This morning at the Vatican, following a centuries-old tradition, Benedict XVI blessed several lambs whose wool will be used to make the palliums bestowed on new metropolitan archbishops on the 29 June feast of the apostles St Peter and St Paul.
In a 1978 document, 'Inter Eximina Episcopalis,' Pope Paul VI restricted use of the pallium to the Pope and to metropolitan archbishops. In 1984 John Paul II decreed that the pallium would be conferred on the metropolitans on 29 June.
The custom of blessing the lambs takes place every year on the 21 January liturgical memory of St Agnes, a virgin who suffered martyrdom about the year 305 and whose symbol is a lamb. She is buried in the basilica named after her on the Via Nomentana in Rome, and it is there that the lambs are taken after the papal blessing.
The lambs are raised by the Trappist Fathers of the Abbey of the Three Fountains and the palliums are made by the Sisters of St Cecelia from the newly-shorn wool.