What do bishops wear on their heads

Bishops wear mitres on their head. A mitre is a type of headdress worn by bishops and certain other clergy in the Catholic and Anglican churches, as well as by some Lutheran, Old Catholic and Independent Catholic clergy. The word mitre (/ˈmɪtər/) comes from the Latin mīta (“piece of cloth”), because it was originally made from cloth. Mitres are now typically made of precious metals, ivory, or various fabrics.

In the Middle Ages, when most people were illiterate and there was no printing press, images were vital tools for teaching about religion. The mitre did not become popular until it was depicted in art. Then it became a symbol of Christ’s high rank among angels and men.

The earliest form of the mitre was a simple band of coloured material worn around the head; it later evolved into a tall pointed cap with two peaks, often white or silver. In art, angels are often shown wearing white mitres (since they are pure) while popes wear red ones (to symbolise their supreme authority). In paintings depicting God’s judgment day, all humans will be judged by Christ, who wears a red mitre.

Right here on Buy and slay, you are privy to a litany of relevant information on mitre hat meaning, bishops mitre, why does a bishop wear a skull cap, what does a bishop wear and so much more. Take out time to visit our catalog for more information on similar topics.

What do bishops wear on their heads?

Sometimes people ask about “the beanie” a bishop wears: what it’s called and why he wears it.

Any woman who went to a Catholic school, at least a few years ago, will laugh at the question because, for many years, we had to wear a “beanie” at Mass. The two aren’t the same.

The small, round head covering, like a skull cap, that bishops wear at Mass — except during the eucharistic prayer and the consecration — is called a zucchetto. Bishops wear purple ones — actually a reddish-purple color called “amaranth red.” In earlier times, the bishop’s zucchetto was green, but that changed in the 16th century. You can still see that history in the green used on a bishop’s coat of arms. Cardinals wear red zucchetti and the pope wears a white one.

The word “zucchetto” comes from an Italian word zucha meaning “gourd” or from the Latin zucca for “pumpkin.” It is also, less often, called a calotte or a pileolus. It is a form of a beret, and while it looks like a Jewish kippah or yarmulke, it did not originate in the same way as those head coverings.

The zucchetto’s origin as a liturgical vestment came about in a way much like the advent of other vestments: as a practicality. It began as a head covering that kept the cold off the tonsure of a priest or bishop. A tonsure was a shaved part of the head, done to show one’s commitment to religious life. Some religious orders still use the tonsure as a sign of humility and submission to God’s will. (Think of pictures of St. Francis of Assisi.)

Later, the zucchetto developed a ceremonial use and that is why it is worn today. It is a sign of the rank of the bishop or cardinal. Technically, a priest could wear a black zucchetto, but that is not commonly done.

Zucchetti were originally made of wool and were larger than they are now. At one time, they were lined with chamois to help keep their shape. Today, they are made of silk, usually lined with cotton. They may also have a small strip of velvet inside to help them stay in place. Each zucchetto is formed from eight, equal-sized triangular pieces of cloth sewn together.

A zucchetto also has a small silk loop at the top. While this makes it easier to take on and off, church protocol expert John-Charles Noonan Jr. says that the loop is a remnant of the tuft found on a biretta, another head covering for priests not seen as often now.

During the Mass, the bishop wears the zucchetto under his miter.

A bishop’s miter is a taller head covering, made of two panels of stiffened cloth, connected by a band. It also has two lappets (trailers) down the back — symbolizing a bishop’s sanctifying power. (A bishop also has the powers of teaching, as chief teacher in his diocese, and of governance in church matters. Usually white in color (since white vestments symbolize Christ’s resurrection), a bishop’s miter is worn at all liturgical celebrations. It will often be decorated as well.

The word “miter” comes from a Greek word mitra, meaning a headband or turban. This head covering also started for a practical reason, in Asia Minor. There it, too, was a head covering among those living in Phrygia, a country which we find mentioned in Acts of the Apostles on the day of Pentecost. Phrygia is now part of Turkey.

Miters were not always worn by bishops — and probably started out as only a soft, round cap worn in Byzantine times. Historians cannot agree as to whether miters developed into the papal tiara (no longer used) or if that tiara was the basis for the miter. However, by the ninth century, all bishops wore some type of miter.

Unlike the zucchetto, miters do share history with our Jewish ancestors in faith. Aaron and his sons were instructed to wear miters as part of their priestly attire. Over that miter, they also wore a plate inscribed “sacred to the Lord” (Ex 28:36-38). However, there is no direct link between those ancient Jewish miters and the miters bishop wear today — one did not lead directly to the other.

Besides the miter, there is another head covering that bishops no longer wear today. It can, however, be seen on a bishop’s coat of arms. It is the ecclesial hat, called the galero or “pilgrim’s hat.” 

Bishop Ricken’s coat of arms, with the green galero, can be seen above his bishop’s chair in St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay. The galero is red for cardinals and green for bishops. The cords and tassels (called fiocchi), hanging down both sides of the coat of arms, are the same color as the galero and vary in number: 15 for cardinals, 10 for archbishops and six for bishops.

