The papal tiara is a crown that was worn by popes of the Roman Catholic Church from perhaps as early as the 8th century to the 20th. It was last used by Pope Paul VI. The three-tiered form that it took in the 14th century is known as the triple tiara or triple crown (Latin: triregnum).[1]

From 1143 to 1963, the papal tiara was solemnly placed on the pope's head during a papal coronation. The surviving papal tiaras are all in the triple form, the oldest being of 1572, and the others no earlier than 1800.

A representation of the triple tiara combined with two crossed keys of Saint Peter continues to be used as a symbol of the papacy and appears on papal documents, buildings and insignia.




The papal tiara originated from a conical Phrygian cap or frigium.[2][3] Shaped like a candle-extinguisher, the papal tiara and the episcopal mitre were identical in their early forms.[2]

Names used for the papal tiara in the 8th and 9th centuries include camelaucum, pileus, phrygium and pileum phrygium.[2]

A circlet of linen or cloth of gold at the base of the tiara developed into a metal crown, which by about 1300 became two crowns. The first of these appeared at the base of the traditional white papal headgear in the 9th century.[4][5] When the popes assumed temporal power in the Papal States, the base crown became decorated with jewels to resemble the crowns of princes.[4] The second crown is said to have been added by Pope Innocent III (1198–1216) as signifying both his spiritual and temporal power, since he declared that God had set him over kings and kingdoms.[2] However, a fresco in the Chapel of Saint Sylvester (consecrated in 1247) in the church of the Santi Quattro Coronati in Rome seems to represent the Pope wearing a tiara with two bands and with lappets.[6] The triple tiara is attributed to Pope Benedict XI (1303–1304) or Pope Clement V (1305–1314), and one such tiara was listed in an inventory of the papal treasury in 1316[2] (see "Tiara of Saint Sylvester", below). The first years of the 16th century saw the addition of a little globe and cross to top the tiara.[7]

Triple tiaras were worn by the popes of Rome from Pope Clement V, at the time when they lived at Avignon, to Pope Paul VI, who was crowned with one in 1963. Pope Paul VI abandoned the use of his own tiara after the Second Vatican Council, symbolically laying it on the altar of St. Peter's Basilica, and donating its value to the poor. However, his 1975 Apostolic Constitution Romano Pontifici Eligendo on the manner of electing the Pope, still envisaged that his successors would be crowned.

His immediate successor, Pope John Paul I, decided against a coronation, replacing it with a generic "Inauguration of the Supreme Pontificate". After John Paul I's sudden death, Pope John Paul II told the congregation at the solemn inauguration of his pontificate:

The last Pope to be crowned was Paul VI in 1963, but after the solemn coronation ceremony he never used the tiara again and left his Successors free to decide in this regard. Pope John Paul I, whose memory is so vivid in our hearts, did not wish to have the tiara; nor does his Successor wish it today. This is not the time to return to a ceremony and an object considered, wrongly, to be a symbol of the temporal power of the Popes. Our time calls us, urges us, obliges us to gaze on the Lord and immerse ourselves in humble and devout meditation on the mystery of the supreme power of Christ himself.[1]

Though not currently worn as part of papal regalia, the continuing symbolism of the papal tiara is reflected in its use on the coats of arms of the Holy See and the flag of Vatican City. Until the reign of Benedict XVI the tiara was also the ornament surmounting a Pope's personal coat of arms, as a tasseled hat (under which a 1969 Instruction of the Holy See forbade the placing of a mitre, a second hat)[8] surmounted those of other prelates. In a break with tradition, Pope Benedict XVI's personal coat of arms replaced the tiara with a mitre. This particular mitre contains three levels reminiscent of the three tiers on the papal tiara.[9] The mitre was retained on Pope Francis' personal coat of arms. However, in the coat of arms of the Holy See and of the Vatican City State the triple tiara is kept. See also Tiara of Benedict XVI (2011). Presented to Benedict XVI on 25 May 2011 by a group of Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians.

Tiara of Saint Sylvester

Lord Twining stated that:
Under Boniface VIII (1294–1303) the hood of the regnum was lengthened and the circlet was greatly enriched with precious stones, while toward the end of his papacy a second circlet was added. The increased length had the symbolical meaning of dominion of the una sancta ecclesia over the earth, and demonstrated the meaning of the papal unam sanctum. In the inventory of 1295 the second year of Boniface's papacy the head-dress, which is now usually referred to as a tiara, is described as enriched with 48 rubies balas, 72 sapphires, 45 praxini or emeralds, numerous little balas rubies and emeralds and 66 large pearls. At the summit was a very large ruby.

