Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul and the Tradition of the Pallium 4

Pope Francis investing an Archbishop with the pallium

Pope Francis investing an Archbishop with the pallium

Today in the city of Rome, 27 Archbishops, will receive the pallium from Pope Francis during a ceremony at Saint Peter’s Basilica.

What’s a Pallium?

The pallium is a white woollen garment that archbishops wear around their neck, like a yoke, as a sign of their metropolitan office. Traditionally, new archbishops receive the pallium from the pope on this day — the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul — as a token of their union as successors of the apostles. This brief video from Rome Reports highlights the ceremony from two years ago.

Follow this link for a full list of the archbishops who will receive the pallium from Pope Francis today.

The Tradition of the Pallium

The Pallium

The pallium is a Y-shaped liturgical vestment worn around the collar by Metropolitan Archbishops only during special liturgical celebrations.

St Gregory the Great wearing a white omophor

The word “pallium” means a “covering” in Latin, because the pallium is worn over the other vestments and it covers the shoulders. The equivalent vestment in Eastern Orthodox churches is called the omophor, from omos (shoulder) and pherein (to bear). This Greek title indicates the role of the Metropolitan, who as a bishop is a shepherd of his local flock. The word omophor, then, hearkens the significance of Christ, the Good Shepherd, bearing the lost sheep on his shoulders.

The allusion to the Good Shepherd is deeply rooted in the pallium’s tradition. The palliums worn by Metropolitan Archbishops are made of pure white wool from two very special lambs.

Every year on January 21, the Feast of St Agnes (agnus in Latin means lamb), two white lambs are presented for blessing at the Lateran Basilica (traditionally, this is the Pope’s Basilica in the city of Rome). The lambs were once considered a tribute tax from the Basilica of St Agnes to the Lateran Basilica.

Before the ceremony, the lambs are presented to the faithful in two separate baskets, one decorated with red flowers, signifying martyrdom; the other with white flowers, signifying virginity — St Agnes was a virgin-martyr. One basket bears the letters SAM (St Agnes Martyr); the other, SAV (St Agnes Virgin).

After the blessing ceremony at the Lateran Basilica, the lambs are brought to the apostolic palace at the Vatican for the Pope to bless them.

Afterward, the lambs are delivered to the Benedictine Nuns at the Basilica of St Cecilia in Trastevere, Rome, to be tenderly loved and cared for in the basilica garden over the next few months. A week before Easter, the lambs are shorn, so that their wool may be used for the weaving of the pallia. Every pallium contains some strands of wool from these two brave young lambs.

Once the pallia are sewn, they are placed in a silver casket, which is reserved in the Confessio — a special place beneath the altar of St Peter’s Basilica where St Peter’s bones are laid to rest (contrary to some accounts that I’ve been told, the pallia do not actually touch the bones of St Peter). Due to their proximity to the Saint’s bones, the pallia become third class relics.

On the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul — that is today — the Holy Father places a pallium on the shoulders each new Metropolitan Archbishop during a ceremony at the Vatican.

The Significance of the Pallium

The pallium, made of pure white wool, represents the Lamb of God who shed his blood for our sins. It’s being reserved in the tomb of St. Peter and conferred by the Pope, stresses the significance of the unity of the Church, especially regarding that among the bishops of the Church with the Bishop of Rome: primum inter pares — first among equals. The pallium’s Y-shaped form, can be understood to signify a yoke: For my yoke is easy and my burden light (Matt 11:30). There are 5 black crosses embedded on the pallium (red crosses on the Pope’s pallium) signifying the 5 wounds of Christ. Three of the crosses have three pins inserted in them to remind the bearer of the nails driven into our Lord’s hands and feet. Finally, the tip of the pallium is embroidered in black, like the lamb’s feet. For Christ the good shepherd laid down his life for his sheep that they may walk the path of life.



  1. Excellent article! Informative. Thank you. However, pallia really ought to be considered third-class relics, for they are reverently placed in contact with a first-class relic, in this case, what are believed to be St. Peter’s remains. God bless!

  2. Thanks for this great explanation. I enjoyed it–having just come directly from a news article that merely explained the pallium as a symbol that the bishop is obedient to the Pope. so it was great to read this in-depth explanation to clarify what had happened and why. I believe my own archbishop was one of the recipients, too!

    • You’re welcome, Reinkat. More than a symbolic gesture of obedience to the pope, their receiving the pallium from the Vicar of Christ is a sign their of unity and fraternity, where the pope is recognized as primus inter pares, first among equals, and also as the “servant of the servants of God.” All of them are shepherds of Christ’s flock, who receive their authority to serve, not from one another, but directly from Christ, who commissioned his pastors with his authority in the Gospel.

      Congratulation on your archbishop’s receiving the pallium from Pope Francis!

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