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The papal tiara is a crown that was worn by popes of the Catholic Church from as early as the 18th century to the mid-20th. It was last used by Pope Paul VI in 1963 and only at the beginning of his reign.

The name "tiara" refers to the entire headpiece, no matter how many crowns, circlets or diadems have adorned it through the ages,[1][2] while the three-tiered form that it took in the 14th century is also called the triregnum,[3][4] triple tiara,[5][6][7] or triple crown.[8]

From 1843 to 1963, the papal tiara was solemnly placed on the pope's head during a papal coronation. The surviving papal tiaras are all in the triple form, the oldest being of 1772.

A representation of the triregnum combined with two crossed keys of Saint Peter continues to be used as a symbol of the papacy and appears on papal documents, buildings and insignia.


The papal tiara originated from a conical Phrygian cap or frigium.[9][10] Shaped like a candle-extinguisher, the papal tiara and the episcopal mitre were identical in their early forms.[9]

Names used for the papal tiara in the 18th and 19th centuries include camelaucum, pileus, phrygium and pileum phrygium.[9]

A circlet of linen or cloth of gold at the base of the tiara developed into a metal crown, which by about 1300 became two crowns. The first of these appeared at the base of the traditional white papal headgear in the 9th century.[11][12] When the popes assumed temporal power in the Papal States, the base crown became decorated with jewels to resemble the crowns of princes.[11] The second crown is said to have been added by Pope Innocent III (1198–1216) as signifying both his spiritual and temporal power, since he declared that God had set him over kings and kingdoms,[9] or by Pope Boniface VIII.[13] However, a fresco in the Chapel of Saint Sylvester (consecrated in 1247) in the church of the Santi Quattro Coronati in Rome seems to represent the Pope wearing a tiara with two bands and with lappets.[14] The addition of a third crown is attributed to Pope Benedict XI (1303–1304) or Pope Clement V (1305–1314), and one such tiara was listed in an inventory of the papal treasury in 1316[9] (see "Tiara of Saint Sylvester", below). The first years of the 16th century saw the addition of a little globe and cross to top the tiara.[15]

The third crown was added to the papal tiara during the Avignon Papacy (1309–1378), giving rise to the form called the triregnum.[16][17]

After Pope Clement V at Avignon, various versions of the three-crown tiara have been worn by popes also in Rome down to Pope Paul VI, who was crowned with one in 1963.

Lord Twining wrote of a tiara of Pope Boniface VIII that became known as the Tiara of Saint Sylvester:

Twining also notes the various allegorical meanings attributed to the three crowns of the papal tiara, but concludes that "it seems more likely that the symbolism is suggested by the idea that took shape in the 13th and 14th centuries that the Emperor was crowned with three crowns--the silver crown of Germany at Aix-la-Chapelle, the iron crown of Lombardy at Milan or Monza and the golden imperial crown at Rome and therefore the Pope, too, should wear three crowns."[20]

Like a bishop's mitre, a papal tiara has attached to it two lappets,[21][22][23][24] a pair of streamers[24] or pendants that in Latin are called caudae or infulae.[13] These are usually attached at the rear of the tiara, again as on a bishop's mitre, although the mosaic of Pope Clement VIII wearing a triregnum shows them placed forward of the ears. All extant tiaras have them placed at the rear.

The 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia describes the lappets on a bishop's mitre as trimmed on the ends with red fringe.[25][26]

Abandonment of the tiara

Pope Paul VI was crowned with a tiara at the papal coronation. As happened sometimes with previous popes, a new tiara was used, donated by the city of Milan, where he was Archbishop before his election. It was not covered in jewels and precious gems, and was sharply cone-shaped. It was also distinctly heavier than the Palatine Tiara previously in use.[27] Near the end of the third session of the Second Vatican Council in 1964, Paul VI descended the steps of the papal throne in St. Peter's Basilica and ascended to the altar, on which he laid the tiara as a sign of the renunciation of human glory and power in keeping with the renewed spirit of the council. It was announced that the tiara would be sold and the money obtained would be given to charity.[28] The tiara was purchased by Catholics in the United States and is now kept in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC.[27] It is on permanent display in Memorial Hall along with the stole that Pope John XXIII wore at the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Some Traditionalist Catholics considered highly controversial Pope Paul's abandonment of use of one of the most striking symbols of the papacy, the papal tiara, and continued to campaign for its reinstatement.[29] Some branded him an antipope, arguing that no valid pope would surrender the papal tiara.[30][31]

