Pope Francis Visits Downton Abbey: The Papal Wardrobe Controversy

I really couldn’t resist re-posting this from one of my favourite blogs. Dr. Taylor Marshall’s latest post says exactly what many are thinking – even in this land of ‘Downton Abbey’s


by Taylor Marshall

When Pope Francis was elected, we didn’t know much about him. When Pope Benedict was elected Pope, we knew exactly who he was. Pope Benedict had scores of published books and he had a been a visible and known prelate at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Benedict was in many ways the right hand man of John Paul II and we knew what to expect.

Pope Francis is entirely unknown to most of us. As a result, most folks have had to rely on only one source of information for the past week or so: photographs.Hence, most of the controversy over Pope Francis has boiled over “what is the Pope wearing or not wearing?”

As I was thinking about this, I realized that Pope Francis’s wardrobe and customs have created as much excitement as a Downton Abbey episode! Black shoes on a Pope? What would the Dowager Countess say? My goodness!

For those that have never seen Downton Abbey, it’s essentially a BBC drama centered on the “scandals” of an English Earl and his family as they wrestle with wearing black tie at dinner instead of white tie and whether noble blood necessitates a valet to help one dress. Other profound controversies include whether the Irish son-in-law should wear a morning suit, and which servant gets to wear the livery of a footman. As you can tell, it is an epic mini-series of deep philosophical distinctions…

People love Downton Abbey because it introduces us to the world of Old World nobility and elegance in conflict with the modern age. To carry the analogy, Pope Benedict represents the dignified Old World Pope in red slippers. Pope Francis represents the New World Pope in black lace-ups. If Benedict is Sir Robert Crawley Earl of Grantham, then Pope Francis is Matthew Crawley, the up-in-comer who doesn’t understand why a valet has to dress him in white tie every evening before dinner. Notably  Matthew does come around…

People are buzzing about Pope Francis’ choice of a silver papal ring, his refusal of the red papal mozzetta, his black shoes, his simple vestments, his low mitre, his preference for a Popemobile Jeep rather than a Popemobile Mercedes, etc.

Personally, I wish that the Pope had retained the traditional Papal attire. There I said it. But I don’t judge him over it. There is no sin in wearing black shoes. I don’t think that there are any precepts of canon law regarding shoe color or designating the manufacturer of the Popemobile. Again, the problem is that we do not know Pope Francis. What we have are instant digital photographs. This likely accounts for why some Catholics worked themselves into a frenzy within hours of the Pope’s appearance on the balcony after his election. “What? No scarlet mozzetta? I’m going to start tweeting about how this signals the end of the Extraordinary Form and the world as we know it!”

We should recall how Our Lord Jesus Christ rebuked the Pharisees for rebuking Him for not washing his hands ceremonially before meals. The Pharisees accused Christ of sin, because He did not obey the traditions of the elders. Christ sternly rebuked them for raising “breaking custom” to “breaking God’s law.”I think we can revere the papal customs (and even privately hope for their return), but we should not assume that black shoes on a Pope means that He has a black sole, I mean, black soul.Let me lay my cards on the table. I was hoping for Raymond Burke as Pope Leo XIV in a full out papal tiara. I would have been first in line to carry the Pope in the sedia gestatoria on my shoulders. 

The Pope’s Sedia Gestatoria
I think the Dowager Countess would like this, no?

But it did not happen. Burke wasn’t elected. It was not God’s will. So we retain peace. We pray. We do our duties. And we keep being grateful for Christ’s gracious gift of the Papacy and a living magisterium. I’ve been Protestant and I am grateful for a Pope, no matter what color his shoes. Let’s just trust Christ and keep moving along. I like what Father Z said yesterday. Pope Benedict gave us 8 years of trad training wheels. Now let’s take off the training wheels and simply ride the bike.

Question: Is this a fair assessment? People are so divided on this issue of “black shoes vs. red shoes” and what it represents. Folks are either thrilled that the Pope is so “humble and simple,” or they are scandalized that Pope Francis is breaking valued customs and slighting his predecessor. 


About Gertrude

Sáncte Míchael Archángele, defénde nos in proélio, cóntra nequítiam et insídias diáboli ésto præsídium.
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14 Responses to Pope Francis Visits Downton Abbey: The Papal Wardrobe Controversy

  1. Mimi says:

    Dr Taylor Marshall has not watched enough Downton Abbey if he thinks that the Earl of Grantham is styled “Sir” Robert Crawley! 😉


  2. johnkonnor72 says:

    …Don’t’t step on my blue suede shoes…thank you…thank you very much…


  3. Anne Archer says:

    I agree with you Dr. Marshall in that I love the tradition of the church but also agree with you that that does not describe the real stuff and the heart of the matter. Personally I still like tableclothes and a set table but occasionally use paper plates and plastic forks – doesn’t change the quality or taste of the food. We all undoubtedly agree with the fact that the food needs to be presented in all of it’s truth and beauty and when Pope Francis starts doing that I think he will be in big trouble with a lot of folks. So we pray.


  4. toad says:

    Brown shoes would be unspeakable. Black shoes with white (as above) is de rigueur.


