Caeremoniale Romanum

The Rite of Papal Coronation

This text was originally published in Polish. This is our own translation of it. We are not native speakers, so if any reader finds any errors or linguistic inaccuracies, we will be grateful for reporting them.

Die 14 octobris Anno Domini 2023
Sancti Callisti Papæ et Martyris

The papal coronation is one of the most expressive acts of each new pontificate. This tradition continued uninterrupted for over one millennium [1]. It was always a momentous event not only for the City and the world, but above all for the Church [2]. Unlike secular ceremonies, especially post-Renaissance ones, the pope’s coronation rite has remained basically unchanged for centuries and at the same time simple in its essence [3].

Although papal coronation was not explicitly abolished or banned, and contemporary popes received tiaras as gifts from the faithful (John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis), events and documents published by popes, starting from the pontificate of Paul VI, caused this ritual to fall into desuetude [4], even though some secular sovereigns are still crowned.

Here we present a possibly detailed, but also adapted to the popularization nature of this publication, description of the pope’s coronation rites [5] – in their mature and established form – based on documents of the Holy See [6] and available audiovisual materials [7].

It should be noted that the first such ceremony to be broadcast on radio was the coronation of Pope Pius XII, while the first to be broadcast entirely on television was the coronation of Pope John XXIII. The coronation of Pope Paul VI differed from the previous ones in some aspects – mainly that the entire ceremony took place in St. Peter’s Square for the first time (the coronation itself, along with the solemn Urbi et Orbi blessing, also took place in the square in front of the basilica) [8].

The pope’s coronation rites can be divided into the following stages: passage to the place of coronation (I) and introductory prayers (II), coronation with a tiara by the cardinal protodeacon (III), Urbi et Orbi blessing (IV) with the announcement of plenary indulgence (V) and the return of the pope and his personal assistance to the Apostolic Palace (VI).


After the end of the Mass and the customary presentation to the pope of an honorarium from the canons of the Vatican Basilica „for a well-sung Mass” (pro Missa bene cantata), the Holy Father, wearing his Mass vestments – including pontifical gloves, but without the maniple, which was left on the altar – assisted by ceremonialists, headed toward the gestatorial chair (sedia gestatoria) to go to the place of coronation. By this time, a papal cortege was already forming in the same order as for the beginning of the ceremony.

The procession, walking through the basilica, passed successively through the portico, then through the Royal Staircase (Scala Regia), the Royal Hall (Sala Regia) and the Hall of Benedictions (Sala delle Benedizioni) to reach the main (central) exterior loggia, from which there is a perfect view of the St. Peter’s Square. It was on this balcony that popes were traditionally crowned, so that the Roman people could attend the ceremony, receive the indulgences associated with it and cheer in honor of their new bishop.

After arriving at the balcony, the pope sat on a specially prepared throne. Due to the limited space, it is understandable that he was accompanied there only by the necessary assistance, which included: cardinal deacons acting as assistants (also during Mass); prelates carrying a cross, tiara, mitra and candles; masters of ceremonies (obligatory two de numero, i.e. serving „full-time” in the Prefecture of Papal Ceremonies) and the cardinal protodeacon, who had the privilege of coronating the pope.

In practice, there were more people on the balcony, e.g. other cardinals, representatives of armed formations, subsequent masters of ceremonies (supranumerari, i.e. „supernumeraries” who served „ad hoc”; usually there were seven of them), and nowadays also photographers, radio and television crews. This type of crowd and movement around the Holy Father was typical of the papal liturgy and ceremonies.

John XXIII’s entrance to the central loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Source: excerpts from a broadcast on Italian television (RAI) recorded on a VHS cassette and made available by Fr. Seán Finnegan.

