Time to get a new umbrella!
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.
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'!