A square cap with three ridges or peaks on its upper surface, worn by clerics of all grades from cardinals downwards

Catholic Encyclopedia. . 2006.

     Catholic_Encyclopedia Biretta
    A square cap with three ridges or peaks on its upper surface, worn by clerics of all grades from Cardinals downwards. The use of such a cap is prescribed by the rubrics both at solemn Mass and in other ecclesiastical functions. Etymologically, the word biretta is Italian in origin and would more correctly be written beretta (cf. however the French barette and the Spanish bireta). It probably comes from birrus, a rough cloak with a hood, from the Greek pyrros, flame-coloured, and the birretum may originally have meant the hood. We hear of the birettum in the tenth century, but, like most other questions of costume, the history is extremely perplexed. The wearing of any head-covering, other than hood or cowl, on state occasions within doors seems to have originally been a distinction reserved for the privileged few. The constitutions of Cardinal Ottoboni issued by him for England in 1268 forbid the wearing of caps vulgarly called "coyphae" (cf. the coif of the serjeant-at-law) to clerics, except when on journey. In church and when in the presence of their superiors their heads are to remain uncovered. From the law the higher graduates of the universities were excepted, thus Giovanni d'Andrea, in his gloss on the Clementine Decretals, declares (c. 1320) that at Bologna the insignia of the Doctorate were the cathedra (chair) and the birettum.
    At first the birettum was a kind of skull-cap with a small tuft, but it developed into a soft round cap easily indented by the fingers in putting it on and off, and it acquired in this way the rudimentary outline of its present three peaks. We may find such a cap delineated in many drawings of the fifteenth century, one of which, representing university dignitaries at the Council of Constance, who are described in the accompanying text as birrectati, is here reproduced. The same kind of cap is worn by the Cardinals sitting in conclave ( see Conclave ) and depicted in the same contemporary series of drawings, as also by preachers addressing the assembly. The privilege of wearing some such head-dress was extended in the course of the sixteenth century to the lower grades of the clergy, and after a while the chief distinction became one of colour, the Cardinals always wearing red birettas, and bishops violet. The shape during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was everywhere considerably modified, and, though the question is very complicated, there seems no good reason to reject the identification, proposed by several modern writers, of the old doctor's birettum with the square college cap, popularly known as the "mortar-board", of the modern English universities. The college cap and ecclesiastical biretta have probably developed from the same original, but along different lines. Even at the present day birettas vary considerably in shape. Those worn by the French, German, and Spanish clergy as a rule have four peaks instead of three; while Roman custom prescribes that a cardinal's biretta should have no tassel. As regards usage in wearing the biretta, the reader must be referred for details to some of the works mentioned in the bibliography. It may be said in general that the biretta is worn in processions and when seated, as also when the priest is performing any act of jurisdiction, e. g. reconciling a convert. 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.
    Transcribed by Janet Grayson

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VIII. — New York: Robert Appleton Company. . 1910.

Catholic encyclopedia.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • 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 — 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… …   Wikipedia

  • 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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