Boniface VIII was succeeded in 1303 by Benedict XI, who took the tiara to Perugia. After his death in 1304 there was a period of eleven months before a new Pope succeeded. The Archbishop of Bordeaux was chosen and took the title of Clement V. He removed the papal seat from Rome to Avignon and the tiara was brought to Lyons from Perugia for his coronation on 14 November 1305. In the inventory which was taken in 1315–16 Boniface VIII's tiara is again described and can be identified by the mention of the large ruby, which is recorded as missing. It is described as having three circlets corona quae vocatur, regnum cum tribus circuitis aureis. It therefore must have been between the taking of the two inventories in 1295 and 1315 that the second and third circlets were added to the tiara. It was during this period that the fleur-de-lis was used to decorate the circlets. The tiara was kept in the Papal Treasury at Avignon until Gregory XI took it back to Rome, which he entered on 17th January 1377. In 1378 Robert of Geneva was elected anti-Pope taking the style Clement VII, and he removed the tiara from Avignon. When the Spaniard, Pedro de Luna, was elected anti-Pope in 1394 styling himself Benedict XIII, he took the tiara from Avignon to Spain, where it remained until Aphonso V of Aragon failed in his attempt to renew the schism, and on his withdrawal of support from the anti-Pope Clement VII in 1419, the tiara was returned to Rome....[10]

In the XIV century, the tiara of Boniface VIII began to be called the Tiara of St. Sylvester, and became venerated and considered as a relic. This was no doubt suggested by the Donation of Constantine, but it now came to be used only at the coronation of Popes, starting with Gregory XI in 1370 and his successor Urban VI in 1378. It was used at no other ceremonies and was kept in the Lateran Treasury. It was last used at the coronation of Nicholas V (1446-55), and in 1485 it was stolen and no more is heard of it.[11]

Twining also notes the various allegorical meanings attributed to the three crowns of the papal tiara, but concludes that "it seems more likely that the symbolism is suggested by the idea that took shape in the 13th and 14th centuries that the Emperor was crowned with three crowns--the silver crown of Germany at Aix-la-Chapelle, the iron crown of Lombardy at Milan or Monza and the golden imperial crown at Rome and therefore the Pope, too, should wear three crowns."[12]

Last coronation

Main article: Papal Coronation

As with previous popes, Pope Paul VI was crowned with a tiara at the papal coronation. As happened sometimes with previous popes, a new tiara was used, donated by the city of Milan, where he was Archbishop (and Cardinal) before his election. Quite different from earlier tiaras, it was not covered in jewels and precious gems, and was sharply cone-shaped. It was also distinctly heavier than the Palatine Tiara previously in use.[13]

At the end of the second session of the Second Vatican Council in 1963, Paul VI descended the steps of the papal throne in St. Peter's Basilica and ascended to the altar, on which he laid the tiara in a dramatic gesture of humility and as a sign of the renunciation of human glory and power in keeping with the renewed spirit of the Council. Since then, none of his successors has worn a tiara.

It was announced that the tiara would be sold and the money obtained would be given to charity; the tiara was in fact bought by Catholics in the United States and is now kept in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in the Washington, DC.[13] It is on permanent display in Memorial Hall along with the stole that Pope John XXIII wore at the opening of the Second Vatican Council.

Pope Paul's decision to abandon the use of one of the most striking symbols of the papacy, the papal tiara, proved highly controversial with some Traditionalist Catholics, many of whom continue to campaign for its re-instatement to former usage.[14] Some indeed branded him an antipope, arguing that no valid pope would surrender the papal tiara.[15][16]

Among sedevacantist claimants to the papacy, at least one, Clemente Domínguez y Gómez, was crowned using a tiara, thus showing the power of its symbolism, while another, Lucian Pulvermacher, uses the tiara on his coat of arms.


