The mitre (sometimes also spelled miter), from the Greek μίτρα, 'headband' or 'turban', is a type of headgear now known as the traditional, ceremonial head-dress of bishops and certain abbots in the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, some Lutherans, and also bishops and certain other clergy in the Eastern Orthodox Church, Eastern Catholic Churches and the Oriental Orthodox Churches.
The camelaucum (Greek: καμιλαύκιον, kamilaukion), the headdress both the mitre and the Papal tiara stem from, was originally a cap used by officials of the Imperial Byzantine court. "The tiara [from which the mitre originates] probably developed from the Phrygian cap, or frigium, a conical cap worn in the Greco-Roman world. In the 10th century the tiara was pictured on papal coins. Other sources claim the tiara developed the other way around, from the mitre. Its use has possible precedents in the Phrygian mithraic sacrifice and the mitre-like headdress signifying enlightenment and received at a priests inauguration. In the late Empire it developed into the closed type of Imperial crown used by Byzantine Emperors (see illustration of Michael III, 842-867).
In Western Europe, the mitre was first used in ancient Rome by the Salii and other priests, and outside of Rome about the year 1000. Worn by a bishop, the mitre is depicted for the first time in two miniatures of the beginning of the eleventh century. The first written mention of it is found in a Bull of Pope Leo IX in the year 1049. By 1150 the use had spread to bishops throughout the West; by the 14th century the tiara was decorated with three crowns.
In the Roman Catholic church, the right to wear the mitre is confined by Canon law to bishops and to abbots, as it appears in the ceremony of consecration of a bishop and blessing of an abbot. Cardinals are now normally supposed to be bishops (since the time of Pope John XXIII), but even those cardinals who are not bishops and who have been given special permission by the pope to decline consecration as bishops may wear the mitre. Other prelates have been granted the use of the mitre by special privilege, but this is no longer done. Former distinctions between "mitred abbots" and "non-mitred abbots" have been abolished.
Three types of mitres are worn by Roman Catholic clergy for different occasions:
On formal occasions, an altar server will wear a shawl-like veil around his shoulders called a vimpa when holding the bishop's mitre. The vimpa is used to hold the mitre so the server doesn't touch it with his bare hands.
With his inauguration as pope, Benedict XVI has broken with tradition and has replaced the papal tiara even on his papal coat of arms with a papal mitre (containing still the three levels of crowns symbolizing the powers of the Papacy in a simplified form) and pallium. (The traditional tiara is shown on some renderings of his coat of arms, however.) Prior to Benedict XVI, each Pope's coat of arms always contained the image of the papal tiara and St. Peter's crossed keys, even though the tiara had fallen into disuse in recent years, especially under Popes John Paul I and John Paul II. Pope Paul VI was the last pope to date to begin his papal reign with a formal coronation in June 1963. However, as a sign of the need for greater simplification of the papal rites, as well as a sign of the changing nature of the papacy itself, he abandoned the use of his own tiara in a dramatic ceremony in Saint Peter's Basilica during the second session of Vatican II in November 1963. However his 1975 Apostolic Constitution made it clear that the tiara had not been abolished: in it he required that his successor receive a papal coronation. Pope John Paul I, however, declined to follow Pope Paul's instruction and opted for a low-key papal inauguration, a precedent followed by his two successors. Pope John Paul's 1996 Apostolic Constitution left open the option of either a coronation or an inauguration by not specifying what sort of ceremony was to be used, other than that some ceremony must be used to "inaugurate" (begin) a reign. (Technically both coronations and inaugurations fit the description as both inaugurate – ceremonially begin – a reign or term of office.)
Pope Paul donated his tiara (a gift from his former archdiocese of Milan) to the efforts at relieving poverty in the world. Later, Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York received the tiara and took it on tour of the United States to raise funds for the poor. It is now on permanent view in the Crypt Church in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
In the Church of England the mitre fell out of use after the Reformation, but was restored in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a result of the Oxford Movement, and is now worn by most bishops of the Anglican Communion on at least some occasions.
The mitre has always been used in ecclesiastical heraldry to surmount the coats of arms of bishops in the Church of England (instead of a crest, which is not used by clergy). The mitre was suppressed in all personal arms in the Catholic Church in 1969, and is since only found on diocesan coats of arms and other corporate arms. In heraldry the lappets are depicted with red lining.
The Eastern mitre is made in the shape of a bulbous crown, completely enclosed, and the material is of brocade, damask or cloth of gold. It may also be embroidered, and is often richly decorated with jewels. There are normally four icons attached to the mitre (often of Christ, the Theotokos, John the Baptist and the Cross), which the bishop may kiss before he puts it on. Eastern mitres are usually gold, but other liturgical colours may be used.
The mitre is topped by a cross, either made out of metal and standing upright, or embroidered in cloth and lying flat on the top. In Greek practice, the mitres of all bishops are topped with a standing cross. In the Russian tradition, only archbishops and higher will have the standing cross, all others will have the cross lying flat. Sometimes, instead of the flat cross, the mitre may have an icon on the top.
As an item of Imperial regalia, along with other such items as the sakkos (Imperial dalmatic) and epigonation, the mitre came to signify the temporal authority of bishops (especially that of the Patriarch of Constantinople) within the administration of the Rum millet (i.e., the Christian community) of the Ottoman Empire. The mitre is removed at certain solemn moments during the Divine Liturgy and other services, usually being removed and replaced by the protodeacon.
The use of the mitre is a prerogative of bishops, but it may be awarded to archpriests, protopresbyters and archimandrites. The priestly mitre is not surmounted by a cross, and is awarded at the discretion of a synod of bishops.
Oriental Orthodox bishops sometimes use mitres, either of the Western or Eastern style. In the past, Coptic bishops have worn the ballin, an omophorion wound around the head like a turban. The Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria will often wear an Eastern-style mitre. Coptic priests frequently wear a mitre, similar to a Western bishop's mitre.
Armenian Orthodox bishops wear tall and distinctively tapered Western-style mitres. The Armenian bishop's mitre differs from its Western counterpart in that the points at the top are usually joined together. Armenian priests regularly wear Byzantine-style mitres (symbolyzing the sovereignty of Christ). On certain solemn occasions, Armenian deacons will wear the mitre also, although the deacon's mitre is somewhat narrower than that of the priest.
The mitral valve of the human heart, which is located between the left atrium and the left ventricle, is named so because of its similarity in shape to the mitre. Andreas Vesalius, the father of anatomy, noted the stiking similarity between the two while performing anatomic dissections in the sixteenth century.