|Pope St. Gregory the Great w/ camelaucum|
While I was traveling to Indianapolis, I missed my connector due to a flight delay and ended up spending the night in Denver. While I was there, I had breakfast with Bob and Jo Anderson, my buddy's parents and good friends of mine.
At one point, we got on the subject of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, the ordinary of Denver. "That's something I've been meaning to ask you," Jo exclaimed. "You know those funny hats bishops wear—"
"Mitres," I supplied.
"Yeah. You know, Bob and I have always wanted to know where those came from."
Glad you asked, and here's your answer:
|Pope Benedict XVI with mitre|
The mitre probably stemmed from a cap worn by officials of the Eastern Roman Empire, the kamelaukion or camelaucum, which was itself an adaptation of a common cap of the Greco-Roman world, the Phrygian cap (frigium), a conical cap (see the picture of Pope St. Gregory the Great). But the word mitra doesn't actually show up until a papal bull issued by Leo IX in 1049.
According to the old Catholic Encyclopedia (1911), the peak of the camelaucum began to round off about 1100; then the cap began to show up with a depression running from forehead to the occiput similar to the one on a cowboy hat or a fedora, occasionally with a decorative band running down its center. The twin puffs this created eventually took on the appearance of horns. Then the horns eventually were oriented fore and aft. All in all, the transition occurred in about a century, although it didn't take place everywhere in the west at the same time. Finally, the peaks of the horns grew over the next few centuries, taking on its current shape probably in the last couple of centuries.
|Eastern mitre (from catalogue-four views)|
The mitre has two fringed bands, called infulae or lappets, hanging down in back. The origin of these bands isn't precisely known; there's some speculation that it refers back to the headband Greek runners used to wear, and suggested by the metaphor of the race St. Paul uses in 2 Timothy 4:7-8. However, this may be a retrojected explanation, so don't take it too seriously.
|Not Catholic bishops!|
The Latin-rite Church has three kinds of mitre: the mitra simplex, an ordinary white mitre with red fringes on the lappets; the mitra pretiosa, usually made of gold cloth, often with plenty of decorative stitching, very rarely with precious stones; and the mitra auriphrygiata, a white mitre with decorative bands, usually of gold or the appropriate liturgical color. The Eastern churches, both Catholic and Orthodox, also have a mitre; however, it more closely follows the shape of an Eastern crown. The Oriental Orthodox's mitre looks a bit like a turban.
In the Catholic Church, the mitre is worn by bishops, cardinals and abbots only. In the Eastern Orthodox churches, a priest may be awarded the right to wear a mitre with the cross on its top lying flat rather than standing upright.
Of course, the larger mainstream Protestant churches also have bishops, who also wear the mitre. Unfortunately, like other vestments, the mitre is often decorated and colored with no sense of liturgical propriety; a site called Bad Vestments, run by an Anglican, is dedicated to outstanding examples of ecclesial bad taste, and is ecumenical in its ridicule.
There's a lesson in here for bloggers: You never know what ideas you may get and where you might get them. And for Christians: Had I not had the misfortune of having been delayed in my travel, I wouldn't have gotten to meet up with Bob and Jo, which in itself was a great blessing.