Mitre (Gr. ), an ornament worn upon the head by certain ecclesiastics of the Roman Catholic and Greek churches, consisting of a stiff cap rising in two points, one before and the other behind, and having two ribbon-like pendants which fall on the shoulders. In the strict generic sense, the ancient mitra was a scarf which was sometimes bound around the thyrsus of Bacchus and his votaries in the celebration of his rites. In a secondary sense, it was a scarf worn like a turban by the Persians and Arabians, and by the women of Greece.
Persian Mitra, from a Pompeiian Mosaic.
Greek Mitra. from a Bust at Dresden.
The mitra worn by the Phrygians and Amazons was a pointed cloth cap tied by strings or lappets under the chin. Bacchus was often represented with a mitra, from which the Greeks gave him the name The Persian deity Mithra and the Egyptian god Osiris appear with a similar head covering, and it has also been traced in India. The Jewish high priests wore the mitznepheth, which was copied from the mitre made for Aaron (Exod. xxviii.), on the front of which, over a blue lace, was a plate of pure gold, having engraven on it, "like the engravings of a signet, Holiness to the Lord." When the mitre was first adopted by Christian ecclesiastics is uncertain, but it is supposed that its first form was a circlet of silver gilt or of gold, set sometimes with precious stones, and called or corona, and or diadema. In the 6th century John of Cappadocia, bishop of Constantinople, added to this band embroidered fringes and sacred images, in the western churches a white linen kerchief was worn, tied behind by a bandage, the ends of which fell on the shoulders. In the beginning of the 8th century it was customary to wear both the kerchief and the corona. In the latter part of the loth century the mitre was a close-fitting cap with a round top; in the 11th the horns began to show themselves in two short points on the sides above each ear; and in the 12th century these had grown into low round protuberances. Toward the beginning of the 13th century the mitre took a different shape, the two horns being more elevated and worn in front and behind, as at present. At the period of the renaissance it assumed its present bulging shape and undue height. Three kinds of mitres are now used in the Roman church: the precious mitre, often made of gold or silver and adorned with gems; the gold-embroidered mitre, made of cloth of gold or white silk embroidered with gold; and the plain mitre, of white damask or linen, with red edging or fringe on the lappets.
The use of the mitre is not restricted to bishops; cardinals, abbots of great houses by special papal privilege, and canons of highly favored cathedrals or royal collegiate churches, are allowed to wear it. In the English church the mitre has not been worn since the coronation of Queen Elizabeth.
Phrygian Mitra. from a Pompeiian Painting.