As the pope entered the loggia and took his seat on the throne, the cantors of the Cappella Musicale Pontificia intoned Palestrina’s motet Corona aurea super caput eius, the text of which is taken from the Book of Sirach and Psalm 21:

Corona aurea super caput ejus.
Expressa signo sanctitatis,
gloria honoris,
et ope fortitudinis.
Quoniam praevenisti eum
in benedictionibus dulcedinis,
posuisti in capite eius
coronam de lapide pretioso.
Singing of Palestrina’s motet Corona aurea super caput eius by the Sistine Chapel Choir during the coronation of Pope John XXIII in 1958.
Source: recordings provided by Fr. Seán Finnegan.
Singing of Palestrina’s motet Corona aurea super caput eius by the Sistine Chapel Choir during the coronation of Pope Paul VI in 1963.
Source: University of Maryland / University Libraries Digital Collections.


After the singing, the Dean of the College of Cardinals intones the Pater noster („Our Father”), which he then recites silently until et ne nos inducas in tentationem, which he says recto tono. The choir responds sed libera nos a malo. The Lord’s Prayer does not end with the usual Amen.

The verses and responsories own for the pope’s coronation rites follow. The Dean of the College of Cardinals is answered by the choir. The prayer closes with an oration sung by the Dean of the College, in which the Church prays for God’s favors for the new pope for the duration of his pontificate. The pope is mentioned in this prayer by the name he assumed upon his election to the See of Peter.

℣. Cantémus Dómino.
℟. Glorióse enim magnificátus est.
℣. Buccináte in neoménia tuba.
℟. In insígni die solemnitátis vestræ.
℣. Iubiláte Deo, omnis terra.
℟. Servíte Dómino in lætítia.
℣. Dómine, exádi oratiónem meam.
℟. Et clamor meus ad te véniat.
℣. Dóminus vobíscum.
℟. Et cum spíritu tuo.

Omnípotens sempitérne Deus, dígnitas sacerdótii et auctor regni, da grátiam fámulo tuo N. Pontífici nostro, Ecclésiam tuam fructuóse regéndi, ut qui tua cleméntia pater regum et rector ómnium fidélium constitúitur et coronátur, sálubri tua dispositióne cuncta bene gubernéntur. Per Christum Dóminum nostrum.
℟. Amen.
Prayers preceding the coronation of John XXIII. The Dean of the College of Cardinals was Eugène Tisserant.
Source: fragments from the broadcast on Italian television (RAI) recorded on a VHS cassette and made available by Fr. Seán Finnegan.
Fragments of the Pater noster prayer with verses during the coronation of Pope Paul VI. Cardinal Tisserant was also the Dean of the College of Cardinals at that time.
Source: University of Maryland / University Libraries Digital Collections.


After the oration, the second cardinal deacon removes the mitra from the pope’s head. After this, the cardinal protodeacon takes the tiara in his hands, says the words of coronation, i.e. the famous Accipe tiaram, and places the triple crown on the pope’s head.

Accipe tiáram tribus corónis ornátam et scias te esse patrem príncipum et regum, rectórem orbis, in terra Vicárium Salvatóris nostri Iesu Christi, cui est honor et glória in sǽcula sæculórum. Amen.

Receive the tiara adorned with three crowns, and know that you are the father of princes and kings, the ruler of the world, the vicar of our Savior Jesus Christ on earth, to whom be all honor and glory, world without end. Amen.



Coronation of Pope Pius XII.
Source: RCFN/FINA.
Coronation of Pope John XXIII.
Source: INA (France).
Coronation of Pope Paul VI.
Source: Nimia and British Movietone.


The first act of the newly crowned pope is to give a solemn blessing to the people, which is traditionally called Urbi et Orbi, or „for the City and for the World”. Indulgences are assigned to it, which, with the development of technology, can also be obtained via radio or television.

The pope gives this blessing standing, with a tiara on his head, singing the texts of prayers from the book held by the Archbishops Assistants to the Throne:

Sancti Apóstoli Petrus et Paulus, de quorum potestáte et auctoritáte confídimus, ipsi intercédant pro nobis ad Dóminum.

