biretta is a square
cap with three
ridges or peaks (four for those who hold Doctorates
of Sacred Theology or STD), surmounted by a tuft,
traditionally worn by Roman Catholic clergy, as well
as by some clergy of the Anglican Churches.
Historically, the biretta was used by all ranks of
the clergy from Cardinals to priests and deacons.
Contrary to public opinion, the biretta has
been abolished as a result of changes in regulation
of clerical dress and vesture following the Second
Vatican Council, but it has fallen into a state of
disuse, and is therefore most commonly seen in use
by clerics of episcopal rank on occasions where its
use is mandated by church rubrics.
Its origins are
uncertain but is mentioned as early as the tenth
century. The most probable origin of the biretta is
the academic hat of the high middle ages, which was
a soft, square cap. The medieval academic hat is
also the ancestor of the modern mortarboard hat or
'dink' used today in secular universities.
Those worn by Cardinals are scarlet red made of
silk, those by bishops are purple, while those worn
by priests, deacons, and seminarians are black. The
pope does not make use of the biretta, instead he
makes use of the camauro. Variations in the
color of the tuft of the priest's biretta denote
differences in ecclesastical rank for canons,
monsignori, etc. Additionally, the holding of
certain academic degrees permit clerics the use of
various colors of tufts and trim. In previous times,
a biretta without peaks was worn by the clerical
order of sub deacons. Birettas worn by cardinals,
deacons, and seminarians do not have a tuft.