Speculation has been rife about what kind of man soon will be elected to succeed Pope John Paul II: Will he be a charmer? An intellectual? An African, European or Latin American? A tight-fisted disciplinarian or a convivial democrat?
But no one talks about his size, and that poses a problem for Filippo Gammarelli, proprietor of Gammarelli Ecclesiastical Tailoring. The shop, founded in 1798, has provided ecclesiastical and ceremonial garments for popes for more than 150 years.
When a new pope is elected, a long white outfit with matching skullcap must be immediately available, so he can put them on quickly, leave the Sistine Chapel and greet the crowd waiting for him in St. Peter's Square.
Gammarelli and his team of 20 tailors make three sets in advance: small, medium and large. "We can't be over at the Vatican fitting the new pope at such a time," Gammarelli said.
The clothes will be delivered to the Vatican by the time the electoral conclave begins Monday. Each set will contain two floor-length cassocks, the long robe worn by Catholic clergy, made of about four yards of Italian wool, plus a sash and a mozzetta, the scarlet waist-length garment sometimes placed over the robe. The sets will also include the white zucchetto, or skullcap. "Actually, our white is not white, but ivory," Gammarelli said.
Inside the shop, with other orders on hold, four tailors are hard at work on the papal sets. "Look at these buttonholes," Gammarelli said, holding up a cassock. "These are done by hand. We don't have time to waste."
Gammarelli's store is a reminder that Rome was once a papal domain full of artisans who served the pope, his cardinals and the aristocracy from which the Catholic Church recruited its elite. The store is just off Via dei Cestari, a 75-yard Fifth Avenue of clerical garb and religious paraphernalia. If a chalice, crucifix for an altar, or even a whole altar is needed, Via dei Cestari has them.
Before 1870, when popes ruled much of central Italy, clothing for cardinals and bishops was much more ornate -- lots of silks and gold brocade, Gammarelli noted. Then Italian nationalists, on the way to unifying the peninsula, drove Pope Pius IX into Vatican City. In protest and out of dismay, the outfits became more subdued.
The store has outfitted every pope of the past century except Pius XII, who reigned from 1939 to 1958. He had a private tailor.