The Tiaras of the Popes: Pope Pius XI

The papal tiara is, of course, one of the most widely known and recognized symbols of the papacy, though it should be noted that it is not a liturgical one and, as such, its use was limited to non-liturgical ceremonial occasions or as part of papal processions. Historically first mention of this headdress dates back to the early eighth century -- though its form was not the same as we now know it today, being instead a white. helmet like headdress. It is thought by the tenth century the first circlet "crown" would appear (at the base), eventually transforming into two crowns under Pope Boniface VIII in the thirteenth century, and finally to the triple crown we now know by the mid fourteenth century. The symbolism of this triple crown was intended to signify the triple power of the Roman pontiff as the father of kings, governor of the world and Vicar of Christ on earth. However, in addition to this symbolism, it was also said that the triple crown symbolized the Church Triumphant, the Church Militant and the Church Suffering. 

Development of the Tiara

Gregory X with a n intermediary, single crown tiara

Some might be interested to learn that some scholars suggest that the tiara pre-dates the actual liturgical headdress of popes and prelates, the mitre, but there is by no means universal agreement on this point.

At any rate, our purpose here today is not intended to be a history of the tiara and mitre but rather to consider an example of a particularly noble and beautiful one that was gifted to Pope Pius XI by the Milanese -- whom, regrettably, have become more infamously known for the rather less attractive tiara that they gifted to Pope Paul VI, informally nicknamed "the bullet" by many. However, this reputation is certainly undeserved and perhaps this example will help to salvage their reputation in this specific regard, for if they were responsible for producing one of the arguably uglier tiaras of modern history, it can also be said they were likewise responsible for producing one of the more noble one's as well.

The Pian tiara is noteworthy for its relative noble simplicity, for while it is ornamental it yet has a very simple form and style of decoration at its core (even if not in its materials).  The tiara in question was presented to the Pius XI in 1922 and is constituted of three golden crowns set upon a silver mesh. While the design also contain pearls, rubies and diamonds, what particularly stands out in the design are the beautiful green emeralds set against these golden crowns.  These emeralds are in turn complemented and further accented by green enamelled leaves that form the crowns. The end result is truly quite stunning.

The lappets of the tiara (the two appendages at the back that look like two small stoles) are made from silk, embroidered with the stemma of Pope Pius XI as well as small images of tongues of fire -- representative of the Holy Spirit. 

Photos of Pope Pius XI are rather less common than his immediate successors, however we do have at least two photographs showing him wearing the tiara in question. 

While its use by popes is both long and storied, the papal tiara has not been worn by a pope since the time of Pope Paul VI -- very much in the zeitgeist of the 1960's and 70's. Of course, that particular period of history is long since over and evidently any current or future pope could choose to resurrect this papal symbol if he so wished. 

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