The following commentary is from the EWTN series, The Papacy: A Living History, The Papal Artifacts Collection of Father Richard Kunst. Both his white and red zucchettos were featured on the first episode of the series, Popes Benedict XVI and Blessed John Paul II.
On June 26th, 1967, Pope Paul VI (1963-1978) appointed Archbishop Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, Poland, to the Sacred College of Cardinals. He was forty-seven years of age.
Here is Father’s commentary about both zucchettos:
What we have here is a papal zucchetto. Now there is a very old tradition dating back a couple of centuries, at least, of actually trading zucchettos with the Holy Father if you have a private audience with him. So you buy one at Gamarelli’s, the clothing maker of the Popes. And if you have the opportunity to meet the Holy Father, you can “swap zucchettos” with him. Some popes have respected that tradition, and others, less so.
The white one is one I actually got from John Paul II in a trade. So it is of particular importance to me because I was able to meet him, and I was also able to trade.
The red one is actually a very historically significant item. Although it is not absolutely certain, it is very likely that this is the zucchetto given to Cardinal Wojtyla by Pope Paul VI. The reason this is plausible is because on the inside there is a small tag that says, “K J Wojtyla, 1967, San Cesareo in Palatio”. That is the name of the church that he was given as his titular church upon his elevation. Because more than one man is elevated to the cardinalate at a time and because they are of different sizes, it is important to specify which zucchetto belongs to which cardinal. Therefore tags are put inside to assure each receives the correct hat.
This is a very rare item owned by a recently canonized pope, and it is very likely the one given to him by Pope Paul VI.
It’s so fascinating to think that Karol Wojtyla wore this on the day that he was made a cardinal. And the way we know this to be true is because of that tag on the inside of the hat.
Also, since each cardinal is always given a titular church that, in and of itself, is proof that this is his original zucchetto.
I’ve also done a little research with the person I actually got the zucchetto from. And other people who have been secretaries to cardinals when they were elected have said it is a common thing when someone is made cardinal to put this little tag inside the hat. This is because every cardinal wants a different size zucchetto that feels comfortable to wear.
I have a number of zucchettoes in the Collection. This one, historically speaking is the most important one because it’s so associated with Karol Wojtyla, John Paul II, in regards to his consistory, which, of course, lead to his election as our Holy Father.
The origin of the zucchetto was to cover tonsures of priests. When they joined a religious order and were ordained a little piece of their hair was cut from the crowns of their heads. We see that in pictures of St. Anthony of Padua in particular. As European winters were very, very cold they just used a little piece of cloth to cover their heads–like a winter hat.
The zucchetto dates back to the 13th century. The pope’s zucchetto is white. Cardinals’ are red and bishops’ are violet.