Symbols of a bishop

During his installation, Bishop Zarama held, wore and used items specific to the office of bishop. Here’s a look at the history behind Bishop Zarama’s personal insignia and why bishops use these items.



The bishop sits on a special chair called a cathedral, which is the root word for cathedral, the principal church of a diocese. The cathedra signifies the bishop’s authority.

This cathedra, made of Carrara (white) and Giallo siena (yellow) marble, sits inside Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, which was dedicated as the new cathedral for the Diocese of Raleigh July 26. On Bishop Zarama’s installation day, the cathedra featured a circular, but temporary, paper image of the bishop’s coat of arms. A more permanent coat of arms was being crafted to fit the cathedra and was expected to be installed in the fall of 2017.


The Crosier

The bishop carries a tall hooked staff called a crosier. In the Western Church, it is shaped like a shepherd’s crook to symbolize the bishop’s role as the shepherd of his flock. Its roots go back to the walking staffs of travelers at the time of Christ, and crosiers dating from as early as the 14th century have been found in catacombs. By the Council of Toledo in 633, the crosier was mentioned as a liturgical implement. Bishop Zarama brought this crosier with him to Raleigh. It was a gift to him from the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta. His motto, God is love, is written in Latin near the handle.




The miter is the tall, peaked hat that bishops wear. It has its origin in the cap with headbands worn by athletes of ancient Greece. It took its current form in the 12th century. The miter’s two shield-shaped halves are said to represent the Old and New Testaments. Two strips of fabric called lappets hang down the back. The Lappets were originally designed to be tied around the chin to prevent the miter from falling off while the bishop rode on horseback.


Ever wonder why a bishop removes the miter during parts of a Mass? The miter is laid aside when the bishop prays, and underneath it he wears a zucchetto, a skullcap originally designed to keep the hair off the miter.

Bishop Zarama wore this miter at the installation Mass.

Bishops wear different miters depending on the occasion. And what they wear is tied to whether they are concelebrants helping to celebrate the Mass or the one who presides at Mass. “When all the bishops … when we are together for a concelebration Mass, all bishops -- except the one who presides -- we wear a white miter,” Bishop Zarama said. “Only the one who presides … [wears one] that maybe matches the colors of the chasuble.”

Similar to his brother bishops, Bishop Zarama has various miters to match chasubles of different colors. He still has the first miter he ever wore in 2009, and his favorite miters, he said, are the ones that are the most comfortable.   

Pectoral Cross

Pectoral Cross

The bishop wears a cross called a pectoral cross. Its name derives from the Latin word pectus or “breast.” It is worn differently depending on the bishop’s garments. For example, if he is in a suit and collar, the pectoral cross is usually placed in the vest pocket, with the chain showing. That’s why you’ll often see a bishop with a chain across his chest. The cross can hang from either a chain or a silk cord. The stone assigned to bishops and archbishops is the amethyst, and many pectoral crosses are adorned with one or more.


Bishop Zarama said the most important element of the pectoral cross is how close it needs to be to your heart. “The cross is always there,” he said. “What is life? Life is a challenge. But in the challenge is hope. The cross is not the end; the cross is the key.”

The pectoral cross (pictured) that Bishop Zarama wears most often was given to him by his mother, Maria Teresa. One side shows Jesus on the cross, and the other side shows his mother Mary.

Episcopal Ring

Episcopal Ring

Bishops wear a ring that has multiple layers of meaning. It has been a symbol of authority and jurisdiction since the third century. The ring also symbolizes the bishop’s marriage to the Church, his spiritual parentage and the sacred faithfulness with which he will teach and protect his flock.


Bishop Zarama has two rings, which were both given to him by Archbishop Wilton Gregory, with whom he served in Atlanta.

“For special occasions … I will wear the [gold] ring that was given to me the day when I was ordained a bishop,” Bishop Zarama said, adding that he most often wears a silver ring with an image of the Good Shepherd.

*FAITH Catholic contributed to this report.