Précibus et méritis beátæ Maríæ semper Vírginis, beáti Michaélis Archángeli, beáti Ioánnis Baptístæ, et sanctórum Apostolórum Petri et Pauli, et ómnium Sanctórum, misereátur vestri omnípotens Deus et dimíssis ómnibus peccátis vestris, perdúcat vos Iesus Christus in vitam ætérnam.
℟. Amen.

Indulgéntiam, absolutiónem, et remissiónem ómnium peccatórum vestrórum, spátium veræ et fructuósæ pœniténtiæ, cor semper pœnitens et emendatiónem vitæ, grátiam et consolatiónem Sancti Spíritus, et finálem perseverántiam in bonis opéribus, tríbuat vobis omnípotens et miséricors Dóminus.
℟. Amen.
Pope Pius XII sings the third prayer preceding the blessing (Indulgentiam).
Source: INA (France).
Pope John XXIII sings prayers before the blessing.
Source: INA (France).
Pope Paul VI sings the second (Precibus) and third (Indulgentiam) prayers before the blessing.
Source: University of Maryland / University Libraries Digital Collections.

Immediately after the last Amen, the pope gives the blessing following the customary formula, making the sign of the cross over the people three times (center, left, right – it is interesting that Pius XII, John XXIII and Paul VI blessed from left, through center, to right, as seen in the recordings).

Traditionally, the pope blessed with three fingers (thumb, index and middle) – they were straight, while the other two were bent, as when making a fist. However, not all popes always blessed in this way, probably due to previous habits.

Et benedíctio Dei omnipoténtis, Pat+ris, et Fí+lii, et Spíritus + Sancti, descéndat super vos et máneat semper.
℟. Amen. 
Pope Pius XII gives his blessing.
Source: RCFN/FINA.
Pope John XXIII gives his blessing.
Source: INA (France).
Pope Paul VI gives his blessing.
Source: Nimia and British Movietone.
Recording of the blessing of Pope Paul VI.
Source: University of Maryland / University Libraries Digital Collections.


After the blessing, the first of the cardinal deacon assistants announces to the people in Latin that all the faithful who have received it have also received the plenary indulgence assigned to them, with, of course, the proper disposition of the soul.

Announcement of plenary indulgence in Latin after the coronation of Pope Pius XII.
Source: Gordon Skene Sound Collection.
Announcement of indulgence in Latin after the coronation of John XXIII.
Source: fragments from the broadcast on Italian television (RAI) recorded on a VHS cassette and made available by Fr. Seán Finnegan.

Immediately after this, the second cardinal deacon assistant says the same formula in Italian.

Announcement of plenary indulgence in Italian after the coronation of Pope Pius XII.
Source: Gordon Skene Sound Collectio.
Announcement of indulgence in Italian after the coronation of John XXIII.
Source: fragments from the broadcast on Italian television (RAI) recorded on a VHS cassette and made available by Fr. Seán Finnegan.

In the past, after the announcement of the indulgence, the sheets read by the cardinal deacons were thrown down to the faithful gathered in front of the entrance to the portico of the basilica.


After the indulgence is announced, the bells of St. Peter’s Basilica begin to ring. The people cheer in honor of the pope. Armed formations gathered in St. Peter’s Square salute the Holy Father (since the signing of the Lateran Pacts in 1929, the armed formations of the Italian state have also been present during Urbi et Orbi solemn blessings, such as on the occasion of Christmas or Easter).

The pope remains on the balcony for a while longer to bless for the last time – without special ceremonial – the faithful gathered in the square. Then he went back inside and take his place on the sedia gestatoria (in the case of Paul VI’s coronation, the papal procession passed through St. Peter’s Square before the Holy Father returned to the Apostolic Palace).

Pope Pius XII greets the faithful before leaving the loggia.
Descent of Pope John XXIII from the central loggia.
Source: INA (France).
Pope Paul VI in a lectern walks through St. Peter’s Square greeting and blessing the cheering crowd.
Source: Nimia.

