Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Friday 17 September |
Saint of the Day: St. Hildegard of Bingen
home iconSpirituality
line break icon

This is why bishops wear so many hats


Antonio Nardelli | Shutterstock

Philip Kosloski - published on 06/29/17 - updated on 03/11/21

Seriously, one historical reason was to hide a bald spot from the elements.

If you have ever been to a confirmation or ordination (or any liturgy where the bishop is present) you may have noticed the bishop putting on and taking off different hats throughout the Mass.

It can look strange to many (especially non-Catholics) and sometimes can provide some comic relief in the midst of a very solemn ceremony — rarely does a master of ceremonies go through an entire liturgy without making some sort of mistake with the bishop’s hats.

So why all the fuss over what the bishop wears on his head? What do these hats represent?

The first type of hat the bishop wears is called a zucchetto, commonly known as a skull cap. It is a closely fitted cap that sits atop the head during official functions and liturgical events. Bishops, cardinals and the pope all wear one and each have a distinctive color that indicates their particular rank (violet, red, and white, respectively).

The zucchetto came into use for the initial purpose of covering the tonsure of a clergy member, protecting the bald spot on his head from the elements. By the 15th century the zucchetto became more ceremonial in nature and denoted clergy of a specific rank. The skull cap can be worn during ordinary functions outside the liturgy, but is taken off in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.

While similar to the Jewish kippah, which is required for Jewish men to wear at all times, it is different in appearance and in function.

The more prominent hat that bishops wear is the miter and denotes the authority of the bishop. While often connected to the liturgical headgear of the Jewish High Priesthood, most historians believe the hat is derived from ancient Greece. Athletes competing in the Olympic games wore ribbons on their head, tied with a band and left to dangle down the back. A cap was worn under the bands for further protection from the heat. The victors were awarded a laurel wreath, which was then placed on top of the cap and ribbons.

The full headgear of the victorious athlete was adopted by the priests of ancient Greece and later by the officials in the Byzantine Empire. These two associations became an inspiration for the miter later on. The miter did not become a regular part of a bishop’s liturgical garb until the 11th century. By the 12th century the miter developed into what we are most familiar with, a large hat with two peaks (one in front; one in back) and two flaps of cloth called lappets tailing from the back. It is now used exclusively during certain liturgical functions of the bishop.

In light of the origin of the miter, the bishop is given the task of leading his flock to Heaven, running with them, encouraging them to win the crown that is reserved for the victorious (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:24).

While the hats of the bishop can appear strange, the historical origins of the headgear reveal a deeper meaning.


Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Cerith Gardiner
Our favorite stories of celebrities who inspire us in daily life
Philip Kosloski
How receiving Holy Communion can drive away demons
Kathleen N. Hattrup
Pope considers what to do with pro-abortion Catholic politicians
Berthe and Marcel
Lauriane Vofo Kana
This couple has the longest marriage in France
As irmãs biológicas que se tornaram freiras no instituto Iesu Communio
Francisco Veneto
The 5 biological sisters who joined the religious life in just tw...
Philip Kosloski
Why is the feast of the Holy Cross celebrated on September 14?
Philip Kosloski
This prayer to St. Anthony is said to have “never been known to f...
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.