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As I was reading over my proofs for The Cross and the Dragon, questions would pop into my mind, such as “Did they have that then?” In this case, that is miters, and then is eighth-century Francia, ruled by the king today known as Charlemagne.

Charlemagne and Pope Hadrian I

From Wikimedia Commons, public domain image

I had thought bishops always wore miters–large, pointed headdresses. After all, I had seen them in medieval imagery such as this 1493 miniature to the right from the Chronicles of France. Printed by Antoine Verard, it depicts Pope Hadrian I meeting Charlemagne. Problem is, that the image accurately shows armor and clothing from the 15th century, not the eighth.

Perhaps the realization that I had made an assumption made me turn to Wikipedia and Google Books, just to be sure.

I use Wikipedia as a starting point. I rarely read it for research, but it often links to authoritative sources. And it had public domain art that I can post. In this case, Wikipedia linked to an otherwise hard to find page in New Advent. From there, I got the obscure term camelaucum, a head-covering for eighth and ninth century popes on special occasions, and used it in my search through Google Books.

So, I learned popes of this era occasionally wore a helmet or cone-shaped headdress, but what about my characters, two bishops in the March of Brittany?

Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

The conclusion, one website and parts of three books later: eighth-century bishops didn’t wear miters. Miters came about much later, and for bishops outside Rome, that might be the 11th century. Instead, a bishop would wear a frigium, but only outdoors and only for special occasions.  In other words, I should have paid more attention to images like this one from the ninth century Sacramentary of Charles the Bald (also known as the Sacramentary of Metz) depicting a coronation. Note that the two clerics are bare-headed.

The two bishops in my novel are outdoors on special occasions–the return of the warriors from battle in Lombardy, and they might wear a frigium for that. One problem with the word frigium. Most 21st century readers don’t know what it means. Heck, I’d never heard of it until I was researching the headgear. Fortunately, my main characters likely wouldn’t have known the word, either, and allowed me to get away with a description, a pointed, white linen helmet.

Miter evolution

Public domain image via Wikimedia Commons, from The Catholic Encyclopedia published in 1911 and retrieved from New Advent.

Another surprise: The miter has changed over time as seen in the image on the right. The last is most familiar to today’s audience.

Fellow writers, have you ever thought something was part of your era, only to find it wasn’t? Please share.

New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10404a.htm
Church Vestments: Their Origin and Development by Herbert Norris
Vestments for All Seasons by Barbara Dee Baumgarten
The Ornaments of the Ministers by Percy Dearmer