Before the procession moves toward the Hall of Paraments (Sala dei Paramenti) – which is a passageway between the Royal Hall (Sala Regia) and the Ducal Hall (Sala Ducale), and the lodges of the Apostolic Palace; there also the pope was prepared for the papal chapels – the cardinals change their liturgical vestments into purple coats (the so-called curial coats).

The papal sedia gestatoria prepared in the Hall of Paraments for the new pope during the conclave that in 1939 elected Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli as the next successor of Saint Peter.
Source: Filmoteca Vaticana.

Upon arriving, the pope, assisted by ceremonialists and other prelates of the pontifical family, removes his liturgical vestments and puts on his mucet and slippers. Then the Dean of the College, surrounded by cardinals, offers congratulations and good wishes to the pope, to which the latter responds with thanks and a request for help in governing the Church under the protection of Our Lady and the Apostles. After this, the pope, who is preceded by a cross, accompanied by a private entourage, that is, the closest members of the apostolic family, goes to his private apartments.


The common mentality has become convinced that the rite of papal coronation practically only includes putting on a tiara after reciting the recognizable Accipe tiaram prayer and the customary Urbi et Orbi blessing – but we see that these rites are much more extensive. A closer – but from the ceremonial point of view still quite superficial – look at the pope’s coronation rites allows us to conclude that the traditions and customs related to the rhythm of life of the most important episcopal see in the world are in their essence permeated with pious ceremonial of theological significance, and also have an extremely rich symbolism and express the honor proper to the person and ministry of the Supreme Shepherd.


  1. Ufficio delle Celebrazioni Liturgiche del Sommo Pontefice, Inizio del Ministero Petrino del Vescovo di Roma Benedetto XVI, Città del Vaticano 2006.
  2. Sollemnia Coronatio Summi Pontificis. The “Ordines” of the Coronation Masses of Popes John XXIII and Paul VI, „The Biblical and Liturgical Movement, 2019, 72(1), 17-64 [].



[1] The introduction of papal coronation dates back to the 9th century (the pontificate of Pope Nicholas I). This is related to the establishment of the Papal States in the second half of the 8th century and the theological and legal discussions on the spiritual and secular power of the Pope, which intensified at the turn of the millennium (issues of jurisdiction, investiture, primacy, diplomacy and prestige should be taken into account here). In this respect, the imperial coronation of Charlemagne, performed by Pope Leo III on December 25, 800, can be considered a symbolic event.

[2] You can read about how significant – over many centuries – papal feasts were for the Romans in the collective work: L. Fiorani et al., Riti, cerimonie, feste e vita di popolo nella Roma dei Papi, Bologna 1970.

[3] The centuries from the 11th to the 14th century, known as the times of papal theocracy, served to strengthen the position of the papacy and develop an appropriate theological and legal interpretation for it. It was after the return from captivity in Avignon and the development of the Caeremoniale Curiae Romanae by the then Papal Masters of Ceremonies (at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries) that the characteristic formula Accipe tiaram tribus coronis ornatam appears. Researcher of papal ceremonies, prof. Marc Dykmans reports that this formula, developed on the basis of the „new theology” (théologie nouvelle), was first mentioned by Jan Burchard (d. 1506) in his famous diaries, cf. M. Dykmans, L’oeuvre de Patrizi Piccolomini ou le cérémonial papal de la première Renaissance, vol. 1, „Studi e testi” 293, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Città del Vaticano 1980, p. 113*.

