Saturday, September 23, 2006

Somebody asked, "What's with the fishhead hat?"

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A commenter in the previous post inquired why the Pope wore the mitre (or as he termed it, the “fishhead hat”) and if he was trying to emulate the Babylonian god, Oannes? I don’t know diddly about Oannes, who apparently was some kind of sea-god or fish-god, but here is what the Catholic Encyclopedia says about the mitre.

The mitre, worn by bishops, and of course, by the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, is a kind of folding-cap. It consists of two like parts, each stiffened by a lining and rising to a peak; these are sewn together on the sides, but are united above by a piece of material thet can fold together. Two lappets trimmed on the ends with fringe hang down from the back.

From the seventeenth century much has been written concerning the length of time the mitre has been worn. According to one opinion its use extends back into the age of the Apostles; according to another, at least as far back as the eighth or ninth century while a further view holds that it did not appear until the beginning of the second millennium, but that before this there was an episcopal ornament for the head, in form like a wreath or crown. In opposition to these and similar opinions, which cannot all be discussed here, it is, however, to be held as certain that an episcopal ornament for the head in the shape of a fillet never existed in Western Europe, that the mitre was first used at Rome about the middle of the tenth century, and outside of Rome about the year 1000.

The pontifical mitre is of Roman origin: it is derived from a non-liturgical head-covering distinctive of the pope, the camelaucum, to which also the tiara is to be traced. The camelaucum was worn as early as the beginning of the eighth century, as is shown by tho biography of Pope Constantine I (708- 815) in the "Liber Pontificalis". NewAdvent.com

My theory, and I've got lots of them, is that the mitre is probably a cloth version of the papal tiara that used to be worn by Popes to signify their temporal power over not just the Church, but also the Papal States and the Holy Roman Empire. The tiara was probably pretty heavy! You don't see Queen Elizabeth wearing crowns very often. Just stylish hats. Well, the mitre is the Pope's (and bishops') stylish hat. They seem to have many colors and designs.


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