how the “Hot Priest Calendar” became an editorial hit

If you’ve been to Rome, chances are you’ve come home with a slice of guanciale, two Fabriano notebooks, and a copy of the priest’s calendar burning in your luggage.

The Hot Priest Calendar isn’t its official name, but for the past two decades the moniker has stuck (for reasons clear to anyone who’s seen it). Next year will mark 20 years since the ‘calendario Romano’ was first published, a period in which it has gone from labor of love to cult remembrance.

Each month in the A4 flip calendar is represented by an unnamed man, photographed in black and white and usually against an ornate liturgical background. Some wear a cappello romano (a type of wide-brimmed hat), others a clerical collar. December, the unequivocal favorite among calendar fans, rarely changes – he is pictured holding a copy of Le vie di Roma near this cassocked chest. Generally speaking, every “priest” is “hot”.

Much like the Pirelli calendar, published by the UK subsidiary of the Italian tire company, the connection between the images and the featured subject can sometimes seem tangential. But the motivation is pure, says 60-year-old Venetian calendar photographer Piero Pazzi. It is, he says, a “clean and honest product that simply advertises Rome and its most eloquent symbol: the Catholic clergy.”

But it’s time for confession: “Not all of them are priests, and they’re not all from Italy,” says Pazzi, himself a Catholic, who has spent the last decades visiting Rome and Seville to take these Pictures. He uses a Fuji camera and photographs men on trips to towns at Easter. It’s a random selection process, he explains, which means it can sometimes backfire: In one case, a real estate agent from Spain was mistaken for a priest and appeared in 2008 under the name “Father March” (he wore a black tunic at the time). But those pictured in Seville “are mostly acolytes of the countless brotherhoods that parade in Holy Week processions”, according to Pazzi.

At its peak in the mid-2010s, the calendar reportedly sold around 75,000 copies a year, and despite a dip during the pandemic, it remains in high demand. The 2023 iteration has just gone on sale, costing around £10 depending on which store or kiosk you buy it from – and is already three times the price on eBay. Pazzi prefers not to estimate how many are currently sold in case he is wrong, but he will go so far as to say that “in Rome it is quite common”.

Rather than “photographer”, he uses the terms “archivist and archival researcher”; photography, he says, is just a hobby. His favorite subject is in fact animals, especially cats – he has two – and he also enjoys photographing gondoliers, whose calendar predates that of clergymen, but it was the burning calendar of priests that made of him the Rankin of Catholicism. He says he created it to “educate tourists visiting Rome by providing accurate information about the state of the Vatican” – with facts and treats written inside. He describes this as “very simple information, which the average tourist is completely unaware of”.

Still, the calendar is not without controversy. It has been criticized for repeating the same images year after year, although Pazzi disputes this claim. “Sometimes I replace the images,” he says. Going through the old issues, it seems true that February, May and July change often. Some of the repeated priests sometimes change months as well.

Likewise, accusations of Vatican propaganda have found their way onto various chat rooms (the Vatican did not respond to requests for comment). Pazzi says the two are unrelated: “I have never been reproached or questioned by any religious authority for the calendar,” he says, adding that about 10 years ago the Vatican confirmed that “It was not his official initiative but that of a private individual”.

The calendar itself is printed by a specialist “and distributed in an artisanal way”, he says, rather than being mass-produced. According to the bumf calendar, proceeds go to Snap, a support group for women and men abused by religious and institutional authorities.

Pazzi says the absence of the priests’ names is simply proof that neither the calendar nor its posters are “products of vanity.” As to whether the calendar led to a lifetime of glory, he thinks not. “These are pictures of priests,” he says, “not pictures of movie stars.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *