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An Observation on Bishops’ Mitres

Apropos of nothing in particular, I was musing the other day, as you do, about the extraordinary lengths that bishops’ mitres go to these days. Or perhaps one should say, the extraordinary heights that they reach. Have you noticed? I do wonder how they keep them on in a high wind – is there some internal arrangement of rubber bands and combs that attach them to the head? This would work for a woman bishop, but except for our recent Archbishop of Canterbury, the bishops I can think of do not have noticeably thick heads of hair. Perhaps they use superglue?

It was not always thus. In earlier days, a mitre was an altogether more modest form of headgear, only slightly loftier than a biretta. And of course Archbishops of Canterbury tend to build up  a wardrobe of mitres, so I could also find images of slightly smaller ones. I have only seen our new Archbishop of Canterbury in one mitre so far, and that is on the modest side.

But by way of comparison and contrast, may I offer you some random Archbishops of Canterbury from an earlier era? Of course, I realise there were exceptions so I include a leaning tower of Pisa of a mitre to save you the trouble of finding the exception. But I would be interested if anyone thinks I have got this wrong – maybe it is all in my fevered imagination?

Of course, if one were as unkind as one is impertinent, one might propose a new theory –  to rival Newton and Einstein? –

The height of an Anglican bishop’s mitre is in inverse proportion to the power that he actually wields.

13 comments on this post:

Ken Howard said...

This discussion of bishops’ mitres brings to mind the story of Martin of Tours, whom those who wished to elect him their bishop had to carry off an elaborate ruse to get him to show up for the election (he had previously declined even to accept an position in the church higher than an exorcist/healer). They went to his hermitage with a story that a dear friend was grievously ill, upon the news of which he agreed to be transported into the town of Tours. He began to suspect something was afoot when cheering crowds began to gather along the roadside. His suspicions were confirmed when, upon entering Tours, the cart in which he was riding turned toward the cathedral rather than the friend’s home. Once Martin was safely delivered to the cathedral, the people unanimously voiced their desire that he become bishop, overwhelming the voice of those in the hierarchy who considered his hermitly life an unseemly background for a bishop. Eventually, Martin agreed to be elected bishop of Tours on three conditions:
1. He would not reside at the cathedral except when specifically episcopal tasks made it necessary, but rather would return to his hermitage in the interim.

2. He would not sit in the Bishop’s throne when conducting episcopal business, but on a stool next to it.

And most relevant to our discussion…

3. He would not wear the mitre when conducting episcopal business but would carry it with him (unfortunately, for the purposes of testing this theory, I have no idea how large the mitre was).

Now that’s my kind of bishop!

Ken Howard

layanglicana said...

Thank-you Ken! It’s so hard to get the balance between ‘servant’ and ‘king’ right, isn’t it…

08 February 2013 12:49
08 February 2013 11:51
Chris Fewings said...

I do wish we could do away with mitres, and enthronements. They are crowns, aren’t they? As such they should be cast before the altar. Men still remove their hats in church, except bishops – are they superhuman?

I understand that John V Taylor initially refused to wear his when he was made bishop of Winchester.

layanglicana said...

I suspect that there is a wealth of pressure behind that ‘initially’ – it’s not just the occupants of thrones who relish the pomp and ceremony, and I suppose it has always been seen as part of the ‘bread and circuses’ emperors need to offer their subjects.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Ha ha. Wonderful post, Laura. I’m with Chris. Down with mitres and thrones. The bishops are to be servants to all under their care. How do mitres and thrones square square with serving? The symbolism is all wrong. Plus, I’ve not yet seen a bishop who doesn’t look silly wearing a mitre.

08 February 2013 16:09
08 February 2013 13:16
08 February 2013 12:50
John said...

I was once deaconing for a rather conservative Bishop, as I helped him vest, he said apropo nothing at all, “John what ever people tell you to the contrary, Episcopacy all about the correct attitude to millinery!’, and smiled a knowing smile! 🙂

08 February 2013 22:13
Lay Anglicana said...

This thread has elicited a fascinating exchange on Facebook, which I reproduce here with kind permission from the participants.
Laura Sykes to Professor Sir Diarmaid MacCulloch I thought you might be amused by a ‘think piece’ I have written on the variable height of bishops’ mitres. I wonder whether I am on the right track historically? :>)

Diarmaid MacCulloch Ha ha ha! You certainly are, though you could also remark that those modest mitres were also worn by distinctly powerful abbesses. And elsewhere I have been known to recast that wise remark about those gentlemen who drive very big sports cars.

Robin Ward Those are not tall mitres. This is a tall mitre:

Laura Sykes Indeed. My chaste pen…:>)

Diarmaid MacCulloch I rest my case, m’lud.

Diarmaid MacCulloch Wasn’t Bishop O’Rourke of Accra, whose (cenotaph? tomb?) is to be found in the sanctuary of Our Lady of Walsingham, supposed to have worn the tallest mitre in the Anglican Communion?

