Over fifty years ago, 6 February 1968, Archbishop Luigi Raimondi, Apostolic Delegate to the United States, presented the coronation tiara of Pope (Saint) Paul VI to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. It was accepted by the Shrine director, Monsignor William F. McDonough. (See photograph)
This is the only papal coronation tiara to be displayed outside of the Vatican. (Pope Pius IX had more than one tiara but only one coronation tiara. The tiara of Pius IX displayed at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the University of Notre Dame is not his coronation tiara.)
30 June 1963, Paul VI was crowned pope by Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, senior cardinal deacon. It was the first outdoor papal coronation in more than 100 years.
In 1964, during the third session of II Vatican Council, there was a request for “a world poverty day.” The Holy Father agreed to an intervention on November 5, but insisted that the address be given by James J. Norris, a lay auditor (later, a member of the Shrine Board of Trustees). The two men were close friends who had worked together since 1946 to feed, clothe, and house victims of the war and the poor.
Eight days later, on 13 November 1964, the feast of Saint John Chrysostom, at the end of a solemn Mass in the Byzantine Rite, Paul VI stepped from his throne, walked towards the main altar with the tiara in his hands, and placed it on the altar table. At the same time, Archbishop Pericle Felici, council secretary, read the following statement on behalf of the Holy Father:
“The Roman Catholic Church has always shown its charity toward the poor. Pope Paul VI has wanted to give new proof of this charity.”
In his statement, the Pope also acknowledged the concerns of the Council Fathers for the poor of the world and the address given one week earlier by Norris:
“After hearing the many and grave words expressed in the council on the misery and hunger of these days [the Holy Father] decided to give his tiara to the poor of the world.”
As the Pope left the sanctuary, the church applauded and cheered: “Viva il Papa Povero!” (Long live the Pope of Poverty!)
The Vatican emphasized that the Holy Father was not renouncing the use of the tiara, as others were available. Paul VI, however, personally chose not to wear a tiara again. He wore a mitre.
Francis Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York, and a member of the National Shrine Board of Trustees, accepted the tiara on 15 November 1964 “as a tribute to the charity of Americans and as evidence … of [their] help to the poor of the world.” Since 1944, contributions of the American people made it possible for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) to distribute $1.3 billion (12 billion today) in food, clothing, and medicine.
The tiara was not sold for a one-time sum but was and is “the symbol of the papal anti-poverty campaign for the poor of the world.” From 1964 to 1968, the tiara was shown at various locations throughout the United States, including the World’s Fair in New York City, to raise funds for the poor of the world. From the very beginning, it was decided that the National Shrine would be the “home” of the coronation tiara of Pope Paul VI.
The National Shrine contributes annually to papal ministries for the poor throughout the world.
The tiara was made by Scuola Beato Angelico, Milan, Italy, and was a gift of the people of Milan to their former Archbishop.
The tiara is made of spun-pierced silver metal with a Florentine texturing, encircled by three yellow-gold bands (the threefold papal powers: to teach, to govern, and to sanctify). Each band is set with precious gems. The tiara weighs less than two pounds, approximately 10 ounces.
Two silk lappets edged with gold thread, 20 cultured pearls, and adorned with two hand-embroidered coats-of-arms of Paul VI provide the final touch.
Rohling, Geraldine M., PhD, MAEd. Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception: Guide and Tour Book. Washington, D.C.: Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, © 2018.
———. “Coronation Tiara of Paul VI,” Mary’s Shrine, Vol. 76, No. 1 (Spring/Summer 2015): 8-12.