When Pope Benedict XVI announced the election of 22 new cardinals in February, 22 people all over the world immediately reached for the telephone to call their ecclesiastical outfitters of choice in Rome and order their new wardrobe – scarlet biretta, scarlet cassock and scarlet socks.
In fact there are only a handful of shops that specialize in ecclesiastical garb (both liturgical and non-liturgical) for the sacerdotal elite of the Church. Most of these are clustered together in the centre of Rome, behind the Pantheon, just off the aptly named Piazza delle Stimmate (Stigmata Square). The world of ecclesiastical clothing, like the Vatican itself, is a strange, hermetic, esoteric one, veiled in discretion and mystery. One knows when one is approaching this venerable quartier, as the density of clerics, already great in Rome, suddenly increases – everywhere you look are clerics of all echelons and sizes – bishops from Benin to Brazil and cardinals from Columbia to Korea.
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