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Why did Pope Benedict XVI wear red shoes? What do they symbolize?

The Corpus Christi Basilica commemorates the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI displaying his portrait picture with a black ribbon next to the papal flag, on January 03, 2023 in Krakow, Poland. Benedict XVI, whose secular name was Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, died on December 31 at the age of 95. Benedict's funeral will be held on January 5th  in St. Peter's Square in Vatican City.  (Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

One of the most iconic pieces of Pope Benedict XVI’s papal regalia were his red shoes. The use of red shoes by the Pope is not an uncommon tradition, but it is one that Pope Francis chose to forgo when he took over from his predecessor.

Why did Pope Benedict wear red shoes?

For centuries, the Pope was known to wear red shoes meant to symbolize the passion, faith, and martyrdom of Jesus Christ and other persecuted Catholic figures.

This tradition was not taken up by Pope John Paul II, who served as head of the Catholic Church from 1978 until he died in 2005. Pope Benedict came under scrutiny for his shoes in 2005 when false allegations began to circulate that the shoes were made by the Italian fashion designer Prada. The idea that the Pope would wear such a luxury item did not sit well with critics who saw such glamour as counter to the teachings of the religion.

At the time, Daniela Petroff with the Associated Press wrote that the incoming Pope differed from his predecessor by opting for “fancy ecclesiastical tailoring.” Over the course of his tenure, Pope Benedict XIV became somewhat of a fashion icon, opting for fancier papal attire when compared to the basic white cassock and white gold-trimmed sash donned by John Paul II.

Who made the red shoes?

The Church clarified that Pope Benedict’s shoes had been cobbled by two Italian shoemakers, Adriano Stefanelli and Antonio Arellano. Stefanelli, in particular, is well known for his talents and crafted footwear for Pope John Paul II and two US presidents, Barack Obama and George W Bush.

In an interview with the Catholic News Agency, Arellano recalled seeing the then-Pope wearing his product, saying, “When we got there to greet him, the pope recognized me, smiled, and said, ‘Here is my shoemaker.’ It was a wonderful moment, because he makes you feel important.”