8 miles of gold thread: Giving sombreros to popes a tradition for family of Mexican milliners

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Catholic News Service

SAN FRANCISCO DEL RINCON, Mexico — The milliners of Sombreros Salazar in this deeply Catholic town 140 miles northeast of Guadalajara have the habit of making oversized, charro hats for the pope.

The family matriarch, Maria de la Luz Yepez Torres, already has made the oversized hats for Pope Paul VI and Blessed John Paul II.

This year, the family and its employees made a similar hat for Pope Benedict XVI, a break from the usual business of making cheap cardboard sombreros for sun-seekers to take home as souvenirs of booze-fueled Mexican holidays.

A self-described “Guadalupana,” or follower of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Yepez calls the solid month it takes to make the sombrero an act of love for the church and its leader and a chance to share some of the symbolism of the local archdiocese and region with the pope.

Pope Benedict XVI donned the hat from the milliners of Sombreros Salazr, featuring eight miles of gold thread, during his visit to Leon, Mexico, on March 25. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

The sombrero, bone-white in color and stitched with “13 kilometers” — more than eight miles — of gold thread, includes designs of roses, which Yepez chose to represent Mexicans’ devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. The hat also includes designs of a local Christ statue, which is the logo for the Archdiocese of Leon, along with the Vatican coat of arms and a representation of the rosary. An image of Guadalupe is sewn underneath.

The color scheme, reflecting Vatican colors, “seems to fit with the person we’re about to receive here. We couldn’t do something like red and blue,” Yepez said.

The Salazar and Yepez families have been making sombreros since the 1950s in San Francisco del Rincon, a municipality of ranches, including one owned by former President Vicente Fox, and hat and shoe factories.

Yepez’s husband, Ruben Salazar, works in the business, along with their three children. Yepez said the work has been difficult because the sombreros require intricate work and Chinese competition has been flooding the market, although Yepez says focusing on quality has kept the family in business and provided personal satisfaction.

Yepez saw Blessed John Paul in 2000 in nearby San Juan de los Lagos and is excited to welcome Pope Benedict, even though his visit has been met with a more muted reaction in other parts of Mexico.

“He’s the leader of the church,” she said, adding, “here, we love all of our priests.”