28 October 2019


Anglican clergy have never been totally indifferent to millinery. The magical Fr Sandys Wason, lawful incumbent of Cury and Gunwalloe, maestro of Cope and Fenwick, wore his biretta even when playing tennis.

I know of one Canterbury Cap which still makes its appearance within the Ordinariate and even consorts with a morning coat at Ascott; and the sort of clergyman who wore bands over his tippet and hood might also, to celebrate the major festivals, carry his academic square up and down the church at the Divine Office (Yes ... I admit it ... I have done that). We Catholics of the Anglican patrimony, of course, have always been preoccupied with birettas. I once lent S Thomas's to the/an Order of S Lazarus and was fascinated by the crop of green pompoms. Old photographs from Walsingham in the days of Fr Hope Patten reveal that clerical members of the College of Guardians wore birettas twice the height of ordinary ones. Some clergy, doubtless in pious memory of our late Sovereign Lord King Philip, wore Spanish models. Clergy who claimed dubious doctorates from obscure institutions far across the heaving Ocean added an additional wing to their headwear. And there was the pleasure of covering and uncovering: I once heard a sermon by an Anglican bishop in which, for some reason which now eludes me, he repeatedly named the then Sovereign Pontiff. The numerous clerical brethren in choir duly uncovered at each such mention ... ever more enthusiastically as time went on (not that they all subsequently accepted the invitation to corporate unity issued by that same Pope ... there is perhaps a sermon in this ...).

My own biretta, in constant use since I was deaconed in 1967, has lost the pristine gloss it possessed when I first bought it in Vanpoules. Having sustained showers of rain more often than I care to remember when I was stumbling across country churchyards in front of an undertaker, or panting up the irregular hillside of the cemetery at High Wycombe, or going round the village on sick calls during winter blizzards, it is somewhat faded and warped. More strangely, the pompom, over the decades, gradually turned a shade of reddy black. (I look to those with chemical know-how to explain this.) I got tired of parrying the quips of those who enquired whether, like a dragon-fly larva, I might be gradually metamorphosing into a Canon, and so when the thread attaching the pompom weakened and broke, I did not sow it back on. (My friend the mighty Fr Ray Blake once told me that his own biretta had changed, like the disintegrating MA gowns of superannuated schoolmasters, into an episcopal green.)

But it is born upon me that the biretta-without-a-pompom should really be deemed the proper historical headwear for the clerus Romanus. It is still worn as such by Redemptorists and Oratorians and Cardinals (pompoms being a piece of effeminate frenchification, oo la la, give it another twirl, yes??). A recent hint from Fr Zed leads the way. And, since the Ordinariate is directly subject to the Roman Pontiff, I am sure that the biretta-without-a-pompom is exactly what our beloved Holy Father wishes us to wear.

We owe it to him to get our headwear right, whatever the cost, come what may.


Scribe said...
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Fr Anthony said...

When I was at Gricigliano in the 1990's, the late Fr Frank Quoëx wore his biretta "more Romano" or Oratorian fashion. Some of us followed but not all. Now, I sometimes wonder what a biretta would look like with my long hair! Fortunately I have better things to do with my time. Buon' auguri, Padre.

vetusta ecclesia said...

No pom-poms on Premonstratensian white birettas unless belonging to a prelate.

I am a superannuated schoolmaster and my MA gown is NOT disintegrating!!

Josephus Muris Saliensis said...

In reply to your comment about the double-height birettas of the Anglican Guardians of Walsingham, they may perhaps have been unaware that both in England and much of Northern Europe such were worn by altar boys. Unconsciously they were thus acknowledging not only their lay state, but also, in hope, the youthful condition of their souls.

Fr Edward said...

I hear that the Holy Father readily gave his apostolic blessing to Ordinariate birettas at the canonisation Mass of JHN on 13th October.

“Please hold up any objects you wish the Holy Father to bless.”
Birettas duly held aloft.
Apostolic blessing imparted.

Ad hominem… nuff said.

I think there’s mileage in arguments 'ad verecundiam' and 'ad ignorantiam' too.
That’s Locke for another day perhaps.

Alan said...

I remember many years ago the Ven (later Rt Revd) Vernon Nicholls preaching at S. Agatha's, Sparkbrook, a church not of his tradition.

Archdeacon Nicholls had acquired a biretta, an item of millinery with which he was unfamiliar but which the MC couldn't wrest from his grasp. He put it on sideways, and all had a laugh. The archdeacon got his revenge during his sermon, when he uttered the name "Agatha", whereupon sacred ministers and priests in choir raised their titfers, only to clap them back down when the next word was "Christie".