Have you ever heard of the “Gentlemen of His Holiness?”
These are the special lay attendants who serve in the papal household at Vatican City. Historically, before the title’s revamp in 1968 by Pope Paul VI, they were known as “Papal Chamberlains.” Drawn predominantly from notable Italian noble families, historically these chamberlains were often key figures in society, including philanthropists and politicians.
Originally, this title, especially when given to laypersons, was styled as “Chamberlain of the Sword and Cape.” It wasn’t just a symbolic role. Each chamberlain was expected to serve the pope during significant ceremonies at least once a year.
In today’s times, the Gentlemen of His Holiness play a crucial ceremonial role, welcoming and escorting dignitaries like ambassadors or ministers who visit the Vatican. They’re the first faces many see when visiting the Pope’s residence.
As Pope Francis once remarked, “The various Authorities and other personalities who visit the See of Peter experience their first contact with this House and receive their first impressions through you, dear Gentlemen,” emphasizing their essential role in creating first impressions of the Church.
A roster of approximately 150 gentlemen takes turns serving throughout the year. They’re present during key events, including the popular Wednesday General Audiences, and have even had the somber duty of acting as pallbearers, as seen during Pope Benedict XVI’s funeral.
In a blend of tradition and ceremony, these gentlemen showcase the continued importance of hospitality and honor within the Vatican.
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Photo credit: Oslo Museum