Rorate Caeli

Insignia of the Pope

The Papal tiara, like the mitre, seems to have been derived from the camelaucum or regnum, and to have retained the from of a tall pointed cap for many centuries. As a head-covering for the Pope, it is first called a tiara in the life of Paschal II (1099-1118) [1]. An 11th-century fresco of Nicholas I (858-67) in the lower church of S. Clemente (Rome) depicts the tiara as a high and pointed coneshaped hat, ornamented with a gold band. This gold circlet or ‘crown’ on the ‘imperial phrygium’ is referred to by Suger, abbot of St. Denis (Paris), in 1130. Ordo Romanus XI (12th century) makes a definite distinction between the mitre and the tiara. By the 13th century, the gold circlet was already fashioned in the form of a tooth-edged crown (regnum), to which a second was added under Boniface VIII (1294-1303) and a third under Clement V (13-5-14), from which is derived the triregnum. The form of the headgear, however, remained until the 14th century a tall cap, resembling a sugar-loaf, from which two black lappets (caudae) were suspended [2].

The inventory of papal treasures made in 1295 still shows a single royal circlet round the tiara. The second crown may have been added as an expression of pomp, but it is more probably explained as an indication of the twofold authority of the Pope – spiritual et temporal. The first notice of the three crowns is found in an inventory made in 1315 or 1316, and the tomb of Benedict XI, who died at Perugia in 1304, shows the early type of tiara. The effigy of Clement V (ob. 1314) at Uzès was unfortunately so mutilated by the Hunguenots that it is impossible to ascertain the form of the ‘hat’, but there are still only two crowns on the tomb of John XXII (ob. 1334) at Avignon. The first monument to represent the Pope with the triple crown is that of the Cistercian Benedict XII (ob. 1342), which is also to be seen at Avignon.

From the end of the middle ages, the upper part of the tiara had a growing tendency to ‘break loose’, until it became larger than the base, allowing for a rich ornamentation of chasing and precious stones. The small cross on the top of the tiara was introduced in the 16th century. The tiara is not strictly a liturgical ornament, and at solemn functions the Pope wears a mitre, while the tiara is carried before him. It is, however, worn for the ceremony of coronation, the return to the sacristy after a solemn Mass, and in the procession to and from the Mass commemorative of the anniversary of the coronation.

The ostrich-feather fans or flabella, which are carried on either side of the papal sedia gestatoria and flank the throne on solemn occasions, may possibly be derived form the fan once used by the deacon during the canon of the Mass [3]. Two of these fans are found today in the museum of the University of Pennsylvania, having been exchanged for another pair by an American in 1902.

The falda is a vestment peculiar to the Pope, consisting of a long and large skirt of white silk with a train falling over the feet. The Pope girds it round his loins, and when walking has it raised in front by two protonotaries apostolic.

The fanon, as we have seen, is referred to, under the name of anabolagium, in Ordo Romanus I for use at the stational Mass of the Pope, but it was not until it became customary for all priests to wear an amice with the alb that the fanon became an exclusively papal vestment. By the time of Innocent III (1198-1216), the fanon was worn exclusively by the Pope, but it was known as an orale, and the term fanon was not employed until later [4]. The remote derivation of the fanon thus seems to have been the same as that of the amice, but it has been considered by some writers to be either an imitation of the veil worn by Greek bishops or an attenuated successor of the Byzantine phelonion. Its form and material in early times is uncertain, but we see from an inventory of the papal treasury (1295) that it was made of white silk in the later middle ages. A favourite ornamentation was one of narrow stripes of gold or of some colour, especially red, woven into the silk. The fanon was square in shape until the 15th century, and its present cape-like form seems to have appeared about the 16th century or even later.

Its present form and usage have been described by Braun in the Catholic Encyclopedia: ‘It is a shoulder cape worn by the Pope alone, consisting of two pieces of white silk ornamented with narrow woven stripes (virgatum) of red and gold but somewhat unequal size, while the smaller iis laid on and fastened to the larger one. To allow the head to pass through there is made in the middle a round opening with a vertical slit running down farther. The front part of the fanon is ornamented with a small cross embroidered in gold…

After the cardinal deacon has vested the Pope for a solemn Mass with the usual amice [5], alb, girdle, subcinctorium and pectoral cross, he draws on, by means of the opening, the fanon and the turns the half of the upper piece towards the back of the Pope’s head. Then, when he has given the stole, tunicle, dalmatic and chasuble, he turns down that part of the fanon which had been placed over the head of the Pope, draws the front half of the upper piece aboce the tunicle, dalmatic, and chasuble, and finally arranges the whole upper piece of the fanon so that it covers the shoulders of the Pope like a collar.’ [6]. St. Pius X had a fanon in two separate pieces, as he found vesting with it in a single piece was awkward.

