The Mitre and Crozier
Symbols of Episcopal Authority
The mitre is the bishop's headdress, as in the first picture at right. Originally it was cone-shaped. Then, as the Catholic Encyclopedia explains (s.v. "mitre"), "Towards 1100 the mitre began to have a curved shape above and to grow into a round cap. In many cases there soon appeared a depression in the upper part similar to the one which is made when a soft felt hat is pressed down on the head from the forehead to the back of the head." By the 13th this shape had evolved into what would be recognized as today's form, with two sharp "horns" and two "lappets," bands that hang from the back (Figure 1). As Innocent III put it, "the two horns are the two testaments and the two fringes are the spirit and the letter."
Above: St. Nicholas receives his mitre. Below: The mitre of St. Louis of Toulouse.
The "horns" also recall the horns or light rays often pictured on Moses' head, a metaphor for the radiance on his face when he came down from the mountain in Exodus 34:29 and for the power of the Old and New Testaments to enlighten the faithful. The medieval rite for consecrating bishops, still in use today, affirms the bishop's mitre as a symbol that "with his head armed with the horns of either Testament he may appear terrible to the opponents of truth."1

In many late-medieval images two decorated bands are embroidered on the mitre, one vertical in front and one horizontal at the base, as in the picture of St. Louis of Tou­louse at left.

The crozier is a staff shaped like a shepherd's crook that symbolizes the authority of a bishop or abbot. When a new bishop is ordained, the crozier is presented to him with the words "Take this staff of pastoral office, and be forceful in correcting vice, judge without anger, be gentle in promoting virtue in the souls of those who hear you, and in tranquility do not neglect to censure severely" (Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. "Crosier.")

Images of croziers have been found in catacombs dating from the 4th century, and their use in liturgy goes back at least as far as the 5th (ibid.).

In form and symbolic value the crozier closely resembles the heqa pictured on images of the pharoahs of Egypt and the Roman governors who succeeded them (Dunn). In the cult of Isis that was widespread in the first few centuries A.D., that goddess was portrayed holding a heqa as a symbol of her authority.
Cleopatra VII and her son Caesarion make offerings to Isis, who holds a heqa in her left hand symbolizing her authority.
Source: John Bartram, "Cleopatra VII and Rome."

Prepared in 2018 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University. Revised 2020-06-19.

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St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan, with his mitre and crozier. (See the description page.)


The symbols of Tutankhamen's authority: a flail and a heqa.
Photo by JRS, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

NOTES

1 Mellinkoff, 94-98. Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. "Mitre."

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