Bishops mitre

The mitre (Commonwealth English) (/ˈmaɪtər/; Greek: μίτρα, “headband” or “turban”) or miter (American English; see spelling differences), is a type of headgear now known as the traditional, ceremonial headdress of bishops and certain abbots in traditional Christianity.

Mitres are worn in the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Churches, the Anglican Communion, some Lutheran churches, for important ceremonies, by the Metropolitan of the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church, and also, in the Catholic Church, all cardinals, whether or not bishops, and some Eastern Orthodox archpriests.


In the Catholic Church, ecclesial law gives the right to use the mitre and other pontifical insignia (crosier, pectoral cross, and ring) to (1) bishops, (2) abbots, (3) cardinals, and (4) those canonically equivalent to diocesan bishops who do not receive episcopal ordination. The principal celebrant presents the mitre and other pontifical insignia to a newly ordained bishop during the Rite of Ordination of a Bishop and to a new abbot during the Rite of Blessing of an Abbot.

In the case of a person who is canonically equivalent to a diocesan bishop but does not receive episcopal ordination, this presentation normally occurs during a public installation as the ordinary of his jurisdiction. Catholic ecclesial law also permits former Anglican bishops received into full communion and subsequently ordained to the order of presbyter in the Catholic Church to obtain permission to use pontifical insignia as a mark of recognition of their previous ministry (they also may be admitted to the national or regional episcopal conference with status equivalent to that of retired Catholic bishops), but former Anglican bishops typically have not requested permission to use pontifical insignia under this provision.

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

  • The simplex (‘simple’, referring to the materials used) is made of undecorated white linen or silk and its white lappets traditionally end in red fringes. It is worn most notably at funerals, Lenten time, on Good Friday and by concelebrant bishops at a Mass. Cardinals in the presence of the Pope wear a mitre of white linen damask.
  • The auriphrygiata is of plain gold cloth or white silk with gold, silver or coloured embroidered bands; when seen today it is usually worn by bishops when they preside at the celebration of the sacraments.
  • The pretiosa (‘precious’) is decorated with precious stones and gold and worn on the principal Mass on the most solemn Sundays (except in Lent) and feast days. This type of mitre is rarely decorated with precious stones today, and the designs have become more varied, simple and original, often merely being in the liturgical colour of the day.

The proper colour of a mitre is always white, although in liturgical usage white also includes vestments made from gold and silver fabrics. The embroidered bands and other ornaments which adorn a mitre and the lappets may be of other colours and often are.

On all occasions, an altar server may wear a shawl-style veil, called a vimpa, around the shoulders when holding the bishop’s mitre.

Why does a bishop wear a skull cap?

It is worthy of note that, this small round cap wore by bishops is calked “skull cap” or “Zuchetto”, and it is a symbol that marks them out as the bishop. On the other hand, the large pointed hat that they wear is called the “mitre”. The miter is a symbol of their office as princes of the Catholics Church.

The mitre (large hat) is an official liturgical vestment and he wears it at Mass and while conducting other formal Church functions.

In the church’s hierarchy, the color of the zucchetto (skull cap) denotes the wearer’s rank, for instance, the Pope’s zucchetto (skull cap) is white, those worn by cardinals are red or scarlet, and those of bishops, territorial abbots and territorial prelates are purple.

During the celebration of Mass, the bishop removes his skull cap at the commencement of the conecration, and put it on again at the conclusion of the Communion as a sign of respect for the “real presence” of Christ in body, soul and divinity.

You will notice that, during Mass, the bishop takes his mitre on and off, depending on what is happening in the liturgy.

Although there is some dispute about how longstanding the tradition of wearing the skull cap and the mitre is (some people claim it is from the time of the apostles!) but there is no question that mitres have been worn by bishops for at least a thousand years.

The shape of the mitre is supposed to represent the tongues of fire that rested on the heads of the disciples gathered in the upper room on the Day of Pentecost, when God sent the Holy Spirit to the Church.

A bishop receives a mitre during his ordination as a bishop, when the Holy Spirit comes to the new bishop in the same way that the Holy Spirit came to the first disciples.

The pointed shape of the mitre represents the tongues of fire of the Holy Spirit and links the bishop to the apostles at the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2).

In addition to his vestments at Mass, an archbishop wears a Pallium, A narrow white woolen ban worn around the shoulders over his outer vestment (chasuble).

The pallium has two short woolen pendants, one hanging down the front, the other down the back, and ornamented with six black crosses.

The Paillum is worn by the Pope and Archbishops as a sign of their authority. An archbishop with a pallium is usually the head (metrpolitan) of all the other bishops (suffragans) in the province.

At his ordination, he also receives a Pectoral Cross which he must hang around his neck always.

NB: The Shepherd’s Cane that the bishop carries is called the shepherd’s crook or crozier or pastoral staff. He carries the staff at liturgical functions as a sign that he is chief shepherd of the flock of God’s people and directs them in the way of the Lord with the shepherd’s staff.

The bishop also wears a ring which has the bishop’s seal as its face. This ring is a symbol of the bishop’s faithfulness to God and the Church. The Bishop always wears the ring, the symbol of his fidelity and nuptial bond with the Church, the diocese, (his spouse), of which he is bishop.

Leave a Comment

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

17 − 5 =

Scroll to Top