For the tailor of popes and cardinals, a town hall is ‘fashion week’

ROME — In the land of Prada and Dolce & Gabbana, fashion houses are associated with the catwalk.

Yet on Saturday, when the Vatican presents its own dazzling spectacle, a consistory of 20 new cardinals, still the most exclusive club in the Catholic Church, there is only one answer to the quintessential red carpet question: ” Who do you see?” ?”


Even if the garments are second-hand, like the one worn by Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires when Pope John Paul II made him a cardinal, the label is almost always the same.

The reason lies in the quality. That’s according to half a dozen clerics, from priests to cardinals, who spoke to Crux outside this unassuming little shop on Borgo Pio, the narrow restaurant-lined street that leads to the Vatican’s Sant’Anna gate, where the entrance to the smallest state in the world is located.

Raniero Mancinelli, chief tailor, has been dressing popes, cardinals, bishops and priests for the past six decades, using scissors for hands and a tape measure for a scarf.

“My first conclave was the one that elected Pope John XXIII, in 1958, but I was just a kid at the time, helping out,” he said.

His nephew, who is now “just a boy”, helps these days in the store, and the tailor does not hide his hope that, between his daughter and his nephew, the tradition of dressing the clerics will remain in the family.

Mancinelli cuts the fabric on the counter, throwing bits of cardinal red and black to the floor with each cut of his scissors. Above his head, etched in wood, is his name and the date the store opened with its current title: 1962. He has been in the potato dressing business since that year and thus has had a top seat. queue for changes. occurred in the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).

The council, he told Crux on Thursday, “shaken the church” and the tremors “continue to this day.”

Having clothed six popes, Mancinelli reckons he has provided the robes for at least 30 classes of cardinals. Although he declines to say how many of the Class of 22 have been to his shop, he acknowledges that two in particular have moved him: Anthony Poola of Hyderabad, India, who on Saturday will become the first cardinal who is also a Dalit – the group’s name previously outcast called “untouchables” in the Hindu caste system – and Peter Obere Okpaleke, from Nigeria.

“When [Okpaleke] walked in for the first time, I was a little surprised, if not scared, since he has a very imposing figure. However, having met him today I would say he is the papabile of the class of 2022. He went from imposing to friendly very quickly, and he seems approachable and very eloquent, all traits a future pope will need,” the tailor said. he said.

Although understandably frustrated by the loss of income generated by changes in church fashion, Mancinelli makes no secret of his liking for the fact that cardinals these days are “very modest” in the way they dress and, in In most cases, they collect their own token, which can range from “1 to 1,000 euros”.

“Not long ago, there was always a foundation or an association that paid the cardinals. Today, they open their own wallets,” he said. “Although in some cases, I don’t let them pay. And this is not because I am trying to sugarcoat them, to make sure they remain loyal customers, but because there is something about them that impresses me. And as a Catholic, I don’t mind picking up the tab from time to time!”

Having had a front-row seat for the past six conclaves, the tailor said there was only one time when it was obvious who would be elected: Cardinal Giovanni Montini, who chose the name Paul VI in 1963.

“All the cardinals who came to the store those days, and there are many during the days leading up to the conclave, they all told me about Montini,” he said. “Other times, it was one in two, one in three that brought up a cardinal. But in 1963, each and every one of them.”

When it comes to dressing Pope Francis, Mancinelli said he hadn’t made the cardinal’s clothes worn by Bergoglio, then archbishop of Buenos Aires, at the 2001 consistory. They were clearly too big for the shy-looking prelate. However, he had in fact made them, but for his predecessor, Cardinal Antonio Quarracino, who had died three years earlier, in 1998.

“With Quarracino I had a real friendship,” Mancinelli said. “It was not the relationship between a cardinal and his tailor, but a true friendship. He often ate at my house when he visited Rome. In fact, there is something that I have always felt guilty about: once he had a heart attack when he was here, the day before he flew back to Argentina. Earlier that day, he had been at my house, eating and drinking. – at lunch.”

Bergoglio, however, visited the shop from time to time, and the tailor remembers one time in particular, when he came in looking for a red sash, something cardinals wear over their cassocks, and upon learning the cost, called Mancinelli ” good thief”. .”

The tailor says that he forgets if the transaction was carried out in the end.

With its perfect location a stone’s throw from the entrance to the Vatican, the tailor often hosts walk-ins who, upon opening their luggage, realize they have forgotten one garment or another. However, the consistories, along with the retreats held for newly appointed bishops, often mean the busiest period for the store.

“The fact that this month’s consistory was in August has not meant a vacation for us,” he said. “Although I very much appreciate the work, especially after two years of slow business due to the pandemic, the date was not the best.”

It is a concern shared by many, from Vatican employees to journalists working on this issue. August is the hottest month of the year and traditionally, the inhabitants of Rome flee the city on vacation. However, after Pope Francis’ surprise announcement of a consistory in late June, many had to change their vacation plans.

To make matters worse for Mancinelli, the bishops created by the pontiff over the last 12 months will come to Rome in early September for their in-person training, colloquially called “baby bishop school,” and soon after, Pope John Paul I will do. be beatified.

“But work is work, and it sure beats the alternative!” he said between laughs, finishing the interview to attend to the incoming client, Cardinal Luis Héctor Villalba Cardinal of Tucumán, in the north of Argentina.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma