something rather wonderful about pictures of female celebrities with the Pope. They are, if nothing else, a reminder of times past. There is, first, the brilliant spectacle of women with the most extraordinarily irregular lives demure in black, always bashfully accepting a rosary from the Holy Father. But, with the notable exception of Mrs Mary Robinson, the last Irish President, the real pleasure of the picture is the mantilla.
Nearly all of these women think that the one way to show respect to the Pope is to swathe yourself in black lace.
And it is that anachronistic touch that makes my day.
I adore mantillas. When I was last in Madrid, it was only the assurance of my friend there that they were better value in the south of Spain (where they come from) which stopped me from getting an enormous one, complete with comb.
The latest visitor o the Vatican flaunting one was none other than Princess Caroline of Monaco, a woman whose adultery with Prince Ernst of Hanover was an important factor in his recent divorce. But, from the modesty and size of her mantilla, you would never think that the Princess was anything but a pin-up Catholic, just like her dear mother.
When I was small, girls and women covered their heads in church. And that meant that if you didn't have a hat and if you were too young for headscarves, you wore a mantilla.
And they were as headgear goes, extraordinarily successful.
Some of course were dreadful objects; grisly nylon efforts, brown with cream lace trim. But, by and large, they transformed most women. You acquired instant mystique by wearing them. They contributed, not to put too fine a point upon it, a kind of sexual allure to the plainest wearer, suggesting modesty femininity and the exoticism of half-concealment which is infinitely attractive in most women.
Worn with the right clothes, as Princess Caroline did, they are devastating articles of dress, as several designers have realised.
Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel has used mantillas in his collections; so, frequently, do the Italians Dolce & Gabbana, who get a kick out of using Catholic artefacts and idioms.
Which brings us back to the question: why do Catholics never, ever, realise the sartorial value of their own traditions?
Nuns' habits of course bit the dust, at least in Britain and Ireland at the same time as mantillas, and that was an even bigger mistake.
The first step in attracting the young back to the Church is to celebrate those elements of our tradtion which arc gorgeous, not to say hip.
Accordingly, as soon as I can find a Princess Caroline-style mantilla mantilla to wear to Mass, I shall flaunt it.
If churchgoing can no longer be popular, it can at least be pretty.