martedì, gennaio 29, 2013


The Patriarch with the strange headgear

By Baghdadhope*

Some years ago, the Patriarch of the Chaldean Church, Emmanuel III Delly, complained about having been stopped in Via della Conciliazione in Rome by a journalist who, taking advantage of the fortuitous meeting, questioned him about the situation of Iraqi Christians in one of the darkest periods in the recent history of his church: that of the abductions of priests in Baghdad and Mosul.
His visit to Vatican in those days had to remain confidential for security reasons but it was a vain hope.
Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of the Eastern Churches would have recognized him immediately from his clothes: he could not pass unnoticed.
On that day, His Beatitude, not yet a Cardinal, was wearing a long robe and  a unique headgear called in Arabic Shash (شاش) meaning "gauze" and "Shasta " in Sureth, the dialect spoken by Chaldeans.
A traditional headgear, the Shash is used not only by the Patriarch of the Chaldean Church. In ancient times it  was used by all the members of the Church: priests, bishops and patriarch, but by lay people too, while now to use it or not is a personal choice, a tradition that is now disappearing.
The previous Patriarch Mar Raphael Bedaweed, for example, just wore it in his youth, some bishops used it until a few decades ago, such as Bishop Shleimun Warduni when he was the Rector of the Patriarchal Seminary in Baghdad, and some priests still continue to wear it, as it is for Father Benjamin Beth Yadegar, the parish priest of the only Chaldean church in Georgia, and of the same Cardinal Delly who wore it on January 18 – after his resignation as Patriarch - for the ceremony for the Week for Christian Unity celebrated in Baghdad in the Syriac Catholic Church of Our Lady of Salvation.
The Shash has the shape of a tambourine hat made up of seven layers of black gauze wrapped one over the other and thick enough to make the upper edge visible. The number 7 was not chosen by chance but it has a symbolic value as it represents the seven days of creation, the seven sacraments, the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven petitions in the Lord's Prayer and a reference to the seven lamps of fire burning- the 7 Spirits of God - that we can find in the Book of Revelation (4:5).
The upper part of the shash can be black or burgundy with a bundle of black wires 6.5 cm. long hanging down from its centre.
In ancient times the shash was nothing more than a long piece of fabric wrapped around the head the top of which was covered by a skullcap called "Araqcin." The headgear was uncomfortable to wear sometimes several times in a day and for this reason Mar Eliya Abulyonan XIII, the Chaldean Patriarch from 1878 to 1894, commissioned a priest very well known for his artistic vein, Father Abdelahad Ma'muar Bashi, to design a more comfortable headgear. It was the Shash we now know that, in different models, is used by the Eastern Churches clergy.
When the Chaldean Patriarch, on November 24, 2007, was elevated to the rank of cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI and on the wide screens in St. Peter's Square appeared the image of the zucchettos of the 23 new cardinals, his stood out among them all.
The color, however, was changed. The new dignity of the Patriarch, the first in the history of the Chaldean Church, was marked by a Shash covered with red silk gauze as red was its top.
The new patriarch who will succeed to Mar Emmanuel III Delly, and who will be appointed shortly by the Synod in Rome, maybe will choose to wear the black or burgundy Shash that, although more discreet than the red one, will not help him to pass by unnoticed, even in Via della Conciliazione, where the concentration of prelates is very high.
There is an old Italian says that literally goes: A man warned is a half saved man.
To paraphrase it using a similar English saying we could say: A Patriarch forewarned is a Patriarch forearmed.

Some data and the two photos of the Shash were taken from the Philippi Collection blog which contains the largest collection in the world of ecclesiastical headgears: Christian, Jewish and Muslim
Data that do not appear on Mr. Philippi’s blog have been provided to Baghdadhope by Chaldean priests and bishops.

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