Friday, July 27, 2007

On the Origin of Mitres

from Holy Whapping Posted by: Drew
I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. (2 Tim 4:7)

While it was once thought that the mitres used by bishops were directly descended from the somewhat-similar hats used by Jewish high priests, it seems that mitres are rather descended from Greek athletic headgear.

The oldest part of the mitre, in fact, is the infulae--the two bands of fabric which hang from the back of the hat itself. These two bands were originally a single handband, which Greek athletes wrapped around the forehead and tied in back, creating the two bands which mitres have today. In the summer, a cap was placed over the infulae, giving rise to the mitros as such.

Both the Catholic Encyclopedia and the Church Visible cite the tenth century as the first recorded use of the mitre by bishops. The Church Visible specifically states, "During the earliest centuries of the Christian era, no mention is made of anything that resembles the present mitre." Instead, the mitre "appeared lost to history," with no continuous chronological connection between the Greek athlete's mitres and the ecclesastical mitres.

Here is my question, however: it seems to me that the ecclesastical mitros would be directly linked to the athletic mitros by virtue of the infulae, because they are a vestige that would probably not have been specifically added. Put another way, if bishops just decided to start wearing a cap and gave it the name mitros, it seems less probable that they would have thought to include vestigal infulae, if they had even know that a proper mitros had such things at all.

Further, Eusebius of Caesarea (AD 275-339) quotes a letter from Polycarp saying the following: "There is also John, who leaned on the Lord's breast and who became a priest wearing the miter, a martyr, and a teacher." The reference by Polycarp of John wearing the mitre is probably an anachronistic interpolation; but even if we assume this letter which Eusebius quotes is a forgery, this gives us a 4th century reference to episcopal mitres, which, combined with matter of the infulae, suggests to me that the use of the ecclesiastical use of mitres is older than the tenth century.

So why, then, does the scholarly concensus hold a tenth century date for the origin of ecclesastical mitres? I don't have Eusebius' Greek original, so perhaps he doesn't use the word mitros and the translator added the word "mitre" anachronistically. Or maybe there's some other reason? Does anyone know?

I find this interesting, it is the retention of the infulae that is significant.
I wonder if there is a connection with the cloth that is bound around the bishops head after Chrismation in the Johannine Usage. In the modern usage the bishop is annointed on the place where formerly he would be tonsured and the skull cap is immediately place on his head. Formerly he was annointed on the forehead and and a linen bandage was tied round the head, which was retained for several days after ordination.


Anonymous said...

Ah, a mitre! I haven't seen one of those atop my bishop's head in quite a while.

Fr. A said...

Father John Sullivan's _The Externals of the Catholic Church_ (1918), states that the mitre is, "probably of Oriental origin, least something very similar was worn by kings in Persia and Assyria long before the Christian era. As an ecclesiastical vestment it came into general use about the year 1100, although some form of tall and dignified headress was worn considerably earlier."

Don Marco, O.Cist. said...

Interesting, is it not, that Saint John the Apostle wore a mitre in the apparition at Knock?

Anonymous said...

Oh my boys always hold the Bishop's Mitre....i enjoyed the post...

EPGoto said...

As I understand it, the infulae of the mitre - the 2 hanging strips of cloth of the mitre - are part of it because the mitre descends from the camaleikon/kamauleikon (or any of the various spellings used for the common ancestor of the papal camauro, the papal tiara, and the episcopal mitre here discussed.)
Tha "camaleicum" (to use yet another mispelling...:) was a headress of the emperors in the form of a semi-spherical cap and 2 hanging apendages (called pendulia...because they hung/were "pendant" from the sides over the ears. Pictures of this can be seen in various contemporary mosaics of Byzantine emperors - and the amazing extanct example that is the "crown of costanza" in Sicily. This form of head-dress was then allowed to nobles at the imperial and barbaric courts and since bishops back then wore the same sort of clothes as the rest of society, adopted it as well. Once the rest of the people stopped using it, the church retained it (along with all the other vestments such as dalmatics and planetae etc. as official dress of the clergy)and in time aquired characteristics of its own. For example: the papal one became at first elongated more to resemble an egg than a semisphere...then got 1,2, and eventually 3 crowns; the bishop's mitre became a soft cap dipped in the middle (as can be seen on some early illuminated manuscripts) then it became the two peaked thing it is today. The infulae/penduliae also were transfered from the sides (above the ears) to the back at some early period... and since it reminded of the 2 parts of the ribbon/fillet used by the old roman flamines (a kind of priest from pre-christian times) then it was associated with it - but indeed it had nothing in common in the genesis.
The linen headband previously worn by the bishops upon receiving the holy oil in forehead at their consecration/ordination, is probably related to the said fillet used by the flamines of old-Rome...and eitherhow a necessary and practical thing to protect the blessed spot and also the mitre from getting oil stains... but it most certainly has nothing to do with the mitre since both things have completely different raisons d'etre. The mitre is (as was from the begining as a "camaleikom")a 'hat' to be worn outside the mass proper and had nothing to do with holy oil (besides being worn to bless the oils and sacraments...)
To finalize "camelaicum" is called thus because it use to be made/stiffened with camel-leather instead of cow-hide... Sorry for the different spellings throughout, but there is a myriad of spellings out there if you want to google it. Interestingly enough, the word (without regards to a set spelling for some odd reason) is also used to describe the cylindrical hats worn by the eastern/orthodox priests and archpriests. Also the orthodox mitres, though as the case with the priestly hats, have not the infulae hanging off anywhere. I wish I had pictures to illustrate what I'm talking about... maybe I have to stop a blog or something sometime... agggrrrrr! ;)
God Bless.