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The Palatine Tiara is the most widely used Papal Tiara in the possession of the Vatican. It was donated to Pope Pius IX in 1877 by the Holy See's Palatine Guard to commemorate his jubilee as a bishop. It was last worn to date by Pope John XXIII.
Coronation tiara for some popes
Of all the tiaras in the papal collection, the Palatine Tiara is the most widely used, a fact reflected in the image which shows its worn lappets and its off-centre monde. It was particularly associated with the pontificates of Pope Pius XII (r 1939–1958) and Pope John XXIII (r: 1958–1963), both of whom chose to be crowned with it.
It was not, however, the official coronation tiara. Traditionally, popes received their own tiara from their cardinalate see on election. An exception was Pius XII, who prior to his election had not had a see; he had been Cardinal Secretary of State, and so did not receive a tiara, instead choosing to be crowned with the 1877 tiara from the collection. In John XXIII's case, though he did receive his own tiara, his election was so unexpected that Bergamo, his native region, which donated the tiara, did not have plans in train to manufacture a tiara quickly in the event of his election. His papal tiara was given to him in 1959. As a result, he also chose to be crowned with the 1877 tiara.
The tiara is made up of a silver mesh over a felt base and consists of three separate golden crowns. Each crown is inlaid with pearls, 90 on each, and there are a total of 540 pearls on the tiara. The first crown contains sixteen rubies, three emeralds, a hyacinth (yellow zircon), an aquamarine, three rubies, a sapphire, and eight gold points with five garnets and two 'Balas rubies' (red spinels). The second crown has on it ten emeralds, eight spinels, one chrysolite, two aquamarines, six small rubies and three sapphires. The third crown has sixteen small spinels, three larger spinels, four sapphires, three hyacinths, three aquamarines, one garnet, eight gold floral ornaments each with two emeralds, one spinel, a chrysolite and eight gold points, each adorned with a garnet. The top of the tiara beneath the monde is covered with a layer of thin gold, on which are eight rubies and eight emeralds. The gold covering is a gold monde enameled in blue on the top of which is a cross containing eleven brilliants. Jewels are also attached to the lappets.
"Vicarius Filii Dei" myth
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Some Protestant groups, particularly those associated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, claimed that Vicarius Filii Dei, "representative of the Son of God", is spelt out in jewels on the 1877 tiara. "Vicarius Filii Dei" is a title mentioned as a papal title in the forged mediaeval Donation of Constantine. Some Protestant groups claim that it is a real papal title, a claim dismissed by the Roman Catholic Church as an "anti-Catholic myth".
All photographs of the tiara, including close-up photographs taken from all sides at the coronation of Pius XII in 1939, show that it actually contains no writing. None of the existing tiaras in the collection, the oldest of which is from the 16th century, contains the words Vicarius Filii Dei.
No longer worn, but not prohibited
In 1963, the new pope, Pope Paul VI, chose to be crowned with his own tiara given to him by his former see rather than with the Palatine Tiara. (He also had a shorter rite of papal coronation than had previous popes.) He never wore any other tiara from the collection and in June 1963 formally renounced the wearing of a tiara for the remainder of his papacy by placing his tiara on the altar of St. Peter's Basilica during the Second Vatican Council. However, his own 1975 Apostolic Constitution Romano Pontifici Eligendo still envisaged coronations for his successors.
In 1978, his immediate successor, Pope John Paul I, chose not to be crowned, as did the next three pontiffs, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis, none of whom ever wore a tiara. They thus let the custom fall into disuse. They did not prohibit it; it would be meaningless to do so, since any new pope could at any time undo such a prohibition and choose to be crowned (with the Palatine Tiara or any other tiara specially made or already existing) in the same way as Pope John Paul I chose not to be crowned.
Pope John Paul II's 1996 Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis on the election of a pope omitted all mention of a coronation ceremony, speaking merely of "the inauguration of the pontificate".