Remember when Rihanna dressed up as a pope for the Costume Institute gala at the Met Museum in 2018? Her pearl-encrusted take on papal vestments riffed on the opulence of the garb donned by the head of the Catholic Church—albeit with more cleavage and thighs on display.
Now, an altogether simpler vision of papal life is on offer with Heritage Auctions on July 16. An anonymous consignor is selling Pope Francis’s official garb: the plain cassock and silk skullcap were custom-made by the pope’s favorite Roman tailor and will be sold online.
Both garments were signed by Pope Francis, who has been head of the Catholic Church since 2013, in black felt-tip marker with his name in Italian, “Francesco.” A YouTube video shared dated to last summer and shared by the consignor shows the pope appears to show him autographing the two pieces. The lot comes with two certificates signed by the Pope’s private secretary, Don Fabio Salerno, confirming that the garments was signed by the pontiff.
The opening bid for the outfit, which is worn by the pope daily outside of liturgical functions, is set at $25,000 ($31,250 with buyer’s premium); the auction will last 11 days. Heritage will donate half of the buyer’s premium from this sale to St Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
The cassock and skullcap are in “beautiful condition,” the Texas-based auctioneer stated on its website, “with only a few pinpoint instances of soiling along the trim and hem.” The garments are “perhaps the most recognizable look of the modern Pope,” the auctioneer added.
The cassock soon available on Heritage Auctions is made from “superfine luxury merino wool” supplied by Holland and Sherry, in Savile Row, London, according to the auctioneers’ website. It was tailored by Raniero Mancinelli, whose eponymous shop in Rome is just outside the walls of Vatican City.
Although the Pope’s official tailor is Gammarelli, a garment maker that was established in 1798, Pope Francis’s predecessor, Benedict XVI, preferred Mancinelli’s handiwork during his time as Pontiff; Pope Francis followed his sartorial lead.
“I dressed Benedict since he was a cardinal, so when he became Pope, he came straight to me,” Raniero Mancinelli told Artnet News. “When Francis came to me after he was elected, he asked me to simplify certain small details in the cassock when I re-designed it for him; he didn’t care at all about the flourishes.” Despite this, the overall form of the garment has remained “substantially unchanged for at least 100 years,” Mancinelli said.
The papal custom of wearing white vestments for daily, downtime use goes back to Pope Pius V, who served as head of the Catholic Church from 1566 to 1572. A Dominican monk before his selection for the top job, Pius V kept wearing the white habit of his order after his election as Pope. The tradition stuck.
The papal preference for all-white garments comes with some challenges. “The cassock gets dirty very easily and needs regular cleaning; it also wears out easily,” Mancinelli said, adding that he had made multiple versions of the garment, with different materials for different seasons, for both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis.
But who will buy the outfit? Most Catholics would balk at the prospect of wearing papal vestments, so a Catholic buyer might choose to donate the cassock and skull cap to a church or small museum. Anyone else would be free to wear the garments, should they choose to do so.
When asked if it would be disrespectful for a buyer to don an actual Papal cassock, Mancinelli quipped: “If you want a Papal cassock, come direct to me. I’ll make you one; business is business.”