Main article: Papal Inauguration

Pope John Paul I dispensed with the 1000-year-old tradition of a papal coronation and the wearing of a papal tiara, deciding not to take advantage of the mention of a coronation in Pope Paul VI's 1975 Apostolic Constitution Romano Pontifici Eligendo, then in force: "Finally, the Pontiff will be crowned by the Cardinal Protodeacon and, within an appropriate time, will take possession of the Patriarchal Archbasilica of the Lateran, in accordance with the prescribed ritual."[17]

In a passage of his inauguration homily, quoted above, Pope John Paul II remarked that both his immediate predecessor and he himself had wished neither a coronation nor a tiara, and added: "This is not the time to return to a ceremony and an object considered, wrongly, to be a symbol of the temporal power of the Popes."[1]

When, in his 1996 Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis, he revised the rules on the election of Popes, he removed all mention of a papal coronation, replacing it with a reference to an "inauguration": "After the solemn ceremony of the inauguration of the pontificate and within an appropriate time, the pope will take possession of the Patriachal Archbasilica of the Lateran, in accordance with the prescribed ritual."[18]

Coat of Arms

Coat of arms of Pope Benedict XVI that does not include the papal tiara.
Coat of arms of Pope Francis, also lacking the papal tiara.

As in the Pope Paul VI's document, the phraseology is descriptive, not prescriptive. Besides, it lays down no rules about the form of the "ceremony of the inauguration of the pontificate", which could indeed take the form of a coronation. In any case, a Pope is not bound by ceremonial rules made by a predecessor, and may freely change them.

Before the coronation of Pope Paul VI, coronations had fallen into disuse even in western countries that had kept a monarchical form of government, with the exception of the British monarchy (see Coronations in Europe). All others monarchs, like modern popes, are "inaugurated" into office.

The triple tiara still featured as one of the ornaments on the personal coat of arms of Popes John Paul I and John Paul II, who never used the actual object. However, John Paul II gave his official approval later in his reign to depictions of his arms without the tiara, as with the mosaic floor piece towards the entrance of St Peter's Basilica, where an ordinary mitre takes the place of the tiara. The coat of arms of Pope Benedict XVI has replaced the tiara with a mitre: "Benedict XVI decided not to include the tiara in his official personal coat of arms. He replaced it with a simple mitre which is not, therefore, surmounted by a small globe and cross as was the tiara".[19] Unofficially, the tiara was embroidered in the vestments he wore during the Mass in the Cathedral of Sydney during World Youth Day 2008 and in a gift tapestry hung from the window at which he recited the Angelus in October 2010.[20]

Each year, a small papal tiara is placed on the head of the famous bronze statue of Saint Peter in St. Peter's Basilica from the vigil of the Feast of the Cathedra of Saint Peter on 22 February until the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul on 29 June.[21] This custom was not observed in 2006, but was reintroduced in 2007.


Although often referred to as the Papal Tiara, historically there have been many, and twenty-two remain in existence. Many of the earlier papal tiaras (most notably the tiaras of Pope Julius II[22] and that attributed to Pope Saint Silvester) were destroyed, dismantled or seized by invaders (most notably by Berthier's army in 1798), or by popes themselves; Pope Clement VII had all the tiaras and papal regalia melted down in 1527 to raise the 400,000 ducats ransom demanded by the occupying army of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Over twenty silver tiaras exist, of which the earliest, the sole survivor of 1798, was made for Pope Gregory XIII in the 16th century. On 21 March 1800 as Rome was in the hands of the French, Pius VII was crowned in exile, in Venice, with a papier-mâché tiara, for which ladies of Venice gave up their jewels.

Many tiaras were donated to the papacy by world leaders or heads of states, including Queen Isabella II of Spain, William I, German Emperor, Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria and Napoleon I of France. The tiara provided by the last was made from elements of former papal tiaras destroyed after the capture of Rome, and was given to Pius VII as a 'wedding gift' to mark Napoleon's own marriage to Empress Josephine on the eve of his imperial coronation. Others were a gift to a newly elected pope from the See which they had held before their election, or on the occasion of the jubilee of their ordination or election.

In some instances, various cities sought to outdo each other in the beauty, value and size of the tiaras they provided to popes from their region. Examples include tiaras given to Popes John XXIII and Paul VI, the former by John's home region, the latter by Paul's previous archiepiscopal see of Milan on their election to the papacy.

Popes were not restricted to a particular tiara: for example, photographs on this page show Pope John XXIII, on different occasions, wearing the tiara presented to him in 1959, Pope Pius IX's 1877 tiara, and Pope Pius XI's 1922 tiara.

