Why do Catholic Bishops wear funny hats?

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bishop's miterNo, it’s not so we can tell which piece they are on the chess board. Although, that does help doesn’t it?

As far as we can remember, hats (or headdresses) have been part of human culture. We just seem to like to wear things on our heads.

Throughout history, hats have been used to help identify people. Whether it’s as a member of a certain team, a rank in the military, or a special occasion, it says something about that person and what they’re doing.

Especially large hats usually signaled a sign of authority or importance. Kings would wear huge, elaborate crowns. The captain of the ship had the tallest hat. The bishops of the Church are no different.

That tall hat that bishops wear is called a “miter” (or mitre). In the Greek and Latin it is called “mitra” which means crown.

They often look funny in today’s fashions, especially to those that haven’t seen them before. But this practice seems to actually go back to the apostles themselves – and actually before that.

We see that even in the old testament, the Jewish leaders – the high priests – were required to be set apart by what they wore, and particularly by wearing miters (Exodus 29:6, Leviticus 8:9, Exodus 28:3-4, Ex. 39:28).

There is also evidence from early Christian writers (Tertullian, Eusebius, Epiphanius and Hegesippus) that the apostles themselves wore miters.

Of course, these miters have changed in design and appearance throughout history. But each design served this purpose of setting apart the bishop as somebody important. And not because personally he’s better than everybody else, but because he has been set apart to play a special role in the administration of Christ’s Church. He has been chosen by the Church and by God to hold certain authority through his apostolic succession.

The Catholic Church is a visible Church led by visible people. The bishop’s miter is one of the ways that we can identify and recognize our visible leaders, the bishops – in real life, and yes, even in a game of chess.

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Robert Tobin February 23, 2010 at 6:28 pm

This is His Lordship’s TEA COSY. He puts his teapot on his head and that his tea cosy to keep it warm.

claire September 29, 2010 at 5:26 pm

hey! i am 11 years old and want to know why the bishop has 2 flaps on the back of his hat and what they are called. Can someone please tell me?

liam May 21, 2011 at 4:29 pm

2 flaps on back are called lapperts

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