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Papal clothing to star at Met’s Catholic couture exhibition

If you’ve ever wanted to get up close to a pair of the Pope’s slippers, now’s your chance.

Forty pieces of clothing and artefacts from the Vatican will form the centrepiece of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” exhibition, which opens on May 10 in New York.

The exhibition will showcase the Catholic Church’s impact upon fashion, but many visitors will likely be attracted most by the opportunity to share a room with ecclesiastical relics.

The oldest piece in the Papal collection is a mantle once worn by Benedict XIV (1675-1758). The newest is a pair of red Papal shoes worn by Saint John Paul II.

Pope John Paul's garments are now "second class relics"

These will be a big draw. John Paul II was – and is – hugely popular. The fact he has been canonised since his death in 2005 means all items he touched automatically become classed as “second class relics”. Anything that touches a second class relic becomes a "third class relic", although we anticipate the shoes will remain behind glass.

Andrew Bolton, the exhibition’s curator, told the press at a recent sneak preview in Rome: “Some might consider fashion to be an unfitting or unseemly medium by which to engage with ideas about the sacred or the divine. But dress is central to any discussion about religion; it affirms religious allegiances and, by extension, it asserts religious differences.”

“Several of the pieces have never been seen outside the Vatican, including a suite of 12 vestments commissioned by Empress Maria Anna Carolina of Austria for Pius IX. Dating to the mid-19th century, they required 15 women more than 16 years to complete.”

The exhibition will also include a lavish Papal tiara Queen Isabella II of Spain gave Pius IX, It features 19,000 precious stones, including 18,000 diamonds.

The collection has been compiled after lengthy negotiations with the Vatican’s culture minister, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi.

The interest in the Papal artefacts in the exhibition is mirrored on the collectibles market. Pope Francis’ Fiat 500 sold for $82,000 in 2016, while his skullcap made $18,000 the same year.

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