Friday, July 10, 2009

First Ladies Meeting the Pope

The Obama Motorcade arrives in through the square carrying all of the Obamas.
US presidential and papal visits have a storied history. President Reagan and Pope John Paul II had a real kinship. First lady Jackie Kennedy met Pope John XXIII on March 11, 1962. She was suitably attired complete with a mantilla and floor length gown. Laura Bush visited the pope just before the 2004 Winter Olympics in Turin on an individual tour as well. She was accompanied by one of her daughters. On June 9, 2007 Laura Bush also formally accompanied her husband to meet the new pope at the Vatican. She was veiled at that time as well. The traditional color for meeting the pope in an official capacity as an American spouse to a head of state is black. In 1982, Nancy Reagan too wore a veil for the new pope John Paul II There was no doubt that Michelle Obama would too wear a veil in the traditions of first ladies.

My first trip to the Vatican required females to have a covering for their hair. More than anything, it delineates the male dominated Curia and its change over time. When presidents and their spouses visit the Holy See together, a female spouse usually gets a tour. It's what made Jacqueline Kennedy's trip to the Vatican all the more historic. Jackie Kennedy went alone as a practitioner of the faith, sans hubby, and had a private audience where she and the pontiff discoursed in French.

Jackie Kennedy being escorted by a cardinal while others in the Curia applauded as she approached. Photo courtesy the JFK Library
President & Mrs. Reagan greet the pope formally in the Vatican in 1982.

A veiled Laura Bush and her daughter Babara meet the pope. Barbara bush is bare headed as were the Obama daughters, Sasha & Malia

President & Mrs. Clinton greeting Pope John Paul II in a larger audience. Update: There is a photo with HRC in veil - still looking for it. Finally...
Hillary Clinton with Pope John Paul II

June 2007 meeting for the Bushes with Pope Benedict

Michelle wears a veil in a moment of highest protocol meeting with His Holiness at the Vatican in the papal library.
When presidents go to the Vatican, they see the Corps of the Pontifical Swiss Guard of the world's smallest yet sophisticated army that protects the pontiff. Brightly colored uniforms lull tourists, but each is trained as a world class member of the military. There is a beautifully appointed room in the papal apartments set aside for meeting dignitaries. The array of cultural history over a millenia makes an impression because it is everywhere the eye touches from the gardens to the statuary to walls and famous ceilings. Visiting Vatican City is a state visit as the Vatican City is a sovereign state. Pope Benedict XVI receives President Barack Obama & Mrs. Obama as a head f state and the Universal Church. (Just over the president's shoulder and behind Obama's Lead Security, J. Clancy, is the Swiss Guard. Photo courtesy AP)  UPDATE:  Pete Souza, official photgraoher at the White House took this extraordinary picture of the Obamas being escorted by the Swiss Guard below.  Note how tall they are.)

The chapel is set up for the selection of the Pope in this view. Each of the Michealangelo fresco is painted on a wall panel or a section of the ceiling. It usually has wooden benches and a crowd. On the direct Wall is the scene from The Last Judgment.
Michelle Obama and the girls toured St. Peters Basilica, where everything is interesting including the floor and a private viewing of the Capella Sistina or Sistine Chapel. After their father's private meeting with the Pope, the girls also met Pope Benedict XVI. Malia was dressed in black as well.

The participants walk over for the formal gift exchange.

Update: Why are a few people freaking out over the veil? A few more examples.
President and Pat Nixon on September 29, 1970 in a sit down setting in the same papal library with the same painting.
President Harry S Truman & Bess at the Vatican with a private audience with the Holy See.


  1. HRC did wear a veil. wanted most of the images to show the same room and same spot, but having trouble finding Hillary's.

  2. Thanks so much! My husband, a republican, stated that he thought it was shameful that she looked like she was wearing "a costume" and why didn't someone dress her appropriately. He thought that jackie O- my husband is over 60- wore "little pill box hat with a veil". I said, "well, let me see what Laura Bush wore when she met the pope" and voila'! Your lovely blog was here to set the record straight. My husband grudgingly had to admit that Michelle dressed appropriately. I think a lace shawl would have looked better, esp with her being so tall. The sheer shawl looks like something an Islamic woman might wear. Thanks again!