Two questions

Two questions

I had two questions posed to me this morning and I’ve tried to research answers on them, but am not completely satisfied. If you know or have a resource, I’d love to hear from you.

1. Pope John Paul II was buried in red vestments. However, clergy are usually buried in white vestments. Why the difference?

My research turned up a reference to a deceased pope being dressed “in state” in the red and gold chasuble. Perhaps it means that when a pope lies in state, he is to be dressed in the sacred vestments he would normally wear when receiving state visitors. I’m not positive on that one.

2. What is the significance of the 3 pins/nails/thorns on the pallium worn by the Pope?

The pallium is worn by all metropolitan archbishops, primates, patriarchs, and the Pope as signs of the jurisdictional authority. Some ancient sources claim that the three pins represent the three days in the tomb before Christ triumphed over death. However, there is no proof of this symbolic significane, despite the practice being in use for more than 600 years. Other sources claim that the pins used to be functional, connecting the various pieces of the pallium together, but now they are just ornamental.

Does anyone have better answers on this?

  • There are two competing views in the blogosphere for why red. One side says that it is red because red, the colour of martyrs, is in honour of Peter. The other side says that the shade of red was the imperial purple and transferred to the popes when the emperor ceased to be. While it is possible it is both, it is more likely the first. But all popes are buried in red.

  • The three nails are for the three nails that bound Christ to the Cross.  Google it.

  • Thanks but I was looking for something definitive. KAP, I did look at your first link. That’s the link in the original blog entry.

    Father, I did Google it, but did not find anything definitive. Did you find something? Do you have a link?

  • Our pastor today said that the 5 red stripes were for the wounds of Christ and the 3 pins were for the nails.  Makes sense to me!

  • “Google it.”


    These are the two worst words in research! wink

    I mean, in this case you’re right but I can’t believe you learned about it through Google!

    Popes are, as mentioned above, buried in red as they are successors of Saint Peter, first Vicar of Christ and Martyr.

  • I heard Archbishop Foley say that they were the 5 wounds of Christ—I don’t know where he got that information tho.

  • I didn’t learn about it through google—i just found out what i already knew is available online.

  • Found this in todays Wash. Times
    The stole, called a pallium, symbolizes the pope’s role as a shepherd taking care of his flock. It is pierced with three golden pins to symbolize the nails driven into the cross on which Christ was crucified, and embroidered with five red silk crosses symbolizing the wounds of Christ during His execution.

  • Not sure how definitive it is, but I managed to find this on W9ikipedia for question 1. ( Id di look at, but was unable to find anything other than confirmation under liturgical colours that red signifies the blood of the martyrs.)

    “The red color represents the blood of the martyrs, signifying Pope John Paul II’s willingness to shed his own blood for the Christian faith.”

  • I think Dom meant did anyone know of any authoritative sources.
    I think he knows how to do a google search and use the internet.
    And, as I tell my composition students, citing newspapers and internet sites just begs the question: what is the newspaper’s or internet site’s source.

    Also, he was asking specifically about the gold pins, not the crosses or the colors.

  • I suppose the real lesson is, “Wait until one is home, and not at work, before one provides information.” After all, at work one is usually limited to the internet. But then again, why is one reading blogs when one should be working?

    At any rate, I suppose by “authoritative source” one would have to mean a book. (As all on the internet has fallen short of the glory of authority.) Alas, I know of no books written on the subject of Papal liturgical colours, particularly during his burial, or the justification for gold pins. So, I shall eagerly watch the thread to see if anyone does know of any. Perhaps there are some Vatican documents on the subject?

  • Heh – I was going to suggest Noonan’s The Church Visible, so I went to and found that the very first review listed was from Dom!  So I suppose he’s checked it already.

    Why not drop a line to Piero Marini’s or John Foley’s office?

    Cheers –


  • Yes, Noonan’s book is and has been invaluable. It was a great source for the article I wrote on papal funerals and elections. It was also the first place I turned for information, but it didn’t have anything more than what I posted in the original entry.

    The answers are not so important that I want to write an archbishop about it. Someone at church was curious and so I was trying to be helpful.