The biretta is a square cap with three or four ridges or peaks, sometimes surmounted by a tuft, traditionally worn by Roman Catholic clergy and some Anglican clergy. It is also the term used for a similar cap worn by those holding doctoral degrees from some universities, and is occasionally used for caps worn by advocates in law courts, for instance the Advocates in the Channel Islands.

Its origins are uncertain but is mentioned as early as the tenth century. The most probable origin of the biretta is the academic hat of the high Middle Ages, which was a soft, square cap. The medieval academic hat is also the ancestor of the modern mortarboard hat used today in secular universities. The tuft or pom sometimes seen on the biretta was added later; the earliest forms of the biretta did not bear the device.

Liturgical biretta

The biretta is used by all ranks of the clergy from cardinals to priests, deacons and seminarians. Those worn by cardinals are scarlet red and made of silk. After the Second Vatican Council the ceremony of giving the galero to Cardinals was replaced with giving the biretta. The biretta of a bishop is amaranth, while those worn by priests, deacons, and seminarians are black.

Cardinals bear no tuft or "pom," bishops bear a purple pom, priests who have been appointed as prelates to certain positions within the Vatican wear a black biretta with red pom, diocesan priests and deacons, wear a black biretta with or without a black pom, seminarians are only entitled to wear a biretta without a pom-pom. Priests in religious orders do not usually wear birettas, though the canons of the Order of Prémontré wear a white biretta and the black biretta is also part of the habit of some other congregations of Canons Regular. The Congregation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri also wear birettas, but without a pom, regardless of rank. The Pope does not make use of the biretta. The liturgical biretta has three peaks, with the 'peak-less' corner worn on the left side of the head.

According to the 1913 "Catholic Encyclopedia", "It was formerly the rule that a priest should always wear it in giving absolution in confession, and it is probable that the ancient usage which requires an English judge assume the "black cap" in pronouncing sentence of death is of identical origin." [CathEncy|wstitle=Biretta|author=Herbert Thurston]

The use of the biretta has not been abolished as a result of changes in the regulation of clerical dress and vesture following the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council and still remains the correct liturgical headgear for those in Holy Orders whilst 'in choir', but its use has been made optional. It is occasionally seen today, and is often only used by bishops and cardinals. Some priests wear it during outdoor services such as burials or processions and, as is intended, during the celebration of Mass and other liturgical services. The biretta is also worn by a priest, deacon, and bishop in attendance at a Mass offered according to the rubrics for the Roman Missal of 1962.

Birettas are also occasionally worn by high church Anglican clergy. (See biretta belt.)

Academic biretta

In the Medieval university, the ceremony by which a new master or doctor received his degree included the placing of the biretta on his head. While the academic biretta developed into various styles of academic headgear on the European continent and in the British Isles, and the liturgical biretta underwent its own separate development, there are today secular universities that still use the term for their academic cap.

In commencement ceremonies and other academic settings, clergy often wear the biretta rather than the mortarboard. For clergy who do not hold pontifical degrees, the biretta used academically is the same as the liturgical biretta. However, a four-peaked biretta is awarded to those who complete a doctoral degree in a pontifical faculty or university (as opposed to doctorates from other faculties), which may be piped and tufted with the color indicating the field of expertise; thus dark blue for philosophy, green for canon law, and dark red for theology. [ [ St. Therese Catholic Church Q&A] . revision of 05-05-2006. Accessed 2006-11-26.] [ [ EWTN Catholic Q & A] . Accessed 2006-11-26.] Similarly, a three-peaked biretta may be awarded to those receiving the licentiate (S.T.L., Ph.L.). The "academic biretta" may not be worn during liturgical services.

The pontifical doctoral biretta is sometimes seen in depictions of St. Teresa of Ávila, because she was declared a doctor by the University of Salamanca. [Paul Rhetts, [ Saint Teresa in New Mexico] . Tradicion Revista, Volume 7, No. 1, Spring 2002. Accessed 2006-11-26.] This recognition is distinct from her status as a Doctor of the Church. The doctoral biretta has been borrowed for depictions of another doctor of the Church, St. Thérèse de Lisieux. [ [ Portraits/Chicago Inc] . Accessed 2006-11-26.]

The biretta was considered as possible headwear for female barristers in England and Wales. In 1922, immediately prior to the first lady being called to the Bar, there was discussion among the senior judges about what she should wear on her head. Darling J and Horridge J suggested the biretta, but were outvoted by the other 9 judges present. As a result female barristers wear the same unpowdered mens' wig as male barristers, which completely covers the hair.



*cite book | last=Noonan, Jr. | first=James-Charles | title=The Church Visible: The Ceremonial Life and Protocol of the Roman Catholic Church | year=1996 | publisher=Viking | id=ISBN 0-670-86745-4
*"Instruction on the dress, titles and coat-of-arms of cardinals, bishops and lesser prelates." "L'Osservatore Romano", English ed. 17 April 1969: 4. Online at []

External links

* [ Picture of biretta]
* [ Additional pictures of birettas in various settings]
* [ Pictures of birettas, information and literature in German language]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Biretta — • A square cap with three ridges or peaks on its upper surface, worn by clerics of all grades from cardinals downwards Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. Biretta     Biretta      …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Biretta — Bi*ret ta, n. Same as {Berretta}. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • biretta — square cap worn by Catholic clergy, 1590s, from It. beretta, from L.L. birrus, birrum large cloak with hood; perhaps of Gaulish origin, or from Gk. pyrros flame colored, yellow …   Etymology dictionary

  • biretta — ► NOUN ▪ a square cap with three flat projections on top, worn by Roman Catholic clergymen. ORIGIN Italian berretta or Spanish birreta, from Latin birrus hooded cape …   English terms dictionary

  • biretta — [bə ret′ə] n. [It berretta < LL birrettum, dim. of L birrus, a hood, cloak, prob. < Celt base, as in Cymric byrr, MIr berr, short] a hard, square, ceremonial hat with three or four vertical projections and sometimes with a pompom or tassel… …   English World dictionary

  • biretta — UK [bəˈretə] / US noun [countable] Word forms biretta : singular biretta plural birettas a stiff square hat worn by a Roman Catholic priest …   English dictionary

  • biretta — Berretta Ber*ret ta, n. [It., fr. LL. birrettum, berretum, a cap, dim. of L. birrus, birrum, a cloak to keep off rain, cf. Gr. ? tawny, red: cf. Sp. birreta, Pg. barrete, and E. {Barret}.] A square cap worn by ecclesiastics of the Roman Catholic… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • biretta — /beuh ret euh/, n. a stiff square cap with three or four upright projecting pieces extending from the center of the top to the edge, worn by ecclesiastics. Also, berretta, birretta. [1590 1600; < It berretta, fem. var. of berretto < OPr berret …   Universalium

  • biretta — noun A square cap, originally with four ridges across the top, surmounted by a tuft, worn by Roman Catholic clergy (and by some in the Anglican Church). A three sided biretta is worn by Roman Catholic clergy for liturgical celebrations …   Wiktionary

  • biretta'd — adjective wearing a biretta Facing the ladies a birettad priest appeared to be perusing a little, fat, black, greasy book of prayers which he held aslant so as to catch the light …   Wiktionary

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