De Benedictione Ensis et Pilei
The blessing of the sword and the hat (it. stocco e berettone) was conducted in a solemn way before the Matutinum on the Christmas night, but also sometimes after the Mass in the night or it was postponed to the morning of 25 December. The items blessed by the pope were given to the Catholic monarchs and commanders who contributed to the defence of the Church and the faith in the fight against infidels or heretics. This habit, having its roots in older ceremonies of presenting the rulers with weapon by popes, lasted since 1385 and the last known example of its use took place in the year 1825. Among recorded names of the honoured sovereigns a prominent place is occupied by Polish kings.
Two-handed, ceremonial sword, belonging to it, covered with velvet, scabbard and the belt were richly ornamented with gold. On the blade there were inscriptions engraved, describing the year of the pontificate and the name of the pope who blessed the sword; the pommel of the sword was crowned with his coat of arms. Cylindrical hat, usually in dark crimson colour, with two scarves, hanging at the back, was covered with crimson silken velvet and decorated on the top with pearls and golden embroidery, and sometimes also with ermine. On its right side there was an image of a dove made of gold and pearls, the symbol of the Holy Spirit; in the middle, on the top of the hat, there was a golden sun – the symbol of Christ.
The blessing took place in one of the rooms of the Apostolic Palace (camera paramenti) or in the sacristy of the Liberian Basilica (Saint Mary Major). The pope wore an amice, an alb, a cincture and a white stole and he was accompanied by two cardinal deacons, the oldest cardinal priest with a thurible and two bishops the Assistants at the Papal Throne with the book and a candle. Having said the prayer, the pope sprinkled both items with holy water and censed them, while the hat dangled on the top of the sword put in the scabbard, which was held by a kneeling clerk of the Apostolic Camera (clericus camerœ), wearing rochet and cotta (or cappa parva depending on circumstances).
Subsequently the pope donned cappa magna and the procession moved to the place of praying matutinum, during which the clerk of the Camera carried the hat hung on the sword; being between two papal mace-bearers (Mazzeri Papae), he preceded the papal cross. Having reached the place, he put the blessed items on the altar on the side of the Epistle or passed them to the one of mazzeri standing on that side of the altar. After the finished Divine Office the clerk of the Camera took the sword and the hat and in the company of two mace-bearers brought them back in the place where they had been blessed. The same was done on 25 December during the pontifical papal mass.
If, during the blessing the person who were to receive the sword and the hat was present, after the papal blessing he donned cotta. Afterwards, the pope explained to him the symbolic significance of the received gifts, using the form which was established on this occasion by Sixtus IV, and beginning with the words Solent Romani Pontifices. Subsequently he was tied around with the sword, the hat was put on his head and he was clothed in a white cope: the emperor wore it normally, on the stole, the others hung the cope over the left shoulder in such a way that they had its cut on the right side. Later on, with bare head, he kissed the papal shoe and the ring. Afterwards, all moved in a procession to the chapel to pray matutinum. During the Divine Office the recipient sang the reading, before which he took off the hat and gave it to one of his familiares or to the squire. Princes and kings sang the fifth reading In quo conflitu, whereas the emperor the seventh reading Exiit edictum a Caesare Augusto, but not taking off the hat. Before the honoured monarch asked the pope’s benediction before the reading, singing Jube, Domne, benedicere, he touched the ground three times with the sword put out of the scabbard and also three times he rose it in the air, symbolically presenting his readiness to defend the Gospel. Subsequently, he put the sword in the scabbard. Having sung the reading, the ruler took the cope and the cotta off and returned to the place of his stay, accompanied by prelates and the members of the Papal Court and of his own, and preceded by the sword and the hat carried by an appointed person.
[English translation by Marek]