Havana, Cuba.Filippo Monteforte—AFP/Getty Images

The Pope often dons colorful vestments to align with the nature of the occasion. The green robe he’s wearing here, paired with a papal pallium—the tie-like band around his neck and shoulders—and a mitre, the ceremonial headwear, typically signal that it’s ordinary time or occasions where no other color is appropriate.


Pope Francis gives a morning mass at the Calixto Garcia square on Sept. 21, 2015. in Holguin, in eastern Cuba.Luis Acosta—AFP/Getty Images

The Pope’s red robes are worn during celebrations of Jesus’ sacrifice and to symbolize the blood spilled by martyrs.

Pectoral Cross

President Barack Obama leans over to talk to Pope Francis during a state arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House on Sept. 23, 2015 in Washington.Pablo Martinez Monsivais—AP

Pope Francis, like many pontiffs before him, wears a long-chained cross around his neck. His cross, however, is much more modest than those of his predecessors who wore gold and bejeweled crosses. Pope Francis’ cross is silver and is said to depict Jesus holding a lamb.

Skull cap

Pope Francis waves upon his arrival on Sept. 21, 2015 in Santiago de Cuba.Filippo Monteforte—AFP/Getty Images

The pope’s white skull cap, formally known as the zucchetto, a head covering worn by members of the clerical hierarchy. Only the Pope can wear a white zucchetto.

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