Time to get a new umbrella!

Not to betray my Irish roots, I always carry an umbrella! That is, up until about three weeks ago when my faithful companion of 5 years succumbed to the wind and gave up and ended up in the recycle bin. Those of you who know Ireland know that on an average day, you just can’t be sure that it is going to rain.  “Don’t forget your brolly!” we call to one another as we leave home—and then we may absentmindedly leave it on the bus or train or in a shop.Here in Canada, I have attracted some smiles when I have used my brolly for the snow, but it seems legit, snow is iced rain, after all! In less than three days, our eyes will turn to another kind of brolly. An ombrellino (the "little umbrella") to be more precise. This symbol will replace the papal tiara over the crossed keys of the Vatican's  emblem" during the interregnum between the resignation of the Pope Benedict XVI and the emergence of his successor, to symbolize the lack of a Pope. If you look closely, you will find it on formal Vatican documents, on the mastthead of the daily newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, both in hardcopy and digital form. The Vatican State Post Office customarily issues stamps to mark this intermediate reign.
So how did we manage to end up with an umbrella representing the ‘sede vacante’?
Apparently, the first umbrellas had nothing to do with rain. They were emblems of rank and honour, reserved for important people. Sculptures and paintings thousands of years old from Assyria, Egypt, Persia, and India show servants holding sunshades over rulers to protect them from the sun. In Assyria, only the king was allowed to have an umbrella!  Down through history the umbrella continued to represent power, especially in Asia. A ruler’s status increased according to the number of umbrellas he owned, as shown by a Burmese king who was called Lord of the Twenty-Four Umbrellas. Sometimes the number of tiers was important. The umbrella of the emperor of China had four tiers, and the king of Siam’s had seven or nine. Even today the umbrella remains a symbol of authority in some Oriental and African countries.
It wasn’t long before the umbrella became associated with religion. The ancient Egyptians thought that the goddess Nut sheltered the whole earth with her body, just like an umbrella. So people walked under their own portable “roofs” aka an umbrella to receive her protection. In India and China, people believed that an open umbrella represented the vault of heaven. Early Buddhists used it as a symbol for the Buddha, and domes of their monuments are often surmounted by umbrellas. Umbrellas feature in Hinduism too.Umbrellas spread to Greece by 500 B.C.E., where they were carried over images of gods and goddesses at religious festivals. Athenian women had servants carry a sunshade over them, but few men would use such an object. From Greece the custom spread to Rome.
The Roman Catholic Church included the umbrella in its ceremonial regalia. The pope began to appear under a red and yellow striped silk model, while cardinals and bishops had violet or green versions. Basilicas to this day have a chair for the pope with an ombrellone, or umbrella, over it in the papal colors. The cardinal who acts as head of the church between the death of one pope and the election of the next also has an ombrellone as his personal emblem during that time. Referred to by a wide variety of names, such as ombrellino and basilica pavilion, umbrellas (fully opened) were once used during Papal Processions through the streets of Rome to protect the Pope from the weather.

Today the ombrellino is used as a symbol of a basilica’s special bond to the Papacy. The ombrellino stands half-opened in basilicas throughout the world as a way of symbolically anticipating the arrival of the Pope at a basilica, his “home away from home.”The papal ombrellino is a revered symbol for all major and minor basilicas, linking them to the Pope in a unique way. So as we live this historic chapter of the Church’s life, we ‘take our brolly’ as this Thursday we enter into the stage of sedevacante, in communion with our brothers and sisters throughout the world! And now to get through the rest of the evening without singing the ‘Umbrella Song'!

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