Bishops’ Accoutrements

Recently the Catholic people of the diocese of Columbus received a new Bishop—Frederick Campbell—following the retirement of our previous bishop.  Bishop Campbell’s installation ceremony received extensive media coverage, and there was considerable interest in the accoutrements of a Bishop.

The most well-known symbols of a bishop are the mitre and crosier.  The mitre is the two-pointed headdress that symbolizes the special dignity of their office. Although it’s ancient origins aren’t clear, it’s thought that the mitre developed from the headdresses worn by civil authorities during the late Roman empire.  Today, the mitre is always removed when the bishop is praying.

The crosier is the bishop’s staff, and symbolizes his role as the chief shepherd of his diocese.  Just as a shepherd must guide and protect his flock, a bishop is expected to guide and protect the people of his diocese.

Two other prominent symbols of the bishop’s office are his pectoral cross and pontifical ring.  The ring, which is presented to the bishop at his ordination, is usually set with a precious stone, and is always worn on the right hand, even when the bishop is wearing street clothes.  The pectoral cross is a large cross, usually made of precious metals, may contain a saint’s relic.  It is suspended from a cord or chain, and is worn over his vestments.  Most bishops, when wearing street clothes, wear a smaller pectoral cross between their vest and suit coat.  Often, for the sake of convenience, a bishop will tuck his pectoral cross into his shirt pocket.

All of these symbols help distinguish a bishop from other clerics, and symbolize both his office, and his responsibilities.