Cardinal Franciszek Macharski with a scarlet zucchetto

The zucchetto (/tsʊˈkɛt/;[1] Italian pronunciation: [dzukˈketto; tsuk-]; meaning "small gourd", from zucca, "pumpkin")[2][3] is a small, hemispherical, form-fitting ecclesiastical skullcap worn by clerics of various Catholic Churches, the Syriac Orthodox Church, and by the higher clergy in Anglicanism. The plural is zucchetti; it is also known by the names pilus, pilos, pileus, pileolus (pileolo), subbiretum, submitrale, soli deo (solideo), berrettino, calotte (calotta).[4]


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.[4][5]

Construction and design

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.[6]

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.[7]

The most common Anglican design can be similar to the Catholic zucchetto or, far more often, similar to the Jewish yarmulke.[8]


All ordained members of the Latin Church of the Catholic Church 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 or the biretta. This is the reason for two of the alternate names for the zucchetto, subbirettum and submitrale.[9][10]

The zucchetto is never worn with a suit. The amaranth and red zucchetti are considered a symbolic honor granted to the prelate. In turn, the prelate is privileged to wear his zucchetto, not entitled.

White zucchetto worn by popes and certain prelates

The pope may actually wear any color zucchetto he wishes in accordance with the five colors, but always wears a white zucchetto due to his white cassock.[11]

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.[11] 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 amaranth. 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.[5][11]

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.[9][10]

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.[12]

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.[12]

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) differs from 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 embroidered with black Orthodox crosses.[5]

See also

Notes and references

  1. definition in the Oxford Dictionaries
  2. Compare zucchini, of related origin.
  3. (Italian) Dizionario Treccani
  4. 1 2 Marshall 2009.
  5. 1 2 3 Kilgour 1958.
  6. McButt 1948, pp. 79–81.
  7. Knox, Noelle (April 7, 2005). "Tailor pays tribute". USA Today.
  8. anglicanhistory.org
  9. 1 2 Braun 1912.
  10. 1 2 McButt 1948, p. 79.
  11. 1 2 3 McButt 1948, pp. 79–80.
  12. 1 2 Duffy 2006.


  • Braun, Joseph (1912), "Zucchetto", The Catholic Encyclopedia, 15, New York: Robert Appleton Company, retrieved December 26, 2011 
  • Duffy, Eamon (2006), Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes, Yale University Press 
  • Kilgour, Ruth Edwards (1958), A Pageant of Hats Ancient and Modern, R. M. McBride Company 
  • Marshall, Taylor (August 24, 2009), Does the Pope Wear a Yarmulke?, CatholicFidelity.com, retrieved December 26, 2011 
  • McButt, Henry (1948), Clerical Dress and Insignia of the Roman Catholic Church, Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company 
  • Philippi, Dieter (July 19, 2011), "The Anglican Skull Cap", The Philippi Collection, retrieved December 26, 2011 
  • Wray, Cecil Daniel (1856), A Short Inquiry Respecting the Vestments of the Priests of the Anglican Church, Joseph Masters, retrieved December 26, 2011 
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