Pope Paul VI, whose bullet-shaped tiara is one of the most unusual in design, was the last pope to wear a triple tiara (though any of his successors could, if they wished, revive the custom). Most surviving tiaras are on display in the Vatican, though some were sold off or donated to Catholic bodies. Some of the more popular or historic tiaras, such as the 1871 Belgian tiara, the 1877 tiara and the 1903 golden tiara, have been sent around the world as part of a display of historic Vatican items. Pope Paul VI's "Milan tiara" was donated to and is on display in the crypt church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., United States of America.


Most of the surviving triple tiaras have the shape of a circular beehive, with its central core made of silver. Some were sharply conical, others bulbous. All tiaras but that of Pope Paul VI were heavily bejewelled. Each tiara was structured in the form of three crowns marked by golden decorations, sometimes in the form of crosses, sometimes in the shape of leaves. Most were surmounted by a cross set above a monde (globe), representing the universal sovereignty of Christ.

Each tiara had attached to the back two lappets; highly decorated strips of cloth embroidered with golden thread, bearing the coat of arms or another symbol of the pope to whom the tiara had been given.

There are two rather unusual tiaras: the papier-mâché tiara made when Pope Pius VII was elected and crowned in exile, and the one made for Pope Paul VI in 1963, which is somewhat bullet-shaped, contains few jewels and, rather than having the addition of three tiers, is marked with three parallel circles.

The tiara given to Pope Pius IX in 1877 by the Vatican's Palatine Honour guard in honour of his Jubilee (see photograph below) is strikingly similar in design to the earlier tiara of Gregory XVI. It remained a particularly popular crown, worn by, among others, Pope Pius XI, Pope Pius XII and Pope John XXIII. Pope Pius XI's 1922 crown, in contrast was much less decorated and much more conical in shape. (See image below of this tiara worn by Pope John XXIII.)


Except for the papier-mâché tiara, the lightest tiara was that made for Pope John XXIII in 1959. It weighed just over 0.9 kg (2 lb), as did the 1922 tiara of Pope Pius XI. In contrast, the bullet-shaped tiara of Pope Paul VI weighed 4.5 kg (10 lb). The heaviest papal tiara in the papal collection is the 1804 tiara donated by Napoleon I to celebrate both his marriage to Josephine and his coronation as French emperor. It weighs 8.2 kg (18.1 lb). However it was never worn, as its width was made, some suspected deliberately, too small for Pope Pius VII to wear.[23]

A number of popes deliberately had new tiaras made because they found those in the collection either too small, too heavy, or both. Rather than use the papier-mâché tiara, Pope Gregory XVI had a new lightweight tiara made in the 1840s. In the 1870s, Pope Pius IX, then in his eighties, found the other tiaras too heavy to wear and that of his predecessor, Pope Gregory, too small, so he had a lightweight tiara made also. In 1908 Pope Pius X had another lightweight tiara made as he found that the normal tiaras in use were too heavy, while the lightweight ones did not fit comfortably.

New methods of manufacture in the 20th century enabled the creation of lighter normal tiaras, producing the 900 g (2 lb) tiaras of Pius XI and John XXIII. That, combined with the existence of a range of lightweight tiaras from earlier popes, meant that no pope since Pius X in 1908 needed to make his own special lightweight tiara.


There is no certainty about what the three crowns of the Triple Tiara symbolise, as is evident from the multitude of interpretations that have been and still are proposed. Some link it to the threefold authority of the "Supreme Pontiff: Universal Pastor (top), Universal Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction (middle) and Temporal Power (bottom)".[24] Others interpret the three tiers as meaning "father of princes and kings, ruler of the world, vicar of Christ".[7] The words that were used when popes were crowned were: Accipe tiaram tribus coronis ornatam, et scias te esse patrem principum et regum, rectorem orbis in terra vicarium Salvatoris nostri Jesu Christi, cui est honor et gloria in saecula saeculorum ("Receive the tiara adorned with three crowns and know that thou art father of princes and kings, the ruler of the world on earth, the vicar of our Saviour Jesus Christ, to whom is honour and glory through all ages").[25][26]

