Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Of Mitres and... Women! Part I

There has been a resurgence of talk about female ordinations and deaconesses lately... soon enough, an article about that... but first, let's continue our exploration of the mitra and it's intimate connection with women in the early church.

In the ordination of an Abbess, in the Liber Ordinum (the autochthonous Sacramentary used by Bishops in the Iberian Peninsula from at least A.D. 589) it says she should present herself wearing a mitra!

This pretty mitre, mind you, was worn only by men...
Context is everything - not to speak of semantics:  albeit having the same name, the mitra worn by religious women is a very different thing from the mitra used by bishops.

We've quoted Saint Isidore of Seville's Etymologies in the first article on mitres, here, which mentions "the cidarim, also known as mitra by many" which was used by bishops in what is today Spain, already in the seventh century (when the text was written).

In the same book, just a paragraph below, when listing the different hair ornaments that women wear on their heads, encyclopedic Isidore mentions a particular one also called mitra.  By its description (" a soft cap with a hole to let the face show through") and the fact it is named in the rubrics within the Liber Ordinum, for the Ordination of an Abbess, where the lady is instructed to come before the bishop wearing her "mitra" in order to receive the veil, we can better understand what this mitra is.  As a later image of the same ceremony shows,

the garment in question is of the type we see more clearly below:
On this personable nun, the white mitra religiosa is worn under her black veil.

In other sources, languages, and confessions, it is called a wimple, apostolnik, a hijab, or whatever else.  Up to Vatican II, most nuns used it in the Latin Rite.  It was indeed a common sight in both the eastern and western traditions:

In the orthodox rites, this mitra religiosa is called  an Apostolnik or Epimandylion.  Sometimes it is white, as in the case of the one worn by Saint Elizabeth (the martyred Grand Duchess), but most often, black.  It can be worn by itself, covered by veil as in the western rites, or below a soft cap for warmth.

There you have it - the mitrae women wore... and in some instances, still wear.

To continue, on another post, we'll present the specific type of veil used by a deaconess who would minister to the royal ladies in church before the Gothispanic rite was supplanted by the Roman in eleventh century Iberia... so, stay tuned!

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