Laura Sykes Great Scot, Robin!

Robin Ward He was indeed:
1931 Sacred Ministers
The three sacred ministers of the mass before the Translation procession, Octobe…See more

Tom Carpenter
I think he’s in the chapel of the annunciation, isn’t he? Depicted napping in a very tall mitre.

Richard Ashby
Well Bp Martin Warner is a small man and has an enormous mitre (or at least the one he wore for his installation was) And no sniggering at the back there please.

Robin Ward Not as big as the one he wore for the Immaculate Conception here:

Diarmaid MacCulloch No comment.

Robin Ward And here is SSH alumnus Archbishop Hovnan Derderian wearing a very big mitre indeed:

Presentation of Der Mesrob Ash and Yeretskeen Annie. Earlier today at St. John Armenian Church, SF. Doves were released and all.
by: David Ojakian

Robin Ward Better view:
Untitled Album
by: Abp Hovnan Derderian

Nicholas Groves
Maurice Wood was notorious for not wearing a mitre during the whole time he was at Norwich (not a cope, to start with though once he was got into one, it was hard to get him out of it). After he retired, someone saw him wearing one, and taxed him with this. ‘I really can’t think why I made all that fuss when I was at Norwich’, he said.

Diarmaid MacCulloch Often the way with Evangelical bishops.

Paul Halsall
The first post reformation English bishop to wear a mitre was Edward King of Lincoln, and that was about 1900, and caused a huge fuss.

Diarmaid MacCulloch Though Archbishop Harsnet is depicted in one on his brass at Chigwell (Essex) of 1632: he was a mischievous man. Slightly more predictably, Robert Pursglove, suffragan Bishop of Hull, was still portrayed in a mitre on his brass at Tideswell in Derbyshire in 1579.

Robin Ward I think that mitres were worn at coronations until that of George III? Residual protestantism excluded them from being worn during the actual rite I think even in 1953. Cosmo Lang was the first Archbishop to wear one; he was also very keen on the purple skull cap. I have got Edward King’s mitres here – they are very low indeed.

Nicholas Groves
Wasn’t there a Restoration-period (IIRC) bishop who had one carried before him on a cushion?
I also recall a story that, in the early C19, the assembled bishops were thinking of reintroducing the use of the mitre, and they ordered up a selection from a church supplier (I assume RC). They got one of their number to try them on, but he was wearing his episcopal wig, and they thought wig + mitre looked so silly that they shelved the question. Can’t find its source: I had thought it was in Chadwick’s Victorian Church, but it’s not.

Roger Mortimer said...

A silver mitre owned by Bishop Wren of Ely (1660-67) was, and presumably still is, preserved at Pembroke College, Cambridge. The condition of it’s lining supposedly indicates that it was worn, bit over 350 years that would probably be the case regardless –

The mitre of Samuel Seabury, second presiding bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church (1789-1792) is owned by the diocese of Connecticut.

11 February 2013 16:49
11 February 2013 10:52
Ian said...

But I don’t know why Anglican bishops wear them at all. Isn’t this a post-Oxford Movement innovation?

I have also tracked a rather amusing/shocking connection with the modern Israeli military, which should serve as a warning to all…

11 February 2013 12:45
Geoff. said...

Even though their style varies in the eastern churches, the mitre is the universal headgear of bishops in the whole Catholic Church; Roman, Orthodox, and Anglican.e

06 September 2013 01:44
Geoff. said...

Whoops! Re the last comment from Geoff. Only on scrolling back to the top did I note that it was for lay people’s blogs and i am a priest.

Lay Anglicana said...

First of all, Geoff, thank-you for reading my little piece, and also for commenting. I do apologise for taking so long to reply to you, and indeed to ‘approve’ the comment. I have been moving house and BT decreed I could only have internet access in one place at a time, so this meant I had none in the place I was living until today.

We are always grateful for interaction with our clerical friends (and even any that aren’t friends!). To quote our own rubric, ” Our aim is to unify the numerically important – but hierarchically insignificant – laity of the Church of England, and to build bridges with other Anglican lay people across the Communion. We welcome contributions from the clergy and indeed from other Christian denominations: we hope Lay Anglicana will be useful, not just as a place for lay Anglicans to talk to each other, but as a place where we can all seek to understand the viewpoint of ‘bishops, priests and deacons’ as well as Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Catholics and so on. (And perhaps it may offer a place where they in turn seek to understand us?) “

11 September 2013 13:01
06 September 2013 01:47
theoldadam said...

They (the miters) represent a ‘channel’ for God’s grace to flow into the person wearing the hat. Then they can distribute that grace accordingly to the faithful.

Totally different than how God’s grace and Word actually work. It makes God’s grace dependent upon men. Wrong.

12 April 2014 13:34

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