In his recent visit to Thailand, Pope Francis was gifted four new papal vestments by the Thai government. These are in “Thai Tones” or the colors accustomed to Thai craftsmanship. Its colors, white, red, green, and violet, are created with natural ingredients and minerals found in Thailand. Coincidentally, these are also the colors worn in Catholic Masses throughout the year.
A mix of religious traditions and Thai culture, the vestments feature the traditional symbols of Catholicism—the grapevines, cross, and wheat—with a local touch of Thai textile patterns. But perhaps the most interesting and notable about these vestments is the silk used by designer Athiwat Chuenwut. Athiwat was also the designer behind the Pope’s vestments for his 2017 Myanmar visit and 2018 Holy Sunday Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica.
The Seven Martyrs
In an interview, Athiwat mentioned that he used northeastern Thai silk for the vestments. He says it pays homage to the seven Thai Catholics that were killed in a remote village in 1940. These devotees were executed for not renouncing their Catholic faith during a time when xenophobia and militarism were rampant.
These Thai Catholics are now called the ‘Seven Martyrs’ and were the first Thai nationals to be beatified, which makes them qualified to become saints in the future. October 22, the date the martyrs were beatified, is commemorated annually by the locals of the village wherein they died––a shrine and a Catholic educational center can also be found in the village.
The Pope’s Visit to Thailand
Aside from the four papal vestments, Thai tailors also created over 200 vestments for the Pope and his clergy for his visit to Thailand. Two designs for chasubles, the outermost garment worn, were created for this visit—gold and white for the Holy Mass at the National Stadium, and red for the Holy Mass for youths at the Assumption Cathedral.
The ‘Kanok’ pattern, a traditional Thai bird pattern, is sewn into both of Pope Francis’s chasubles to add a touch of Thailand into it. The Thai Catholic mission was behind the creation of the garments.