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The zucchetto (//; Italian pronunciation: [t͡sukˈketto]; Italian: "small gourd", from zucca, "pumpkin", figuratively referred to the human head) is a small, hemispherical, form-fitting ecclesiastical skullcap worn by clerics of various Catholic Church rites and used by the higher clergy in Anglicanism as well as in the Eastern Orthodox Church tradition. The plural is zucchetti; it is also known by the names pilus, pilos, pileus, pileolus (pileolo), subbiretum, submitrale, soli deo ("solideo"), berettino, calotte ("calotta").
The zucchetto originated as the Greek pilos and is related to the beret (which itself was originally a large zucchetto). It was adopted circa the Early Middle Ages, if not earlier, to keep clerics' heads warm. Its name derives from its resemblance to half a pumpkin. Its appearance is almost identical to the Jewish kippah (yarmulke), though its significance is quite different.
In the Catholic tradition, the zucchetto is most commonly made of silk or polyester fabric. The design utilises eight triangular panels that are joined to form a hemispherical skullcap. Jutting from the centre of the zucchetto at the top is the "stem", known as stirpis or stirpes. It is made of a twisted loop of silk cord and is meant to make the handling of the zucchetto easier. The stirpes is the primary visual distinction between the zucchetto and the Jewish kippah.
The zucchetto has a lining of thin leather (chamois) as an insulator; this was also meant to help keep the shape of the zucchetto. Inside the trim there is a strip of velvet to ensure a secure and comfortable fit. Most modern zucchetto designs include a cloth lining, and the modern trend is toward a zucchetto of ordinary synthetic cloth lined with a simple natural cloth lining.
The common tradition is for the cleric to obtain the zucchetto either from an ecclesiastical tailor or a retail church supply. There is also a tradition of friends buying the newly appointed bishop his first zucchetto.
All ordained members of the Catholic Church (Roman Rite) are entitled to wear the black zucchetto (unless promoted to a higher rank) which is worn with either the cassock or ceremonial robes. The zucchetto is always worn beneath the mitre and is always worn beneath the biretta. This is the reason for two of the alternate names for the zucchetto, subbirettum and submitrale.
The zucchetto is never worn with a suit. The violet and red zucchetti are considered a symbolic honor granted to the prelate. In turn, the prelate is privileged to wear his zucchetto, not entitled.
A lower-ranking prelate must always doff his skullcap to a higher-ranking prelate; all prelates must remove their zucchetti in the presence of the pope, unless the pope instructs them not to do so. The color of the zucchetto specifically denotes the wearer's rank and is in keeping with the five colors: the pope's zucchetto is white, those worn by cardinals are scarlet, and those of bishops, territorial abbots and territorial prelates are violet. Priests and deacons wear a black zucchetto, although the use of the black zucchetto by priests is extremely rare. It is, however, quite common for priests assigned to the Vatican to always wear their black zucchetto. The one exception to the rule of color is the brown zucchetto frequently worn by ordained Franciscan friars.
The zucchetto is worn throughout most of the Mass, is removed at the commencement of the Preface, and replaced at the conclusion of Communion, when the Blessed Sacrament is put away. The zucchetto is also not worn at any occasion where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed. A short zucchetto stand known as a funghellino ("little mushroom", usually made of brass or wood) is placed near the altar to provide a safe place for the zucchetto when it is not being worn.
Prelates often give away their skullcaps. The practice, which was started in the modern era by Pope Pius XII, involves giving the zucchetto to the faithful, as a keepsake, if presented with a new one as a gift. Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis have continued the custom.
The pope might choose not to give the visitor his own zucchetto, but rather place the gift zucchetto on his head for a moment, then return it. Bishops, cardinals and archbishops such as Fulton J. Sheen frequently gave their old zucchetto in exchange for the newly offered one; Abp. Sheen also gave his zucchetto as a keepsake to laity who requested it.
A form of the zucchetto is worn by Anglican bishops and is used approximately like that of the Catholic Church. The Anglican "skullcap" differs from the zucchetto primarily in that it is made of six panels, bears a button at centre of the crown, and is of slightly larger dimensions. The other exception is the Anglican Church usually (but not always) rejects the Catholic "Church violet" for bishops, and instead uses purple.
In the Syriac and Malankara Orthodox tradition, a seven-panel zucchetto called a phiro is worn by nearly all priests. It is always black and embroidedered with black Orthodox crosses.
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