So, today is Francesco's incoronation as pope. The papal crown, called the tiara or triregnum, hasn't been worn since Paul VI in the mid 20th century, but still figures among the vestments of the pope. So what is it?...More......
Worn with the cope (the open-fronted mantle-like outer garment), this headcovering for popes, that probably diverged from the mitre (the pointed form worn together with the poncho-like chasuble) around 1130*, is for non-liturgical functions.
That is, for functions in which the pope is acting more like an earthly prince, and less like a heavenly one. (That's a pretty rough distinction, but it will do.)
Mitres for performing the Mass, tiaras for receiving foreign dignitaries.
It started out with only one crown, then had two, but since the pontificate of that fascinating and authoritarian figure, Boniface VIII, who took the throne in 1295, it now has three. Why three?
Three for the Trinity might come first to mind, but the symbolism** developed along other lines, denoting the three realms of papal power (Universal Pastor, universal ecclesiastical power, terrestrial power...obviously, according to the Catholics; terrestrial power since the victory of Italian over papal forces in 1870-1871 is limited to the small Vatican State and its little snippets, for example, the churches scattered throughout Rome). It also could symbolize the three roles of Christ, of whom Catholics believe the pope is the earthly representative: priest, prophet and king.
The tiara features in centuries of ceremonial protocol for the incoronation and actions of the pope, and even if you're not Catholic, and its symbolism of terrestrial power is limited, today, its history is still fascinating.
Now you know...enjoy!
*The Catholic Encyclopedia online is out-of-print, but is considered by many scholars to be a better version than the one now in print. It is freely available, and a reliable reference source for a lot of things, even those not having to do with Catholicism, though obviously not updated. For example, the works of Braun, the author of this contribution, were and remain absolutely fundamental for the study of liturgical and non-liturgical vestments.
**This is a good and succinct summary; if you're not religious, just skip the Bible verses at the end.