The suncinctorium, which is attached to the cincture, is similar both in form and character to the maniple. It is woven in gold, with large flattened ends, one of which is embroidered with a small Agnus Dei, and the other with a cross. A sacramentary of the end of the 10th century, now in the Bibliothèque Nationale at Paris [7], refers to it under the name of balteus, and in the ‘Mass of Illyricus’ it is called praecinctorium [8]. Other names for the vestment include subcingulum, perizoma [9] and subcinctorium. It was probably used first in France, and was introduced into Italy about the end of the first millennium. Medieval documents refer to the subcinctorium as a band attached to the cincture of the bishop, but it was worn sometimes by simple priests.

The original form of the vestment is doubtful, but Honorius of Autun (ob. 1145 or c. 1152) says: Subcingulum, quod perizoma vel subcinctorium dicitur, circa pudenda duplex suspenditur [10]. And again elsewhere, in speaking of the ‘arms’ of the priest: cingulo pro arcu se cingit, subcingulum pro pharetra sibi [11]. John de Guerciis, a Milanese writer of the 13th century, tells us: et est subcingulum quoddam in stola quod ligature cum cingulo. Its original purpose according to Durandus (ob. 1296) was to secure the stole to the cincture [12], but it may have been a relic of the alms-bag which was attached to the girdle and carried on journeys, in order to scatter largesse as the papal or Episcopal cortege went on its way. It would seem to have been a band some centimeters wide that was doubled an attached to the girdle about the waist.

The subcinctorium gradually ceased to be worn by priests and bishops, and about the close of thr 13th century it had become no more than an ornamental vestment, which by the 16th century was reserved exclusively to the Pope and to the bishops who followed the Ambrosian rite.


[1] Lib. Pontif., edit. Duchesne, II, 296.
[2] The lappets were black in colour until the 15th century.
[3] Cf. Carmelite and Oriental rites. Cf. O.R. XIV, 53; Pat. Lat., t. LXXVIII, col. 1165.
[4] Late Latin fano, from πῆνος, cloth, woven fabric.
[5] The fanon was worn originally without an amice.
[6] Braun, Fanon, Cath. Encyclop., vol. V, p. 785.
[7] Paris, Bibl. Nat., MS. F. lat. 12052.
[8] The Mass provides a prayer Ad praecinctorium: Praecinge me, Domine, virtute, et pone in immaculatam viam meam. Bona, op. cit., append., p. 474.
[9] Gk., περιζώννύμι, to gird round oneself, put on as a belt.
[10] Honor., Gemma animae, lib. I, cap. CCVI; Hittrop, op. cit., col. 1232.
[11] Ibid., lib. I, cap. LXXXII; ibid., col. 1203.
[12] Subcingulum, quod dependet a cingulo quo stola Pontificis cum ipso cingulo colligatur. Durand., Rat., lib. III, cap. I, n. 3.


David said...

Somewhat off topic but I just wanted to ask whether anyone knows if there was such a thing as the "papal oath" sworn by Popes at their coronation.

From a searching on the internet it seems that traditionalists are blamed for creating the myth that such an oath was ever taken:

"There is no evidence that any pope took such an oath during his coronation ceremony."

PaddyHadley said...

How sad that Popes were persuaded to copy the worst excesses of medieval tyrants when they dressed themselves up in all that appalling tat.

Now that in the vast majority of nations the rulers do not wear such gaudy and outrageous clothing is it not time for the successor of St Peter to have a big clear out of his wardrobes.

New Catholic said...

Yes, they should now wear shorts and white t-shirts, and sweats in winter, as their fellow elderly (most retired) do; and a white suit, white shirt, white tie combination for those very solemn occasions.

The Rad Trad said...

By such logic we should cease to meet in parishes—as they are descended from basilicas, pagan meeting halls—and clerics should cease to wear the stole—a vestment the emperor wore to signify his authority.

Peter Kwasniewski said...

Can any one identify the recorded source of the Gregorian chant in the Papal Falda video? The chant there is sung exceptionally well.

New Catholic said...

It is "Te laudamus Domine omnipotens", an Ambrosian composition.

Michael Watson said...

Wow, I'm not sure if the comment made by Peter Hadley was meant as a sarcastic joke or God forbid, he was actually serious.

I assume that most people on here know that symbols authority are necessary and good. This honor that is paid to authority is reflected back on Christ himself who instituted it. It is for the glory of God and the office that comes from him and not for the person that wears the regalia.

And I would find it very hard to believe that our egalitarian dress like the people rulers today are any less oppressive. The difference is that they oppress in a more subtle and less obvious manner.

Mike said...

It's lamentable (and laughable) to reduce the Successor of Peter to comparison with (alleged) mediaeval tyrants, whose 'worst excesses' I should hardly have thought was their 'appalling tat'. Honestly, I wonder why some people even visit Rorate, let alone comment.

Dieter Philippi said...

I was missing a picture of Pope Benedict XVI's tiara!