Yet others have associated it with the threefold office of Christ, who is Priest, Prophet and King,[27] or "teacher, lawmaker and judge".[28] Another traditional interpretation was that the three crowns refer to the "Church Militant on earth", the "Church Suffering after death and before heaven", and the "Church Triumphant in eternal reward".[29] Yet another interpretation suggested by Archbishop Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, who designed Pope Benedict XVI's tiara-less coat of arms, was "order, jurisdiction and magisterium",[30] while a further theory links the three tiers to the "celestial, human and terrestrial worlds," which the pope is supposed to symbolically link.[31] Lord Twining suggested that just as the Holy Roman Emperors were crowned three times as king of Germany, king of Italy and Roman emperor, so the popes, to stress the equality of their spiritual authority to the temporal authority of the emperor, chose to be crowned with a tiara bearing three crowns.[32]


The triple tiara was not worn for liturgical celebrations, such as Mass. At such functions the Pope, like other bishops, wears a mitre. However, one would be worn during the solemn entrance and departure processions, and one or more could be placed on the altar during the elaborately ceremonial Pontifical High Mass.

The tiara was thus worn in formal ceremonial processions, and on other occasions when the pope was carried on the sedia gestatoria, a portable throne whose use was ended by Pope John Paul II immediately after his election in October 1978. His short-lived predecessor, John Paul I, also chose initially not to use it, but relented when informed that without it the people could not see him.[33] It was also worn when a pope gave his traditional Christmas and Easter Urbi et Orbi blessing from the balcony of St Peter's, the only religious ceremony when the tiara was worn.


Main article: Papal Coronation

The most famous occasion when the triple tiara was used was the papal coronation, a six-hour ceremony, when the new pope was carried in state on the sedia gestatoria (portable throne - see image of Pope John XXIII, left), with attendants fanning the pontiff with ostrich-feathered flabella to the location of the coronation. Traditionally, coronations took place in St Peter's Basilica.[34]

At the moment of the coronation, the new pope was crowned with the words

Receive the tiara adorned with three crowns and know that thou art Father of princes and kings, Ruler of the world, Vicar of our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Pope Paul VI opted for a significantly shorter ceremony. As with all other modern coronations, the ceremony itself was only symbolic, as the person involved became Pope and Bishop of Rome the moment he accepted his canonical election in the papal conclave. The two subsequent popes (John Paul I and John Paul II) abandoned the monarchial coronation, opting instead for a coronation-less investiture. In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI took a step further and removed the tiara from his papal coat of arms, replacing it with a mitre.

Related uses

For tiaras unrelated to the papacy, see Tiara

Only one other Catholic see uses the triple tiara in its coat of arms: the the website of the patriarchate).

The 16th-century Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent commissioned Venetian craftsmen to make a 4-tiered tiara modeled on the papal design, to demonstrate that his power and authority exceeded that of the Pope. This was a most atypical piece of headgear for an Ottoman sultan, which he probably never normally wore, but which he placed beside him when receiving visitors, especially ambassadors. It was crowned with an enormous feather.[39]

Conversely, the papal coronation ceremony, in which the Pope was fanned with flabella (long fans of ostrich feathers) and carried on the sedia gestatoria (portable throne), was based on the Byzantine imperial ceremonies witnessed in medieval Constantinople.

Tarot cards

Medieval tarot cards included a card showing a woman wearing a papal tiara and known as the Popess or Papess or the High Priestess. The meaning and symbolism of the card is uncertain. The crowned woman has variously been identified as Pope Joan (a woman who according to a medieval and later Protestant myth had disguised herself as a man and been elected pope; some cards also show a child, and the Pope Joan myth pictured her as found out when she gave birth during a papal procession), as Mary, Mother of God, or even as Cybele, as Isis, or as Venus. Cards with a woman wearing a papal tiara, produced during the Protestant Reformation, and apparent images of "Pope Joan" and her child, have been seen as a Protestant attempt to ridicule the office of the papacy and the Catholic faith. The papal tiara, however, disappeared from later depictions of the High Priestess/Popess, and showed her wearing more standard medieval female headgear.[40]

All tarot cards also contain a representation of the pope, known as The Hierophant, in some cases crowned with a papal tiara.[41] For instance, the Rider-Waite tarot deck, currently the widest-circulated deck in existence, depicts The Hierophant or pope as wearing a papal tiara and carrying a papal cross.

See also



External links

  • -logo.svg 
  • , vol. II, Dissertazione V, pp. 74–189
  • Holy See Press Office information on the papal tiara
  • Images of several papal tiaras
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