The headdress worn in liturgical functions by bishops and other ecclesiastical prelates (mitered abbots) as a symbol of their special dignity. It is constructed of two stiffened triangular pieces, rounded at the sides and reaching to a point, sewn together laterally and united above by a fold of cloth. Two lappets (infulae ) trimmed at the ends with fringe hang down from the back. Historically, there were three forms of miter: pretiosa or precious miter (often ornamented with jewels), auriphrygiata (with cloth of gold) and simplex (white silk or linen). Worn during various liturgical actions, the miter is always put aside when the bishop prays (1 Cor 11.4).
The origins of the miter are unclear. Probably developing from the camelaucum worn by the civil officials of the late roman empire, this distinctive headpiece was allowed by Emperor constantine i to Christian bishops in recognition of the role he had assigned them in the imperial hierarchy. Its history seems to be analogous to that of the phrygium, the predecessor of the papal tiara, claimed by popes in the donation of Constantine. It is known that Pope constantine i in the early eighth century wore the camelaucum on a visit to Constantinople (Liber pontificalis, 1:390). There seems to be no relationship between the Episcopal miter and the crown or màtra (Latin, mitra ) used in both the East and the West by women and old men.
Prior to the 12th century the episcopal miter assumed many shapes: it was cone-shaped or simply a hat with a rounded crown of soft material, the lower edge of which ended in an ornamental band. Two lappets might be attached to the back of the miter. During the 12th century the rounded miter was often indented back across the top, producing prominent horns (cornua ) at the right and left sides of the crown. These might be round or puffed as the result of an ornamental band that passed from front to back across the indentation; or they might end in a point, stiffened with parchment or other lining. By the end of the century the appearance of the miter was changed by moving the cornua a quarter circle causing them accordingly to rise centrally, front and back. From the 13th century the miter gradually grew in height and evolved into the roughly triangular shape it has in the 20th century. It has been observed that miters used today in the Church of England and the Episcopal Church in the United States, approximate the height of those in the late 15th and early 16th century; Roman miters, on the other hand, continued to grow in height and ornamentation into the 17th century. But in the absence of an exact comparative study of the headdress of bishops and abbots through the centuries, no precise dating of distinguishable developments is possible.
The first written mention of the miter is found in the bull of Pope leo ix (Regesta pontificum romanorum ab condita ecclesia ad annum post Christum natum 1198, 4158) of 1049. In this document, confirming the primacy of the church of Trier, Leo granted Eberhard of Trier the right to use the Roman miter in performing the offices of the Church. In 1051 the same pope allowed the miter to the cardinal priests of the diocese of Besançon. The first authentic grant of the miter to an abbot dates from 1063, when Pope alexander ii conferred the miter on Abbot Aethelsig of st. augustine's Abbey in Canterbury (Regesta pontificum romanorum ab condita ecclesia ad annum post Christum natum 1198, 4541). At times the privilege of the miter was granted to secular princes, among them the German emperors, Duke Wratislaw of Bohemia and King Peter of Aragon.
In the Greek Church the liturgical head-covering developed apparently from the cap worn by dignitaries of the late Roman Empire, possibly from that of the emperor himself. The Greek pontifical miter is a high hat that swells out toward the top and is spanned diagonally by two hoops; on the highest point of the crown is a cross either standing upright or placed flat.
Bibliography: j. braun, Die liturgische Gewandung im Occident und Orient (Freiburg 1907). e. h. kantorowicz, Laudes regiae: A Study in Liturgical Acclamations and Medieval Ruler Worship (Berkeley 1946). t. klauser, Der Ursprung der bischöflichen Insignien und Ehrenrechte (2d ed. Krefeld 1953). h. norris, Church Vestments (New York 1950). w. ullmann, The Growth of Papal Government in the Middle Ages (2d ed. New York 1962) 312–313. j. mayo, A History of Ecclesiastical Dress (New York 1984). j. c. noonan, The Church Visible: The Ceremonial Life and Protocol of the Roman Catholic Church (New York 1996). Clothed in Glory: Vesting the Church, ed. d. philippart, (Chicago 1997). Liber pontificalis, ed. l. duchesne, v.1–2 (Paris 1886–92) v.3 (Paris 1958). p. jaffÉ, Regesta pontificum romanorum ab condita ecclesia ad annum post Christum natum 1198, ed. s. lÖwenfeld, 882–1198, 2 v. (2d ed. Leipzig 1881–88; repr. Graz 1956).
[o. j. blum/eds.]