A zucchetto is a small, round skullcap worn by some members of the clergy, particularly in the Catholic church. Clergymen in some other Christian traditions, such as Lutheranism and Anglicanism, also wear zucchetti. A zucchetto is designated by a number of other words, including pileolus, berrettino, calotte, and submitrale.
Zucchetti have been used in the church for quite some time, though the exact dates and reasons behind their use are unknown. It is believed they were introduced at some point in the thirteenth century with the intent of keeping the heads of clergy members warm when they preached in cold, damp churches; many clergy members had a circle of hair removed from their heads upon their initiation into the clergy, so this was a particularly practical tradition.
In Catholicism, a clergy member's position determines what color zucchetti they will wear. The pope traditionally wears a white zucchetto and cardinals wear bright scarlet zucchetti; these traditions were instituted in the 1500s and in the 1400s, respectively. Catholic bishops and archbishops can usually be seen wearing a violet zucchetto. Clergy members who are lower in the hierarchy are not required to wear zucchetti; it is, in fact, quite rare for them to do so. Priests and deacons wear black zucchetti on the rare occasions when they decide to do so; this is extremely rare for priests and almost unheard of for deacons.
Sometimes, specific orders in the Catholic church may wear skullcaps of different colors. Members of the Franciscan order, for example, who follow Saint Francis of Assisi's ideas of voluntary poverty and simple living, can often be seen wearing a brown zucchetto. Clergy members in other religious orders, such as some Anglican bishops in Africa, may also wear a zucchetto on occasion. They tend to do so based on the traditions instituted by the Catholic church; there is little or no difference in style or in purpose. The few other religious institutions that have clergy who wear skullcaps of various forms also generally follow the traditions set up by Catholicism.
The word zucchetto is an Italian word that means small gourd. There are several theories regarding how the word became associated with a head covering. Some believe it refers to the shape of the zucchetto, which can be said to resemble half of a small pumpkin or other gourd. Others suggest that it refers to the fact that it sits on one's head, which could be thought of as a gourd of sorts.