  5. Gertrude says:

    I couldn’t resist this, but please remember that it originated in America, and I’m not sure how much ‘Downton’ they have seen.
    The thoughts though were exactly mine, then last night a ‘Twitter’ friend, a priest, reminded me of the following:

    ” I think the grief of losing the wonderful Pope Benedict is very real. Yet the beauty and splendour of the church continues

    I was very grateful to be reminded that whilst styles may change – the Faith does not.


  6. Dear Gertrude, I am with you all the way, I think. I don’t care much about his shoes’ colour – he can wear sandals if he wishes, for my part as long as he does so without socks – but, that said. I care very, very much about his Doctrine and his administration of the Sacraments, including the Mass. Any indication of anything remotely like the now (in)famous Pinocchio Mass will be very off-putting. God bless him and us, all. He is the Pope now….carnival time is over


  7. Frere Rabit says:

    When I was in Liverpool with the Anglican Franciscans in the 1980s there was a fellow friar who wore white Adidas trainers with blue stripes. That choice of footwear obviously went very badly with his traditional brown habit and cord. On the other hand, one Sunday while we were on our long walk back to the friary in Stanley from Eucharist in Toxteth, one of my home-made sandals fell apart and I wished at that moment I was wearing something more practical.

    A footnote for Franciscan historians: a set of cobblers tools and a good supply of sandal leather was to be found at one time in Dorset, at Hilfield Friary´s novice quarters, “Juniper House”. Many of us designed and manufactured our own sandals. Most of them fell apart without resulting in major injury, but occasionally the savage nails we had badly hammered into place ripped into flesh as the botched footwear disintegrated. As parables go, it was indeed a very Anglican method of witless self-crippling; but self-destructing sandals went down very well on parish missions, as an obvious sign of extreme poverty. We will never know how many people were converted by the sight.


  8. toad says:

    Toad is agog to hear all about the infamous Pinocchio Mass, John..
    He googled , Pinocchio Mass – and all he got was a chain of eponymous pizza joints in deepest Mass-achusetts.


  9. toad says:

    Many thanks for the clip, Rabi.

    Toad grows daily more convinced that he’s going to enjoy Pope Francisco a great deal.
    Bit of informality never comes amiss, does it?

    Though he wouldn’t be surprised if some of his friends, not a million miles away, were letting out screams only bats could hear – at this very moment!


  10. kathleen says:

    Oh, those red shoes!
    Fr. Z had a fascinating post on the subject a couple of days ago: http://wdtprs.com/blog/2013/03/i-am-thinking-about-those-red-shoes/

    Informality in Pope Francis, Toad? Well yes, perhaps, if we are talking about his “wardrobe” – BTW, the title of this article really got me giggling – but he is utterly formal (a.k.a. orthodox) in his role as Vicar of Christ. We need have no fears.


  11. toad says:

    I was referring, informally of course, to the now infamous “Pinocchio Mass,” Kathleen.
    A taste of which has been provided via Rabi, by Mundabor.
    Seemed innocuous enough to me
    Big fun, really.
    Kids seemed to be whooping it up. Atmosphere of carnival all round.
    Tip-top time being had by all, as the venerable cliché goes.

    …And while we on the subject of Pope Francis, I posted the comment below on Jabba’s blog, which he did not seem to think was utterly absurd. So I will offer it here.

    What people need to consider is that popes, necessarily, have an entire (up to a point) life behind them when they get the job. And, unless they’ve spent that life in a monkish cell, there are going to be past instances of worldly conflict and dispute.
    Can’t have it both ways.
    Personally, I enjoy his obvious distaste for “bling” as much as anything.
    But then, what do I know? I’m only a toad.


  12. golden chersonnese says:

    In the Patriarch Bartholomew video in the Patriarch Bartholomew invites Pope to Jerusalem to celebrate historic anniversary, he seems to be giving papal “bling” away as gifts.

    If so, it reminds me of this bronze statue outside the old Queen Victoria Building in Sydney, a statue of said queen which used to stand in front of the parliament building of the Irish Republic in Dublin until 1947. Beneath there is inscribed “A gift to the people of Sydney from the people of Dublin”. I bet it was.


  13. Frere Rabit says:

    I am still very, very cautious about this change of pontiff, to say the least. But there is a need for balance. The idea of holding up the “Pinocchio Mass” as typical of the kind of thing Pope Francis will do in St Peter’s Square in future is quite intellectualy lazy. How many cardinals would not have been involved in a really bad Disney liturgy at some point in a long church career in which other people have planned the peripheral stuff and invited them to stand at the altar to do the important bits?

    So, I will not judge Pope Francis by the “Pinocchio Mass”, nor by his old shoes, nor by his rejection of the “mozzarella” (still laughing at Eccles’ transposition of that one!), nor by his implementation of the Motu Proprio in a country I know little about. But I do have reservations: big reservations.

    I simply think it unwise – no, let me just go ahead and say it! – in poor taste to invoke the name of St Francis in the context of the papacy. It is playing on an easy emotion. More than that, it is inviting an expectation of a poverty that will be hard to live up to.

    If is indeed Papa Poverello, then he must deliver the programme that goes with this name. This will be one to watch!


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