Many people have noticed that the pope and the cardinals wear little beanies on their heads in a color that corresponds to their office: The pope wears a white one, and the cardinals wear red ones.
That ‘beanie’ has a practical, not a religious origin. It’s officially called a ‘zucchetto,’ which is Italian for ‘skull cap.’ It developed to solve a problem caused by the convergence of two rules of church discipline:
- The tonsure of the clergy
- The cope’s loss of its hood
‘Tonsure’ is a fancy word for haircut. It used to be required for any man entering the monastery or the clergy to be have their head partially shaved as the first part of the ceremony. The style of the tonsure varied from order to order and from region to region, but one common form was to shave the crown of the head, sort of like imposing male pattern baldness.