Vestments of Bishops

What are the vestments of bishops?

The robes of the bishops in the Catholic and Orthdox traditions include the priestly vestments described in the, with the following vestments and insignia added:

The episcopal shoes and stockings. At the beginning of the Middle Ages the shoes (sandalia, calceamenta) belonged to the general liturgical attire; from the tenth or eleventh century, these and the stockings combined with them (caligce)-of linen, later of silk-are a prerogative of the bishops. The usual color is violet.

The gloves (chirotecce, manias) are not proved to have been in use before the twelfth century; until the fourteenth century they were of white or red silk, after this the liturgical colors appear. The rim was gradually enlarged to resemble a gauntlet. The oldest and most characteristic ornament is the circulus aureus on the upper part of the palm, a gold-embroidered or metal disk, with a figure (Iamb, cross, etc.) and precious stones. From the sixteenth century, the woven glove came into use and the shape was developed mainly after the model of the dress glove.

History and use

The ring (annulus episcopalis) can be proven to have been among the episcopal insignia from an early period. At the mass, the bishop wears it over the pontifical glove on the fourth finger of the right hand. Other clerical dignitaries who are privileged to wear a ring must lay it aside on this occasion. According to rule, this ring should consist of a simple gold circlet with a single stone, but numerous rich and elaborate specimens are found.

The rational (rationale; cf. Ex. 28:30) is a light shoulder-cloth of various form which is made up of several strips of material, ornamented with hollow plates on the shoulders or on the breast, or on shoulder and breast, and is awarded by the pope to individual bishops as a special distinction. It is worn immediately over the chasuble and only at the pontifical mass. It can not be determined whether it is patterned after an ancient garment; it is, however, certain that the breast-plate of the high-priest and the Ephod were factors in its evolution.

The pectoral cross (crux pectbralis), which arose from the custom of wearing a cross upon the breast, which according to common opinion acquired a peculiar prophylactic power by means of a relic, was restricted in the Middle Ages to the bishops, who employed this cross, even apart from ecclesiastical ceremonies, as one of the insignia of their dignity. The material is gold.

The miter (mitra, mitre, infula) is the liturgical head-covering of the bishops, including the pope. It is not possible to prove its existence with certainty before the tenth century. The form has passed through many variations. At first it was a round cap fitting the head closely with a brow band and ribbons falling down on the back of the neck. The miter soon developed into a biretta with edges turned up sharply; it then received a tall peaked termination and finally assumed an oval form. An ornamental band, decorated in special cases with precious metals and stones, surrounds the lower rim, a second vertical one divides the breadth. The fabric is also embroidered with designs and figures. The material is silk; only at councils are linen miters prescribed for the bishops, in order to distinguish them from the cardinals.

The crozier (pedum, pastorale, virga) had its origin in the conception of the pastoral office of the bishops in connection with the idea of domination. This emblem is unknown to Christian antiquity, only at the beginning of the Middle Ages are traces of its use encountered. At first it seems to have been a staff with a straight handle, but at an early period alongside of this appeared the crook bent like a chamois-horn. In the course of the Romanic period, this takes on a bolder curve and is combined with designs and figures; the termination of a snake's or dragon's head was much favored. As material, ivory was used; in the Gothic ,period, gilded copper was substituted for the staff and precious metal for the crook. At the same time, Gothic art applies its architectural symbolism and gives the preference to figure-decoration, to scenes from the life of Mary and from the legends of the saints. Fine goldsmith-work now appears. The Renaissance and the rococo periods retain the fundamental form, but the characteristic taste of these periods was asserted in many essential details. The small linen cloth which is attached to the staff just below the crook (pannisellus, sudarium) was probably intended originally for a handkerchief; later it disappeared from the episcopal staff and remained on the abbot's staff, as a distinguishing mark (abbots, as also abbesses, bore the crozier). This emblem, however, is only permitted to the bishop within his diocese. Bishops' and abbots' croziers, from the Middle Ages, have been preserved in great numbers, even from early Romanic times, when the custom existed of laying them in the graves of their owners.

The pallium consists of a white woolen band about three inches wide, interwoven with six black silk crosses; it encircles the shoulders, one band falling upon the breast and the other upon the back. Gold pins fasten it to the vestment beneath. It is worn regularly only by the pope, primates, patriarchs, and archbishops over the chasuble, although certain specially privileged bishops also wore it. The pallia are made by nuns in S. Agnese near Rome, and are supposed to obtain a special consecration by being deposited in the grave of St. Peter.

The manteletta or chimere is an episcopal garment which bishops wear when out of their own jurisdiction, in order to cover the rochet, which is one symbol of episcopal authority. The dignitaries named above also enjoy the privilege of having a cross borne before them (crux archiepiscopalis), the crucifix side being turned toward them.

The mozetta is a vestment which is the usual state dress of a bishop when not performing sacred functions. It is a short cape or cloak, open in front but susceptible of being buttoned over the breast, and has a small hood behind. It may be worn by the pope, by cardinals, bishops, abbots, and others to whom it is permitted by custom or papal privilege, as by canons in England. It is worn over the rochet, but when the prelate is out of his jurisdiction, he either wears it over the manteletta or not at all. By cardinals this vestment and the rochet are worn only in the churches from which they take their titles, except at Rome during a papal vacancy or at con claves. The pope has five of these vestments. From the first vespers of the Ascension during the hot season he wears one of red satin except on vigils or penitential occasions, when the material is of red serge or camlet. The rest of the year the material is of red velvet, except on penitential occasions, when the material is of red woolen cloth; but from Holy Saturday till the second Saturday after Easter the mozetta is of white damask. The cardinals have four mozettas, of red or purple silk, violet silk, rose colored silk, and violet serge. The cardinals are distinguished by purple garments and by a flat broad-brimmed hat from which hang, on the sides, bands with tassels. The proper costume of the pope is the episcopal, although it is in part more richly made and differs in some respects. For instance, instead of the crozier, he bears a tall cross with two or three arms.

A special distinction is, however, the tiara (regnum, triregnum). This is the princely emblem of the pope and is, therefore, worn when his princely authority is to be manifested; in liturgical and ecclesiastical functions he wears in stead the episcopal miter. The tiara does not appear before the eleventh century, and then at first only in the form of a peaked hat edged with embroidery; later it becomes taller and assumes a conical form. Although the tiara has a certain similarity to the miter, it is distinguished from the latter by having only one point. The difference is stir more marked at the coronation. Even into the thirteenth century, a single circlet (reguum) surrounds the tiara, but under Boniface VIII. (1294 1308), a second was added, and finally a papal in ventory of 1315 names three. It is possible that even in the time of Boniface VIII. the triple crown had appeared; in any case, this evolution was not far removed from his pontificate.

Lastly, brief allusion may be made to the liturgical comb, which the priest used for arranging his hair before the celebration of mass. This is also given to the bishop at his consecration as his personal property, and is therefore often found in bishops' graves; the material is ivory, often richly carved. Christian antiquity knows nothing of this article.

Other Articles in This Series
  • History of Vestments
  • Cassock
  • Vestments of Priests
  • Vestments in the Greek Church
  • Vestments in Protestant Churches
  1. Victor Schultze, "Vestments." New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (Baker Book House, 1950).