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The mitre or miter is a traditional, ceremonial head-dress of bishops in the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy.

Western Christianity

In its modern form the mitre is a tall folding cap, consisting of two similar parts (the front and back) rising to a peak and sewn together at the sides. Two short lappets always hang down from the back.

In the Roman Catholic church, the right to wear the mitre is confined by canon law to the pope, cardinals and bishops, though by papal privilege it may be worn by others such as abbots.

Three types of mitres are worn by Roman Catholic clergy for different occasions:

  • The simplex is made of undecorated white linen or silk and is worn most notably at funerals and Good Friday.
  • The auriphrygiata is of plain gold cloth or white silk with gold or silver embroidered bands and is generally worn during penitential seasons.
  • The pretiosa is decorated with precious stones and gold and worn on Sundays and feast days.
Missing image
An illustration showing the evolution of the mitre from the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia

The bishop in chess is represented by a stylized Western mitre.

With his inauguration as pope, Benedict XVI has broken with tradition and has replaced the tiara on his papal coat of arms with a mitre and pallium (sign of the pope's authority as metropolitan of the See of Rome). Prior to Pope Benedict XVI, each coat of arms always contained the image of the papal tiara and keys, even though the tiara had fallen into disuse in recent years, especially under Popes John Paul I and John Paul II. Pope Paul VI had allowed for his papal reign to have begun with a formal coronation in June of 1963. However, as a sign of the need for greater simplification of the papal rites, as well as a sign of the changing nature of the papacy itself, he abolished the need for the tiara. In a dramatic ceremony in Saint Peter's Basilica during the second session of Vatican II in November of 1963, Pope Paul donated his tiara (a gift from his former archdiocese of Milan) to the efforts at relieving poverty in the world. Later, Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York received the tiara and took it on tour of the United States to raise funds for the poor. It is now on permanent view in the Crypt Church in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

Eastern Christianity

Mitre of Bishop Sztojkovics, Hungary, ca. 1860, stolen in 1989
Mitre of Bishop Sztojkovics, Hungary, ca. 1860, stolen in 1989

The most typical Eastern mitre cannot be said to correspond to the Western, since it is of much more recent origin and has a completely different history. It is made in the shape of a crown, often richly decorated with jewels and brocade and, in the case of the episcopal mitre, topped by a cross. This crown shape recalls its origin as an item of Imperial regalia, and along with other such items such as the sakkos or Imperial dalmatic signified the temporal authority of bishops, especially the Patriarch of Constantinople, within the administration of the Rum millet, or Christian community, of the Ottoman Empire.

In the Eastern Orthodox and counterpart Eastern Catholic churches it is a prerogative of the bishop, but may be awarded to archpriests, protopresbyters and archimandrites. The priestly mitre is not surmounted by a cross, and is awarded at the discretion of a synod.

Oriental Orthodox bishops sometimes use mitres, either of the Western or Eastern style. In the past, Coptic bishops have worn the ballin, an omophorion wound around the head like a turban. Syriac Orthodox bishops wear the maşnaphto (literally, 'turban') when presiding at the Divine Liturgy. This is a large, richly embroidered hood, often depicting the Holy Spirit as a dove. Armenian Orthodox bishops wear Western style mitres.

External links

nl:Mijter no:Mitra sv:Mitra ja:ミトラ (司教冠)


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