Red Shoes and the Room of Tears

shutterstock_124739329 2Like so many millions of Catholics around the world waiting for the traditional white smoke to begin to flow from the Sistine Chapel’s chimney, I can’t help but wonder who the next Pope will be to slip his feet into the traditional red shoes as successor of Saint Peter and leader of the Universal Church.

The wearing of red papal shoes (then “sandals”) dates back to the earliest times of the Church.  However, in 1566 St. Pope Pius V, a White Dominican, decided to change the papal vestments from red to white leaving only the Pope’s cappello (a wide circular brimmed hat), cape and shoes the color red.  Usually elaborate, the leather soled, less structured papal “slippers” of the time were made of red satin and silk along with gold thread and embroidered ruby encrusted crosses.  Until the first half of the 20th century, it was customary for pilgrims having an audience with the Pope to kneel and kiss one of his slippers.  Similar to many of noblemen of the time, the Pope also wore red slippers inside his residences and red Morocco leather shoes outside.  Centuries later, Pope Paul VI decided to update his footwear and eventually discontinued the use of “slippers” altogether in favor of sturdy red shoes for both indoor and outdoor use.

Throughout Church history, the color red has been deliberately chosen to represent the blood of Catholic martyrs spilt through the centuries following in the footsteps of Christ.  The red papal shoes are also linked to Christ’s own bloodied feet as he was prodded, whipped, and pushed along the Via Dolorosa on his way to his crucifixion, culminating in the piercing of his hands and feet on the cross.  The red shoes also symbolize the submission of the Pope to the ultimate authority of Jesus Christ.  Beyond this, it is said the red papal shoes also signify God’s burning love for humanity as exhibited during Pentecost when red vestments are worn to commemorate the decent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles as tongues of fire rest upon their heads.

Though the devil may wear Prada, most recent Popes have worn Stefanelli, a Novara based Italian shoemaker who, out of love for his church, reportedly made a pair of shoes for Blessed Pope John Paul II as a gift in 2002.  After being deeply moved by the Popes declining health, Adriano Stefanelli, wondered how he could help alleviate some of the Holy Father’s suffering. “Since I can make shoes, I thought that the only thing I could do was to make a pair for him.” The Catholic cobbler continued making shoes throughout the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI and is now known as the official Papal shoemaker.

Now that Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI has slipped out of his trademark ruby red shoes to put on a pair of Mexico-made leather loafers and begin life as a simple pilgrim, we wait and ponder who will be the next to occupy the shoes of Saint Peter. After a Cardinal is chosen as Pope and Bishop of Rome, he will go alone into what is known as the Room of Tears, a tiny space located off the Sistine Chapel to the left of the altar and just below Michelangelo’s Last Judgment fresco.  Once inside the dimly lit room with its red velvet wallpaper, whitewashed ceiling and small red couch, the former Cardinal will have a few silent moments to himself.  It is named the Room of Tears because of the heavy emotion that accompanies the realization of the enormity of the sacred responsibilities the newly named Pontiff has just assumed. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to imagine that Popes have been moved to tears in the room because of the magnitude of their new duties as the apostolic authority on earth as established by Jesus Christ.  Here a mixture of joy and sorrow takes place as the Vicar of Christ, the Successor of St. Peter, and Shepherd of the Universal Church realizes his life has now changed forever.

Pages: 1 2

Judy Keane


Judy Keane is a Catholic writer and a communications/marketing executive who resides in Washington, D.C. She holds an MBA in International Business and is the author of Single and Catholic, published by Sophia Institute Press.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • farkme

    So did they have to know his size before the event?

  • Athanasius McVay

    The red has nothing to do with the blood of the martyrs, per say. see my wikipedia article on papal shoes. red and white were the colours of the Roman emperors and the illustrissimi class. the emperor raised the Bishop of Rome to think rank. also it is a myth that Pius V changed the papal costume to white. look at portraits of his predecessors: Julius II, Clement VII, Paul III, Pius IV. Pius V continued to wear his white Dominican habit.

  • Ellie

    They are just shoes, nothing more.

  • nanda

    The shoes of the Pope!! We are not talking about you shoes…it much , but much more than just shoes! He is the Vicar of Christ!

  • Sara

    Honestly, I wonder if he won’t wear them now because his black ones are perfectly good. When he needs a new pair, maybe he’ll go with the red! He doesn’t strike me as the sort to switch before it’s necessary—sort of the way I manage the budget and shoe-needs for my children.

  • Richard III

    Well, did Pius V make the white in the papal costume OFFICIAL then rather than inventing or starting it?

  • Theresa

    I will be sad and feel like something is missing if Pope Francis does not wear burgundy-red shoes. They don’t have to be expensive ones, but it’s part of Papa — just like the white robes!

  • KBernadette

    Sad article now that our new holy father has forgone the shoes…

  • carl641

    I read that in the time of the Roman empire the wearing of red shoes was only allowed for the emperor and his wife. When Christianity became legal under the edict of Milan, the wearing of red shoes was expanded to the Pope. I seen several articles that say the red represents the blood of Christ, but it appears that’s a later interpretation.

  • taad

    Everything in ” wicked pedia” is factual and true? Right…..

  • Hugh

    If he is the Vicar of Christ he has been blessed with much better foot wear than our Lord. Don’t you “Christians” see a problem here? Red shoes have symbolically been used for centuries as a sign of nobility. If the Pope is Christ on earth, where is Christ’s humility? I have a sneaking suspicion Jesus would have turned down red shoes. At that rate, I suspect he would have made cords and whipped everyone out of His Churches playing bingo. His Fathers house is a house of prayer, you know?

  • catholicexchange

    Interestingly, Hugh, you sound a lot like the traitor Judas Iscariot in the Gospel of John, chapter 12, when Martha’s sister, Mary, anointed Jesus’ feet with highly expensive ointment. Jesus welcomed it, but Judas complained, saying that it was a waste and the money that it cost could have been given to the poor (though Scripture assures us this was hypocrisy and that Judas actually didn’t care at all about the poor). Jesus chastised Judas, telling him: “the poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me with you.”
    And, by the way, the red shoes were a gift from an Italian cobbler–if you ever look up his story (we have a great one by Judy Keane right here at CE), you’ll see that it is with great joy that he donated those red shoes. Don’t you see the value in doing some great work for God’s sake and giving it freely? That is Jesus’ humility in action!

  • Hugh

    Traitor to who? That doesn’t make Biblical sense. If you knew my upbringing, then your scriture would make sense. I came from Catholicism, and was pulled from the fires of the organization through the scripture. Most of my siblings and close relatves are chained in that organization If you want to shock me with the Popes generocity, then tell me that he has liquidated his bank holdings and given it to the poor. First, red shoes have been a papal staple for a long long time. The uniqueness of Jesus, aside from being God-man Himself, was His humbleness in His ministry. It simply amazes me that followers of the Bible, ones who actually read it, can turn around and accept a man who claims to be Christ on earth. Worse, a man that dresses in fine garments, red shoes, and sits in kings palaces. Once that receive the upper seats, and enjoys greetings in markets. A man that allows peple to come and kiss his shoes or ring. But we have not so learned Christ, have we?

  • Hugh

    By the way, I have honestly shared my name. You made a point to emphesize mine, so what is yours?

  • catholicexchange

    In answer to your question: A traitor to Jesus–that’s what Judas was. I’m not saying that is what you are, I’m only pointing out that you may want to be on guard against that particular line of reasoning you were using because it is so similar to Judas’s. And it makes perfect “Biblical sense.”

    Now here is my question: why is it so important to you that the Pope or anyone “liquidates their bank holdings” and gives them to the poor? Have you yourself done so? You are clearly using a computer to communicate with us–why don’t you sell it and give the money to the poor, if you are so concerned with the poor? Or is it just fun for you to take cheap shots at Catholic leaders? What’s worse, you clearly have no idea what the Catholic Church teaches about its popes, or you would never make the preposterous statement that the pope is “a man who claims to be Christ on earth” (which no pope does or ever has), or that a pope “allows people to kiss his shoes” (that doesn’t happen)–Catholics often kiss his ring, because the ring is a symbol of the authority that Jesus gave to the first Pope, St. Peter. But it is the authority of Jesus that is being acknowledged, not any special quality of the man who happens to be pope! If those were the kinds of misunderstandings you had when you were still a Catholic, then no wonder you left! I would have left, too. Perhaps it is time to reconsider and give the Catholic Church a second look.

  • catholicexchange

    I don’t much like the implication that I’m failing to be honest, Hugh, or that I’m hiding, in some way. I’m the editor, so when I respond as the editor its important that I use the official “catholic exchange” title. But my name is Dan Lord–I have nothing to hide, and I’m available to talk any day or time. And the invitation to you to return home to the Catholic Church is on the table, if you would like to discuss it.

  • Hugh


    “And they came to Jerusalem. And He entered the Temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the Temple, and He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons; and He would not allow any one to carry anything through the Temple. And He taught, and said to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” (Mark 11:15-17 RSV)

    Christianity Is Not A Business

    “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20 RSV)

    “There is great gain in godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:7-10 RSV)

    “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumph, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word; but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 2:14-17 RSV)

    “For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life?” (Mark 8:35-37 RSV)

    Fact Finder: Can Christians serve two “masters”?
    Matthew 6:24

  • catholicexchange

    I’m not sure what the point was in posting these Bible quotes, since none of them condemn the Catholic Church.
    For instance, regarding the verses from Mark 11: Catholics are in the clear, because we never, ever change money or sell pigeons in our churches. Our churches are, indeed, “houses of prayer.” Surprise!
    Regarding the verses from Matthew: how does this apply? Because some Catholic Churches are big and fancy, that qualifies as “laying up treasure for ourselves”? Remember that the very Temple that Jesus was defending in Mark was a huge, fancy place that cost a ton of money to make and maintain! Was Jesus a hypocrite? Of course not. God is pleased when his people use their money and talents to build beautiful things in his name! Its when his disciples lay up treasures for themselves, for their own personal gratification, that they fail to be good children of God.
    You get the idea, I’m sure. But have you considered how incredibly insulting and wildly inaccurate it is to come on to a Catholic site and accuse all Catholics of being rich and selfish?