The Custom of Suspending the Galero in Cathedral Churches

A beloved tradition of the Latin Church - the suspension of a cardinal's galero in his cathedral church over his tomb after his funeral - was a harmless custom that unfortunately proved to be a casualty of the lamentable 1960s revolution - an acute historical disturbance to abolish all things old in the name of modernity and faux "noble" simplicity/poverty amidst a rage for innovation. 

The venerable custom developed through the centuries where upon the death of a cardinal, tradition held his galero would hang above his tomb until it finally disintegrated, a sign that his soul had been released from Purgatory. In other words, it was a harmless visual and a delightful reminder for people, of their charity, to pray for their deceased shepherds. 

From at least the year 1245 until 1967, when a man was elevated to the rank of cardinal he was presented with a galero (red hat) by the pope who placed it upon his kneeling head while the Pontiff was seated on a throne. Due to the sweeping changes in the wake of Vatican Council II, this cherished custom was formally abolished in 1969. 

The changes were promulgated on March 31, 1969 in the Instruction on the Dress of Cardinals, Bishops and Other Prelates that was issued by the Papal Secretariate of State and approved by Pope Paul VI. The relevant section reads:

9. The red cardinalitial hat ("galero") and the red plush hat are abolished.

Below are photos from the year 1946 when Cardinal Spellman of New York was given the old galero of Pius XII by the Pontiff himself. Since the death of Cardinal Spellman in 1967 it hangs from the ceiling of St. Patrick's Cathedral, with the cardinal entombed in the crypt under the sanctuary. In 2015 it was moved from the vault of the sanctuary to the vault of the ambulatory. Also kept here is the galero of the first American cardinal, the Brooklyn-born John Cardinal McCloskey, who was named a cardinal in 1875. The hat has been hanging there since his death in 1885. 

Following are images I recently took of galero hats in the Basilica of Baltimore and Westminster Cathedral in London. 

The first image below is the galero in memory of Cardinal Gibbons who in 1886 was elevated to the rank of cardinal and received his galero from the hands of Pope Leo XIII. Archbishop Gibbons was only the second American prelate named a cardinal. Following his death in 1921, after serving Baltimore for 44 years, his galero was suspended in his cathedral over his tomb for many years. When the church was renovated the most recent time his antiquated galero was removed for conservation, but unfortunately disintegrated. A new galero was therefore made in Rome and is seen here, with a red bag containing the original tassels (kept in the crown of the present hat).

For cardinals who were created after 1969, no galero is presented, and so many are gifted with one from a generous major donor or lay benefactor who purchases one on their own accord. When Cardinal Keeler, who was created a cardinal in 1994 died in 2017, an anonymous layman ordered for him a new galero from the papal tailor Gammarelli, continuing the tradition. 

A galero can still be ordered today in Rome from Gammarelli. Over the centuries the designs have slightly varied in appearance. Meanwhile, the familiar hat is still retained in heraldry. It is precisely because the galero is such a part of Catholic imagery of the past, present, and future, it should be brought back. The past because it is a repository for memory, the present because it is a sign of God's grace at work, and the future because it reminds us of heaven and God's mercy.  

Faded galero of Pius X, seen at his birthplace museum in Riese Pio X

Coat-of-arms of Cardinal Pacelli, with galero

Clergy and laymen alike have always collaborated in the apostolate of the hierarchy in subordination to cardinals, the men entrusted with the responsibility for the care of souls under their authority. With this duty of cardinals comes a grave responsibility, a sacred teaching authority, to shepherd with guidance and watchfulness. The hat is a concrete sign and offers convincing proof and criterion that the hierarchy are not guaranteed a free ticket into heaven. Let it be a reminder they can even lose their souls. 

Modern Galero of James Cardinal Gibbons

Modern Galero Tassles (Fiochi)

Modern Galero of Cardinal William Keeler

Galero of Cardinal Bernard Griffin

Galero of Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman

Galero of Cardinal Edward Manning

Galero of Cardinal Basil Hume

Galero of Herbert Cardinal Vaughan

Galero of Cardinal William Godfrey

Galero of Cardinal Bernard Griffin

Galero of Cardinal William Godfrey


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