[4] Pope Paul VI made a symbolic gesture of donating his tiara, which he received from the faithful of Milan, to the poor. On November 13, 1964, he symbolically placed it on a specially prepared altar in St. Peter’s Basilica and then handed it over to Cardinal Francis Spellman. Until now, the Pope has not used the tiara. What is somewhat surprising Paul VI in 1975 published the Apostolic Constitution Romano Pontifici Eligendo, which explicitly provides for the coronation of the Pope (paragraph 92: „Pontifex demum per Cardinalem Protodiaconum coronatur et, intra congruum tempus, Patriarchalis Archibasilicae Lateranensis possessionem ritu praescripto capit”) . However, John Paul I and John Paul II did not decide to be crowned. Instead of this ceremony, solemn inaugurations of pontificates took place, the most important element of which from then on was the presentation of the Fisherman’s Ring and the papal pallium. However, the first regulation relating directly to the inauguration of the pontificate was the Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis of 1996 (paragraph 92: „Pontifex, sollemnibus caeremoniis inaugurationis Pontificatus persolutis, intra congruum tempus Patriarchalis Archibasilicae Lateranensis possessionem ritu praescripto capiet”). On the occasion of the beginning of the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, a special book was prepared entitled Ordo pro Ministerii Petrini initio Romani Episcopi (Rome 2005, with subsequent modifications). It is also significant that Benedict XVI was the first pope to decide not to include the tiara in his coat of arms, which was explained by the desire to emphasize the importance of the spiritual power of the Bishop of Rome and the desire to resign from linking the papacy with secular power.

[5] As a whole, the solemnity of the papal coronation includes the coronation rites themselves and the Coronation Mass that precedes them, which is celebrated in a solemn manner by the pope. Compared to the „ordinary” solemn papal Mass, there are additional rites and ceremonies on the day of the coronation: the obediences of the basilica chapter and the cardinals, the rite of Sic transit gloria mundi, the Super Pontificem prayers, the imposition of the pallium by the first cardinal deacon, and the singing of Laudes Regiae. The Mass text are also proper to this liturgy. Here we describe only the coronation’s own rites. It should also be noted that the papal coronation rites fluctuated, depending on the current situation, e.g. the Coronation Mass did not always take place in St. Peter’s Basilica and the coronation in the central loggia.

[6] Apart from the so-called libretti della celebrazione (the name used today), which was received by coronation participants belonging to the diplomatic corps (at least since the second half of the 20th century), there are also internal ceremonials of the former Prefecture of Papal Ceremonies, which functioned under the title Ordo ad coronandum Summum Pontificem Romanum; as well as the journals of the Papal Masters of Ceremonies, in which these rites are described. See e.g. for the coronation of John XXIII: S.M. Maggiani, Dall’Ordo ad coronandum Summum Pontificem Romanum all’Ordo Rituum pro Ministerii Petrini initio Romæ Episcopi, [in:] Ufficio delle Celebrazioni Liturgiche del Sommo Pontefice, Inizio del Ministero Petrino del Vescovo di Roma Benedetto XVI, Città del Vaticano 2006, p. 151-155.

[7] The coronation of Pius XII was not televised. Currently, only a few photographs and excerpts from radio broadcasts are available in various archives. In the case of the coronations of John XXIII and Paul VI, there is much more material commonly available. However, when it comes to television broadcasts, only fragments of recordings or reports are publicly available in the archives, although complete video recordings exist and can be consulted locally in a handful of archives, including those in Italy and France. Perhaps in the course of time the institutions holding these recordings will decide to make them public.

[8] In the case of Paul VI’s coronation, other simplifications or omissions were also made; these included the number of obediences given to the new Bishop of Rome. Cf. .M. Maggiani, Dall’Ordo, op. cit., p. 156-157. It is worth noting that claims that the coronation took place in St. Peter’s Square in connection with planned liturgical reforms and postulates from the Constitution on the Liturgy, which the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council were working on at the time, are not entirely true. The main reason was related to the Council, however, the form of the ceremony was decided primarily for practical reasons, since the interior of St. Peter’s Basilica was cluttered with platforms for the Council Fathers, and it was simply too costly and labor-intensive to dismantle and reassemble them. St. Peter’s Square could accommodate more faithful than the basilica. Photos from the Council, but also from the sede vacante period after the death of John XXIII, especially from the days when his body was on display in St. Peter’s Basilica, illustrate exactly how much space the makeshift platforms took up.