VATICAN CITY — Journalists have been involved in an underground battle ever since Pope Benedict XVI turned up for his Sept. 6, 2006, general audience in St. Peter’s Square wearing for the first time in public a wide-brimmed red straw hat that had often been worn by Popes John XXIII and Paul VI.
I was covering the audience that day and can recall how many of us in the Vatican press hall started wondering aloud, “What is he wearing?!”
“It’s a galero!” shouted one. Others parried back: “No, what are you saying? It’s a saturno!” And on it went all afternoon. The press hall was squarely divided into two camps. I Googled feverishly to find what it had been called in the past and settled on “galero,” as it looked more like this red-tassled cardinal hat than the “saturno,” which is a round black clerical hat made out of felt or fur.
This year the tide had turned. The majority of the press corps was calling it a saturno, though we had been calling it a galero. When the pope showed up wearing it at a recent general audience this month, we were back to square one: What are we going to call it?
Intrepid CNS photographer Bob Roller decided to take the matter into his hands this week and just call it a red hat. It turns out he’s right.
This morning I called the pontifical household about it and spoke with a pretty exasperated monsignor who exclaimed, “It’s just a hat!”
The galero is no longer in use, he said, and the word “saturno” is not even a correct Italian term — it’s Roman slang for a round-dome hat made of fur or felt. The pope’s red straw hat is just a hat, he said. So, hats off to the Vatican hat expert for setting the record straight.
PHOTO: Pope Benedict XVI reaches out to a baby at the end of his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican June 18. (CNS/Reuters)