Thursday, April 24, 2008

Reek to high heaven

Eau du pape

Darn! If only I had noticed this in time for Pope Benedict's visit to the United States!

Did you know you can smell like a pope? It's true! The pope in question is Pius IX, known to his fellow Italians* as “Pio Nono.” While “Nono” is a delightfully apt sobriquet for a pope, it stands for “nine” and has no direct connection to naughtiness. Pius IX is responsible for promulgating the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary as official church doctrine and it was during his pontificate that the first Vatican Council declared the pope infallible in all of his formal pronouncements on matters of faith. (It was the express reason for which Pius convened the council, which was nice enough to oblige him.) Until the even longer tenure of John Paul II, Pius IX held the record for longevity in office, having reigned from 1846 to 1878.

Of course, you might hesitate at the prospect of smelling like a pontiff who died 130 years ago. Not to worry. In a significant new example of the fetishism that tends to accompany religious belief and practice, an enterprising Catholic doctor with an entrepreneurial streak has resurrected Pius IX's signature cologne. Using a formula discovered in an old cookbook (of all places), Dr. Fred Hass brewed up a batch of papal cologne and was entranced by the results: “It's magical,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2006. “There's a kind of mystical chemistry to it—a lot of people liken it to alchemy. That's what it's about for me, the history and the magic.... It's elating, it's cheerful. It makes you feel better.”

Apart from all the elation and magical tingling, what does the pope's cologne smell like? Hass reports, “Surprisingly fresh, with notes of citrus and violet.” According to the Chronicle's account, the main ingredients are orange blossom, lemon verbena, lavender, violet, clove, and sweet orange. If that sounds like a potentially heavy layering of scents, remember that in the 19th century cologne was used as a substitute for frequent bathing. Potency was a decided desideratum.

If you want to make up your own mind about papal perfume, you can get a bottle of Pius IX's cologne for yourself. It's being sold via the Internet on the website You can see pictures of Pio Nono himself and buy a bottle of cologne for only $25.95 (less expensive in bulk, of course). For a $4.50 shipping and handling charge, you can get an otherwise free sample of 0.4 fluid ounces.

It's your big chance to smell like a pope. Infallibly.

*Note: I am guilty of a slight anachronism when I refer to Pius IX and his fellow Italians. Italy as such did not exist during the reign of Pius, who depended on French and Austrian troops to maintain the existence of the Papal States in the face of burgeoning Italian patriotism. In 1870 control of the Papal States were wrested away from the pope by the recently unified Italian kingdom and he was left with the small enclave that survives today as Vatican City, a tiny city-state within the Italian nation.

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