B16: Cue the theme from “Jaws” (update)

pope bobble head 1Tense religion writers all across this land are sitting at their desks, waiting for the dreaded moment when an editor walks over and says the words no one wants to hear just before a papal visit: “A friend of mine heard that people are buying those pope-soap-on-a-rope things somewhere in town. Why don’t you look into that and see that other kinds of pope junk are out there?”

Oh, the humanity!

Jacqueline L. Salmon drew the short straw over at The Washington Post and focused the heart of her story on official gear that is being sold by official Catholic groups. Think PopeVisit2008.com and Catholic to the Max!

Catholic organizations, including the Archdiocese of Washington and the basilica, the site in Northeast D.C. where the pope will speak on April 16, are selling merchandise, many with a logo licensed from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The logo features a photo of the pope with the slogan “Christ Our Hope.” The archdiocese has also created its own logo: the pope holding a crucifix, with a red rectangle with a cross and crossed keys.

The archdiocese and the basilica’s products were designed and are being manufactured by Catholic to the Max, a division of Nelson Woodcraft, a family-owned manufacturer of Catholic memorabilia in Steubenville, Ohio. The company will share proceeds of the sales — no one will say how much — with the archdiocese and the basilica.

Owner Mark Nelson said he wants the souvenirs to combine the religious and the secular.

“We’ve geared products to be such that they’re not just souveniry but spiritual in nature,” he said.

It’s a fun little story, but I have a problem with it.

The report opens with a catchy riff about some of the stranger products that are already on sale. If you’re a journalist and you’ve covered a papal visit, you know the drill.

If your teddy bear needs a shirt, you can get one with the pope’s picture on it for $15.95.

If Pope Benedict XVI is your man, you can feel close to him with Pope on a Rope soap for $9.99 or the Pope’s Cologne for $25.95.

And if you want pure pope entertainment, there is a bobblehead Pope Benedict for $12.95.

This is all fair game, of course. The problem is that the Post really doesn’t tell us who is selling those rather, well, non-spiritual items.

In fact, the story veers quickly straight into information about a Catholic customer buying much more conventional items at a rather establishment spot — the bookstore of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Are they really selling Big Ben bobbleheads at the basilica? I was there just a few days ago and didn’t see any items of that ilk.

Now, the soap, the bobbleheads and the other funny stuff may be there now. If so, that’s amazing. Normally, that’s the kind of thing you see on street corners and in less official (to put it mildly) locations.

The strength of this story is its emphasis on the official gifts linked to the visit. But that strength turns into a problem when it fails to establish precisely who is selling what kind of papal-visit stuff.

CoabxviOne other funny detail and a possible hook for a follow-up story. It ‘s clear that bear items are going to be hot during the visit. But there is more to that than the fact that Pope Benedict XVI — the former Cardinal Ratzinger — is German.

If you look closely at the pope’s official shield, you will see an interesting and quite personal image — a bear wearing a backpack. What is that all about? As one site on the pope’s life explains:

The bear is tied to an old Bavarian legend about St. Corbinian, the first bishop and patron saint of the Diocese of Freising. According to the legend, when the saint was on his way to Rome, a bear attacked and killed his horse. St. Corbinian punished the bear by making him carry the saint’s belongings the rest of the way to Rome.

The bear symbolizes the beast “tamed by the grace of God,” and the pack he is carrying symbolizes “the weight of the episcopate,” said Cardinal Ratzinger in his autobiography.

“The bear with the pack, which replaced the horse or, more probably, St. Corbinian’s mule, becoming, against his will, his pack animal, was that not, and is it not an image of what I should be and of what I am?” continues the cardinal in his book.

There is content in those symbols, even when they are light-hearted and fun. But whose pack is being carried by this very urbane and learned pope?

UPDATE: Yes, I saw the new Washington Post bobblehead-controversy follow story — the one about the ad with a bobblehead Benedict XVI riding the Metro to the Nationals Park Mass. No real comment. You gotta love this part, though:

In the video, the bobblehead rides the train next to a man reading “Car and Pontiff” magazine. The mock-up of the magazine, also done by Metro media relations, has photos of the popemobile. The man turns to the bobblehead and asks in Latin, “Car in shop?” Then he flips to the last page, which shows an ad about taking Metro to the Mass. “Thank Heaven for Metro,” the man intones.


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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://blog.americanpapist.com/ AmericanPapist

    full coverage of the bobble head ad (with video):

  • Martha

    Only trouble with the bobble-head Pope is that if the scarlet cape is supposed to be the mozetta, they forgot the ermine trim. Tsk!

    Besides, it should be white for Easter-tide: see here for the correct image ;-)


    And of course, all credit to American Papist who put up the image of the Pope wearing the white mozetta that caught my attention in the first place:


    And for a bit more substantial news, Whispers in the Loggia has all the inside scoop on the Papal Trip you could want, including the “Message to the American People” that the Pope has just released – no, he didn’t say a word about who the brainwashed, mind-controlled, Vatican-control-chip-implanted-in-brain Catholic hordes were to vote for as the preferred candidate in the upcoming Presidential Election. Shock, horror!


  • mark


    A lot of Catholic bloggers are up on the trip. Rocco doesn’t have any inside info – most bloggers posted the text of the video around the same time, when it was released (all you have to do is check the Vatican News Service page when it’s updated every day around 7 am eastern) and Rocco still hasn’t posted the video, which is available.

