The Tiaras of the Popes: Gregory XVI

Perhaps one of the most elegant, and thus also most frequently used, papal tiaras was that of Pope Gregory XVI (though the lappets seen on it now are from the time of Pope Pius IX) made for the pontiff in 1834. Given its particularly beauty it should probably come as little surprise that it was one of the papal tiaras that is most commonly seen in use by successive popes. (It is worth noting that another very similarly designed tiara was also later produced for Pope Pius IX specifically.)

Gregory XVI reigned as pope for the years 1831 through 1846, but prior to that he was a Camaldolese monk who, at age 40, was appointed the Abbot of the monastery of San Gregorio located on the Caelian Hill in Rome. Unfortunately for him, this was during the time of the French invasion of Rome and as such he was forced to flee.  He would eventually make it back to Rome, however, where he became the Vicar General of his order and would eventually be made Prefect for the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith.  He was on two occasions during this time offered to be made a bishop and in both instances he refused the honour. in 1825 he was made a cardinal by Pope Leo XII. 

He was a notable diplomat, successfully negotiating the protection of Catholics in the North of Europe, as well as for Armenian Catholics within the Ottoman Empire. 

It may come as a surprise to some modern Catholics (who are accustomed to Cardinals already being consecrated bishops) that when Gregory XVI was elected Roman pontiff, while he was a cardinal, he was not yet a bishop (since indeed, technically one can be a cardinal without being a bishop). As such, the first step following his election to the Roman pontificate was to be consecrated a bishop. It is perhaps not without a certain irony that one of the most splendid of modern papal tiaras was that of a simple monk who had resisted the honour of being elevated to the episcopacy.

It may come to some interest to our readers as well that Pope Gregory XVI was a pope who had written an apostolic letter condemning the slave trade, In Supremo Apostolatus

All of this is perhaps a pertinent reminder that while many are quick to jump on items like the papal tiara, assuming worldly or other unworthy motives on the part of the wearer, one should not judge a book by its cover. The beauty which was invested in items like tiaras, vestments, churches and so on, is frequently a manifestation of the dignity of an office (as in the case of the tiara) or the dignity of the sacred rites and their purposes as offerings designated toward the worship of God. Indeed, the worthiness of these objects was precisely meant to reflect to the world, the fundamental divine order by which God is first in all. 

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