Exceptions from the Rule: Coloured Mitres

The history of the mitre as a garment dates back to Roman times, originally as a non-liturgical headdress for the pope. This garment was called the "camelaucum" and is the predessor to both the mitre and the papal tiara. The mitre, taken in in its present form as well as in liturgical usage, comes later, being dated to appcoximately the twelfth century (and even later, the sixteenth century, in the Byzantine liturgy). 

Many will of course know that the shape of the mitre, like the shape of the chasuble, evolved over the centuries. We will only touch on this briefly for now and treat of this subject in more detail in another article.

What many may not realize, in the light of our present times when, since the 1970's, is that mitres were historically usually white; they were not aligned to the liturgical colours of the vestments -- no doubt in part because it was not originally a liturgical vestment, so it perhaps maintained this distinction this way. 

Indeed, that may seem strange to some as nowadays it is  common to see mitres made to match the vestments:

This, however, is not the tradition. Perhaps I should say 'dominant' tradition because the fact is that we can find historical examples of coloured mitres (though I cannot say I've ever come across a coloured mitre that was specifically made with the same materials and decorations of the other liturgical ornaments like we see in the instance above). 

Traditionally, there were three types of mitres and they were always based upon white/silver/gold (with silver and gold being a substitute for white just as it is in the case of vestments.  By around the thirteenth century we could identify three types of mitres. The simple one (basically a white coloured, relatively plain mitre), the golden/orphreyed mitre (frequently seen since the renaissance using plain cloth of gold, but it could also be white) and finally the precious mitre, which might also include precious stones and the like.  Regardless then of the liturgical colour of the day, white formed the basis of all mitres.

In this regard, this idea of having a mitre matching the liturgical colour of the day is, if not novel as a notion, then at very least we can that it is histoically an exception to the rule.  Coloured mitres do exist historically speaking. Interestingly one of the most common colours to see such mitres in is the colour red, and not infrequently blue as well. Others, like Cardinal Cisneros' black mitre found in our examples below can also be located. 

Today I thought we would take a look at a few of these rare, coloured mitres from history.



The black mitre of Cardinal Cisneros (+1517)

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