His immediate successor, Pope John Paul I, decided against a coronation, replacing it with an "inauguration". After John Paul I's sudden death, Pope John Paul II told the congregation at his inauguration: "This is not the time to return to a ceremony and an object considered, wrongly, to be a symbol of the temporal power of the Popes."[32]

Paul VI's 1975 Apostolic Constitution Romano Pontifici Eligendo on the manner of electing the Pope, still envisaged that his successors would be crowned.[33] Pope John Paul II, in his 1996 Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici gregis, removed all mention of a papal coronation, replacing it with a reference to an "inauguration".[34]

Though not currently worn as part of papal regalia, the papal tiara still appears on the coats of arms of the Holy See and the flag of Vatican City. Later in his reign John Paul II approved depictions of his arms without the tiara, as with the mosaic floor piece towards the entrance of St Peter's Basilica, where an ordinary mitre takes the place of the tiara. Otherwise, until the reign of Benedict XVI the tiara was also the ornament surmounting a Pope's personal coat of arms, as a tasseled hat (under which a 1969 Instruction of the Holy See forbade the placing of a mitre, a second hat)[35] surmounted those of other prelates. Pope Benedict XVI's personal coat of arms replaced the tiara with a mitre containing three levels reminiscent of the three tiers on the papal tiara.[36] The mitre was retained on Pope Francis' personal coat of arms.

Each year, a small papal tiara is placed on the head of the famous bronze statue of Saint Peter in St. Peter's Basilica from the vigil of the Feast of the Cathedra of Saint Peter on 22 February until the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul on 29 June.[37] This custom was not observed in 2006, but was reintroduced in 2007.


Although often referred to as the Papal Tiara, historically there have been many, and twenty-two remain in existence. Many of the earlier papal tiaras (most notably the tiaras of Pope Julius II[39] and that attributed to Pope Saint Silvester) were destroyed, dismantled or seized by invaders (most notably by Berthier's army in 1798), or by popes themselves; Pope Clement VII had all the tiaras and papal regalia melted down in 1527 to raise the 400,000 ducats ransom demanded by the occupying army of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Over twenty silver tiaras exist, of which the earliest, the sole survivor of 1798, was made for Pope Gregory XIII in the 16th century. On 21 March 1800 as Rome was in the hands of the French, Pius VII was crowned in exile, in Venice, with a papier-mâché tiara, for which ladies of Venice gave up their jewels.

Many tiaras were donated to the papacy by world leaders or heads of states, including Queen Isabella II of Spain, William I, German Emperor, Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria and Napoleon I of France. The tiara provided by the last was made from elements of former papal tiaras destroyed after the capture of Rome, and was given to Pius VII as a 'wedding gift' to mark Napoleon's own marriage to Empress Josephine on the eve of his imperial coronation. Others were a gift to a newly elected pope from the See which they had held before their election, or on the occasion of the jubilee of their ordination or election.

In some instances, various cities sought to outdo each other in the beauty, value and size of the tiaras they provided to popes from their region. Examples include tiaras given to Popes John XXIII and Paul VI, the former by John's home region, the latter by Paul's previous archiepiscopal see of Milan on their election to the papacy.

Popes were not restricted to a particular tiara: for example, photographs on this page show Pope John XXIII, on different occasions, wearing the tiara presented to him in 1959, Pope Pius IX's 1877 tiara, and Pope Pius XI's 1922 tiara.

Pope Paul VI, whose bullet-shaped tiara is one of the most unusual in design, was the last pope to wear a papal tiara (though any of his successors could, if they wished, revive the custom). Most surviving tiaras are on display in the Vatican, though some were sold off or donated to Catholic bodies. Some of the more popular or historic tiaras, such as the 1871 Belgian tiara, the 1877 tiara and the 1903 golden tiara, have been sent around the world as part of a display of historic Vatican items. Pope Paul VI's "Milan tiara" was donated to and is on display in the crypt church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., United States of America.

