The pallium is a circular band about two inches wide, made of white wool, and worn over the chasuble about the neck, breast, and shoulders. It has two pendants, one hanging down in front, the other in back. It is set with six black crosses of silk, one each on the breast and back, one on each shoulder, and one on each of the pendants.
In the Eastern Churches the pallium is a longer and wider cloth, marked by four red crosses and given by the Oriental patriarchs to their metropolitans and other distinguished bishops.
The pallium is made (at least partially) from the wool of two lambs that are blessed each year at the Basilica of St. John Lateran on Jan. 21, the feast of St. Agnes. The new pallia is blessed by the pope in the crypt of St. Peter at vespers on June 28, the vigil of the feast of SS. Peter and Paul. The blessed pallia are kept overnight at the crypt and conferred on the newly appointed metropolitans on the feast.
Origin and Symbolism. The pallium began to be worn in the 4th century by bishops of the Eastern Churches and by the Bishop of Rome to emphasize the episcopal dignity and pastoral office. One cannot say definitely whence it derived. In the 6th century, the pallium was conferred by the pope on bishops of the Latin Church, especially metropolitans, until it gradually became the symbol of the metropolitan office. In the 9th century, John VIII commanded all metropolitans to petition the pope for the pallium within three months of their appointment or confirmation. Since then the pallium has been the symbol of the jurisdiction conferred upon metropolitans by the Roman pontiff and it signifies a certain participation in the pope's supreme pastoral office. It also represents their close union with the See of Rome. When worn by the pope, the pallium signifies the fullness of pontifical power.
Petition and Use in the Latin Church. In the Latin Church, a metropolitan is obliged, either in person or by proxy, to ask the Roman pontiff (instanter, instantius, instantissime ) for the pallium within three months of his consecration or, if already consecrated, of his canonical promotion in the consistory [Codex iuris canonici c.437, §1]. By a decree dated May 11, 1978, Pope Paul VI ordered that the pallium was to be conferred only on metropolitans and on the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem (see AAS 70  442).
The pope may use the pallium at any time. A metropolitan in the Latin Church may use the pallium in every church of his province according to the norm of liturgical laws, but not outside his province even with the consent of the local ordinary [Codex iuris canonici c.437, §2]. The reason for this restriction arises from the fact that since the pallium is a symbol of metropolitan authority, it does not make sense for a metropolitan to wear the pallium in places where he is unable to exercise that authority. There are two exceptions to this general rule: the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and the Patriarch of Lisbon are endowed with the privilege of wearing their pallia even outside their provinces (see Communicationes 14 190). If a metropolitan is transferred to another metropolitan see, he must obtain another pallium [Codex iuris canonici c.437, §3].
Bibliography: l. trombetta, De pallio archiepiscopali: Elucubratio canonico–liturgico–historica (Sorrento 1923). r. lesage, Vestments and Church Furniture, tr. f. murphy (New York 1960) 139–142. f. j. weber, "The Sacred Pallium and Its History," Liturgical Arts 30 (1962) 91, 106. j. c. noonan, jr., The Church Visible: The Ceremonial Life and Protocol of the Roman Catholic Church (New York 1996) 359–363.
[j. a. abbo/eds.]
From the mid 16th century, the term has also been used to denote a man's large rectangular cloak, especially as worn by Greek philosophical and religious teachers.
Recorded from Old English, the word is Latin, and means literally ‘covering’.