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High Church, high hat

December 5, 2007 |  4:18 pm

Popemitre Do clothes make the pope? Liberal and conservative Catholics are pondering some sartorial signals from Pope Benedict XVI. The pontiff who has rehabilitated the Latin Tridentine Mass also has a fondness for the elaborate vestments of the pre-Vatican II church. In investing 23 new cardinals the other day, Benedict sported a miter — the tall, pointed hat worn by Catholic and Anglican bishops — originally won by Pope Pius IX, the 19th century pope famous (or notorious) for the Syllabus of Errors, an attack on “Modernism.”

Pio Nono’s miter was “Roman” style — ridiculously high, like the miters worn by the sinister bishops in Thomas Nast’s anti-Catholic cartoons. Since Vatican II, Roman Catholic bishops — including the late Pope John Paul II — have favored the more squat, less elaborate  “Gothic” miter also favored by Anglicans like the archbishop of Canterbury.

If rising and falling hemlines are a guide to the state of the economy, the height of miters could be a clue to the reigning theology in Rome. The ultimate “Back to the Future” fashion statement would be for the pope to revive the crown-like papal tiara. (Here’s Pius IX’s.)

Photo detail courtesy of AP.

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