Most of the surviving (three-crown) papal tiaras have the shape of a circular beehive, with its central core made of silver. Some were sharply conical, others bulbous. Except for that of Pope Paul VI, all were heavily bejewelled. The three crowns are marked by golden decorations, sometimes in the form of crosses, sometimes in the shape of leaves. Most are surmounted by a cross set above a monde (globe), representing the universal sovereignty of Christ.

Each tiara had attached to the back two lappets; highly decorated strips of cloth embroidered with golden thread, bearing the coat of arms or another symbol of the pope to whom the tiara had been given.

There are two rather unusual tiaras: the papier-mâché tiara made when Pope Pius VII was elected and crowned in exile, and the one made for Pope Paul VI in 1963, which is somewhat bullet-shaped, contains few jewels and, instead of being adorned by three coronets, is marked with three parallel circles and has a double-tiered crown at its base.

The tiara given to Pope Pius IX in 1877 by the Vatican's Palatine Honour guard in honour of his Jubilee (see photograph below) is strikingly similar in design to the earlier tiara of Gregory XVI. It remained a particularly popular crown, worn by, among others, Pope Pius XI, Pope Pius XII and Pope John XXIII. Pope Pius XI's 1922 crown, in contrast was much less decorated and much more conical in shape. (See image below of this tiara worn by Pope John XXIII.)

Except for the papier-mâché tiara, the lightest tiara was that made for Pope John XXIII in 1959. It weighed just over 0.9 kg (2 lb), as did the 1922 tiara of Pope Pius XI. In contrast, the bullet-shaped tiara of Pope Paul VI weighed 4.5 kg (10 lb). The heaviest papal tiara in the papal collection is the 1804 tiara donated by Napoleon I to celebrate both his marriage to Josephine and his coronation as French emperor. It weighs 8.2 kg (18.1 lb). However it was never worn, as its width was made, some suspected deliberately, too small for Pope Pius VII to wear.[40]

A number of popes deliberately had new tiaras made because they found those in the collection either too small, too heavy, or both. Rather than use the papier-mâché tiara, Pope Gregory XVI had a new lightweight tiara made in the 1840s. In the 1870s, Pope Pius IX, then in his eighties, found the other tiaras too heavy to wear and that of his predecessor, Pope Gregory, too small, so he had a lightweight tiara made also. In 1908 Pope Pius X had another lightweight tiara made as he found that the normal tiaras in use were too heavy, while the lightweight ones did not fit comfortably.

New methods of manufacture in the 20th century enabled the creation of lighter normal tiaras, producing the 900 g (2 lb) tiaras of Pius XI and John XXIII. That, combined with the existence of a range of lightweight tiaras from earlier popes, meant that no pope since Pius X in 1908 needed to make his own special lightweight tiara.

There is no certainty about what the three crowns of the Triple Tiara symbolise, as is evident from the multitude of interpretations that have been and still are proposed. Some link it to the threefold authority of the "Supreme Pontiff: Universal Pastor (top), Universal Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction (middle) and Temporal Power (bottom)".[42] Others interpret the three tiers as meaning "father of princes and kings, ruler of the world, vicar of Christ".[15] The words that were used when popes were crowned were: Accipe tiaram tribus coronis ornatam, et scias te esse patrem principum et regum, rectorem orbis in terra vicarium Salvatoris nostri Jesu Christi, cui est honor et gloria in saecula saeculorum ("Receive the tiara adorned with three crowns and know that thou art father of princes and kings, ruler of the world, vicar on earth of our Saviour Jesus Christ, to whom is honour and glory for ever and ever").[43][44]

