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Monday, September 6, 2010

Faux Pas: Politicos and Popes

We've had the best. Now the rest.

1. Queen Sofia
Queen Sofia of Spain with Pope Benedict XVI.

Normally I'm a fan of Queen Sofia (Spain), especially in terms of her sartorial elegance.  But when it comes to papal audiences, she has a history of sticking with the protocols that suit her (like wearing white) while ignoring others (the mantilla).

If you're going to exercise your privilège du blanc - granted as a sign of respect for Catholic monarchs - then make a return gesture of respect by donning a mantilla.

With Pope John Paul II. 

2. Mary Robinson
Mary Robinson - former Irish President

In 1997, Irish President Mary Robinson visited the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II sans mantilla and wearing a green suit. I haven't been able to find a photo of it but it stirred up some debate in Ireland at the time since it was speculated that her choice of attire was deliberately provocative. 

Her successor, Mary McAleese, sensibly chose to wear black when she met Pope John Paul II in 2003 and Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 (photo below) but was likewise sans mantilla. 

Pope Benedict XVI with Irish President
Mary McAleese, 23 March 2007

Winnie Mandela
I haven't been able to find a photo of 
this, but according to the Catholic News Service 'Winnie Mandela, who was the wife of then-vice president of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela, wore a long lacy dress that was whiter than the pope's vestments in a June 15, 1990, visit to the Vatican.' 

4. Raisa Gorbachev
Raisa Gorbachev with Pope John Paul II, December 1989.

It's a faux pas that still gets discussed. This monumental meeting between the Polish pope and the last head of state of the USSR was almost over shadowed by the bright red dress worn by Mrs Gorbachev. 

5. Cherie Blair
The wife of then British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Cherie Blair 
meets Pope Benedict XVI, 28 April 200

What's wrong with this photo? Well, she's in white (a privilege reserved only for reigning Catholic monarchs), she should be in black, her head isn't covered and she's a celebrity heterodox 'Catholic' who likes to publicly criticize church teachings. In fact, according to some accounts, she's on a one-woman mission to modernize the church. 

I'm going to make a point of praying for her more often. 


  1. wow I never knew that there were rules for dress in meeting with the Pope! very interesting...


  2. I feel obliged to point out that wearing white in the papal presence is a privilege granted to Her Most Catholic Majesty the Queen of Spain.

    This is partly why it was considered so controversial when Cherie Blair wore white... she was usurping a specifically granted privilege -- and thus equating herself with the Queen of Spain!

    I don't know if any Catholic monarchs other than those of Spain (i.e. Belgium, Lesotho, etc.) have been granted this privilege.

  3. Oh, ok -- now I actually READ what you wrote rather than skimming it. Apologies for the redundant comment! The fault of a brain not as quick as the eyes it controls!

  4. But I thought one was only required to wear a mantilla when in the Vatican. It looks like the Pope was in Spain at Zarzuela Palace or something.

    Also I read that Cherie's meeting with the Pope was a completely last minute thing. She was in Rome for a conference and got the chance to meet the Pope. So this wasn't entirely her fault.

  5. No - the photo was taken when Cherie attended the Vatican and not Spain. See