The hidden meaning behind the pope's clothes

Updated 2007 GMT (0407 HKT) February 26, 2018
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It may be hard to tell at first glance, but not all popes dress exactly alike: there are different articles of clothing for different traditions and seasons. And sometimes a pope will inject their own personal style. Pope Francis, for example, prefers a simple iron cross and plain black shoes that are notably more understated than the red pair favored by his predecessor. We spoke with Father Edward Beck, a CNN contributor and Roman Catholic priest of the Passionist order, to find out more about the pope's wardrobe.

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Here, Pope Francis wears a cassock. The cassock, also called a soutane, can be worn by all clerics, Beck said, but the papal one is white. According to Beck, legend has it that Pope Pius V was used to wearing a white religious habit and he wanted to keep the tradition going. "And so ever since," Beck said, "it has remained white." Franco Origlia/Getty Images
Red shoes are worn by the pope, but not many recent popes have opted for them. Benedict XVI brought them back, Beck said. Some people say the red is symbolic of the blood of martyrs, but that's not necessarily historically accurate, he said. ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images
The mantum is a long cape that popes sometimes wear as a sign of their authority, Beck said. It's a vestment that fell out of use, but was revived by Benedict XVI, seen here. The mitre, Beck said, is a cone-like head dress worn by all bishops as a sign of their episcopacy. "Abbots can also wear it," Beck said. "It is not unique to the pope, but it replaced the tiara on the Papal Coat of Arms with Benedict, and now Francis." VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images
Pictured here in December 1939, Pope Pius XII, wearing the triregnum, bestows a blessing during a visit to the king and queen of Italy. The triregnum is the three-tiered papal tiara, or triple crown, that was placed on the head of the pope during the "coronation" part of the inaugural mass, Beck said. "It was last worn by Pope Paul VI, who seemed to think better of it because during the Second Vatican Council, he dramatically put it on the altar at St. Peter's Basilica and said to sell it and give the money to the poor," Beck said. No pope has had a coronation or worn the triregnum since. Keystone/Getty Images
Here, Pope Benedict XVI wears the camauro, a red bonnet worn only by the pope, in December 2005. It is a winter hat made of wool or velvet and trimmed with ermine fur. Pope Benedict instigated its resurgence in the active set of papal vestments. VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images
Pope Benedict XVI, seen here wearing a saturno, blesses the faithful in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, in 2006. The saturno is a wide-brimmed red hat that gets its name from its resemblance to the planet Saturn and its rings, Beck said. "It has been used as the summer alternative to the winter camauro, " he said, but unlike the winter hat, it's not not unique to the pope. VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images
The zucchetto is a skullcap worn by clerics in the Roman Catholic Church and some other churches, Beck said. Priests wear black zucchettos and prelates wear violet or red, while white is reserved for the pope. ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images
Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, left, greets Pope Benedict XVI at his official residence, Lambeth Palace, in central London in September 2010. Here, Benedict XVI wears a mozzetta, a cape worn by the pope and some other religious leaders. "The winter one matches the camauro because it is also red velvet or wool and adorned with ermine," Beck said. "This was also brought back by Benedict XVI after having fallen into disuse. There's also a white summer version." CHRIS ISON/AFP/Getty Images
Pope Benedict XVI is seen here wearing the pallium, a woolen cloak with five or six crosses. It's worn only by the pope and archbishops as a sign of their unity to the pope, Beck said. "It is made from the wool of lambs raised by monks and woven by nuns. It is rich in symbolism, as the pope, who is shepherd, literally carries the 'sheep' on his shoulders, especially the lost ones," Beck said. ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/GettyImages
Pope Benedict XVI wears a green chasuble in October, 2012. A chasuble is a liturgical vestment worn by all priests, including the pope, when saying mass, Beck said. There are a few liturgical seasons in the church, he said, each of which is associated with a color of chasuble. Green is the color worn most Sundays, known as "ordinary time," essentially, not during Advent, Lent or Easter. ANDREAS SOLARO,ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images
Pope Benedict XVI arrives to lead the mass for Ash Wednesday, on February 13, 2013. He wore this purple chasuble to open Lent, the 40-day period of abstinence and deprivation for the Christians, before the Holy Week and Easter. Purple is worn during the seasons of Advent and Lent. ALESSANDRO BIANCHI/AFP/Getty Images
The rose-colored chasuble is only used for two Sundays of the liturgical calendar, Beck said: Gaudete Sunday, which is the third Sunday of Advent, and Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent. "During both seasons," Beck said, "the color diverges from the traditional purple as a sign that both seasons are nearing and end and rejoicing is close at hand." FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images