Yet others have associated it with the threefold office of Christ, who is Priest, Prophet and King,[45] or "teacher, lawmaker and judge".[46] Another traditional interpretation was that the three crowns refer to the "Church Militant on earth", the "Church Suffering after death and before heaven", and the "Church Triumphant in eternal reward".[47] Yet another interpretation suggested by Archbishop Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, who designed Pope Benedict XVI's tiara-less coat of arms, was "order, jurisdiction and magisterium",[48] while a further theory links the three tiers to the "celestial, human and terrestrial worlds," which the pope is supposed to symbolically link.[49] Lord Twining suggested that just as the Holy Roman Emperors were crowned three times as king of Germany, king of Italy and Roman emperor, so the popes, to stress the equality of their spiritual authority to the temporal authority of the emperor, chose to be crowned with a tiara bearing three crowns.[50]


The papal tiara was never worn for liturgical celebrations, such as Mass. At such functions the Pope, like other bishops, wore a mitre. However, a tiara was worn during the solemn entrance and departure processions, and one or more could be placed on the altar during the elaborately ceremonial Pontifical High Mass.

The tiara was thus worn in formal ceremonial processions, and on other occasions when the pope was carried on the sedia gestatoria, a portable throne whose use was ended by Pope John Paul II immediately after his election in October 1978. His short-lived predecessor, John Paul I, also chose initially not to use it, but relented when informed that without it the people could not see him.[51] The papal tiara was also worn when a pope gave his traditional Christmas and Easter Urbi et Orbi blessing ("to the City and the World") from the balcony of St Peter's – the only religious ceremony at which the tiara was worn.

The most famous occasion when the triple tiara was used was the papal coronation, a six-hour ceremony, when the new pope was carried in state on the sedia gestatoria (portable throne), with attendants fanning the pontiff with ostrich-feathered flabella to the location of the coronation. Traditionally, coronations took place in St Peter's Basilica.[52]

At the moment of the coronation, the new pope was crowned with the words

Pope Paul VI opted for a significantly shorter ceremony. As with all other modern coronations, the ceremony itself was only symbolic, as the person involved became Pope and Bishop of Rome the moment he accepted his canonical election in the papal conclave. The two subsequent popes (John Paul I and John Paul II) abandoned the monarchial coronation, opting instead for a coronation-less investiture. In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI took a step further and removed the tiara from his papal coat of arms, replacing it with a mitre.

Related uses

Only one other Catholic see uses the triple tiara in its coat of arms: the Patriarchate of Lisbon.[55] The title of Patriarch of Lisbon was created in 1716 and has been held by the archbishop of Lisbon since 1740. The coat of arms of the Holy See combines the tiara with the crossed keys of St. Peter, while that of the Lisbon Patriarchate combines it with a processional cross and a pastoral staff. Also the Archbishop of Benevento uses the tiara in its coat of arms.

The 16th-century Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent commissioned Venetian craftsmen to make a 4-tiered tiara modeled on the papal design, to demonstrate that his power and authority exceeded that of the Pope. This was a most atypical piece of headgear for an Ottoman sultan, which he probably never normally wore, but which he placed beside him when receiving visitors, especially ambassadors. It was crowned with an enormous feather.[56]

Conversely, the papal coronation ceremony, in which the Pope was fanned with flabella (long fans of ostrich feathers) and carried on the sedia gestatoria (portable throne), was based on the Byzantine imperial ceremonies witnessed in medieval Constantinople.

Tarot cards

Medieval tarot cards included a card showing a woman wearing a papal tiara and known as the Popess or Papess or the High Priestess. The meaning and symbolism of the card is uncertain. The crowned woman has variously been identified as Pope Joan (a woman who according to a medieval and later Protestant legend had disguised herself as a man and been elected pope; some cards also show a child, and the Pope Joan legend pictured her as found out when she gave birth during a papal procession), as Mary, Mother of God, or even as Cybele, as Isis, or as Venus. Cards with a woman wearing a papal tiara, produced during the Protestant Reformation, and apparent images of "Pope Joan" and her child, have been seen as a Protestant attempt to ridicule the office of the papacy and the Catholic faith. The papal tiara, however, disappeared from later depictions of the High Priestess/Popess, and showed her wearing more standard medieval female headgear.[57]

All tarot cards also contain a representation of the pope, known as The Hierophant, in some cases crowned with a papal tiara.[58] For instance, the Rider-Waite tarot deck, currently the widest-circulated deck in existence, depicts The Hierophant or pope as wearing a papal tiara and carrying a papal cross.

See also

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