    Rocco Palmo’s reputation as having insider info is oversold. If you look at the blog it’s mostly what most blogs are: links to other articles and long citations from such.

  • http://jivanta-dharmashaiva.blogspot.com/ NewTrollObserver

    Bears are nice-and-all, especially on papal shields, but this particular bear is accompanied by what looks like a person of African descent. What’s the story behind that?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    Follow the link provided in the post.


  • Martha

    Mark, okay. Rocco makes me laugh, so y’know, I like him.



    Pope Benedict XVI’s shield contains symbols he had already used in his arms when he was Archbishop of Munich and Freising, and subsequently as Cardinal. However, they are arranged differently in the new composition.

    The principal field of the coat of arms is the central one which is red. At the point of honour of the shield is a large gold shell that has a triple symbolism.

    Its first meaning is theological. It is intended to recall a legend attributed to St Augustine. Meeting a child on the beach who was trying to scoop up the sea into a hole in the sand, Augustine asked him what he was doing. The child explained his vain attempt and Augustine took it to refer to his own futile endeavour to encompass the infinity of God within the confines of the limited human mind.

    The legend has an obvious spiritual symbolism; it is an invitation to know God, yet with the humility of inadequate human understanding, drawing from the inexhaustible source of theology.

    The scallop shell, moreover, has been used for centuries to distinguish pilgrims. Benedict XVI wanted to keep this symbolism alive, treading in the footsteps of John Paul II, a great pilgrim to every corner of the world. The design of large shells that decorated the chasuble he wore at the solemn liturgy for the beginning of his Pontificate, Sunday, 24 April, was most evident.

    The scallop is also an emblem that features in the coat of arms of the ancient Monastery of Schotten near Regensburg (Ratisbon) in Bavaria, to which Joseph Ratzinger feels spiritually closely bound.

    In the part of the shield called “chape”, there are also two symbols that come from the Bavarian tradition which Joseph Ratzinger introduced into his coat of arms when he became Archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1977.

    In the dexter corner (to the left of the person looking at it) is a Moor’s head in natural colour [caput Aethiopum] (brown) with red lips, crown and collar. This is the ancient emblem of the Diocese of Freising, founded in the eighth century, which became a Metropolitan Archdiocese with the name of München und Freising in 1818, subsequent to the Concordat between Pius VII and King Maximilian Joseph of Bavaria (5 June 1817).

    The Moor’s head is not rare in European heraldry. It still appears today in the arms of Sardinia and Corsica, as well as in the blazons of various noble families. Italian heraldry, however, usually depicts the Moor wearing a white band around his head instead of a crown, indicating a slave who has been freed; whereas in German heraldry the Moor is shown wearing a crown. The Moor’s head is common in the Bavarian tradition and is known as the caput Ethiopicum or the Moor of Freising.

    A brown bear, in natural colour, is portrayed in the sinister (left) corner of the shield, with a pack-saddle on its back. An ancient tradition tells that the first Bishop of Freising, St Corbinian (born c. 680 in Châtres, France; died 8 September 730), set out for Rome on horseback. While riding through a forest he was attacked by a bear that tore his horse to pieces. Corbinian not only managed to tame the animal but also to make it carry his baggage to Rome. This explains why the bear is shown carrying a pack. An easy interpretation: the bear tamed by God’s grace is the Bishop of Freising himself; the pack saddle is the burden of his Episcopate.”

    As to why there is a Moor’s head associated with Freising – Wikipedia suggests that:


    Moor of Freising
    The Moor’s head is an heraldic charge associated with Freising, Germany. The origins of the Moor’s head or caput ethiopicum in Freising is not entirely known. Typically facing to the viewer’s left (dexter in heraldic terms), it appeared on the coat of arms of the old principality of Freising as early as 1316. While there are several variations on Moor’s heads in heraldry, the one used by Freising and adopted by Benedict XVI is always crowned and collared. Generally, in this form, the lips, crown, and collar are always red, while the face and hair are brown and the eyes, white. If an earring is shown, it is shown gold. Some theories of its original reference include:

    – Prester John, a legendary (possibly semi-mythical) Christian priest and king whose realm shifted in folklore from India to, eventually, Ethiopia
    – Balthazar, one of the Magi, by some legends a Moor
    – Saint Maurice, a Roman-Egyptian martyr popular in Germany as a defender of the Faith and presumed to be a Moor
    – Saint Zeno, frequently shown as a Moor
    – Saint Sigismund, often confused historically with Saint Maurice
    – Saint Corbinian, founder of the Diocese of Freising, mistakenly thought to have been a Moor”.

    In other words, who knows? :-)

  • FW Ken

    I don’t care if the bobble-head pope is dressed wrong. That ad is the funniest thing I have seen in awhile.

  • Maureen

    St. Maurice/Moritz was one of the great Roman soldier-saints, and was just about as popular as St. George in the Middle Ages, particularly in Germany and Austria. (He was martyred in what’s now Switzerland, which is part of why.)

    St. Maurice and St. Erasmus, by Matthias Gruenewald


    A picture of St. Maurice (with some nice deerskin pants under his armor)

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    At least we can hope that there will not be a repetition of the “I Got a Peep At the Pope” shirts.
    And I though the official site was http://www.vatican.va