New Advent
 Home   Encyclopedia   Summa   Fathers   Bible   Library 
 A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 
Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > C > Crosier


Please help support the mission of New Advent and get the full contents of this website as an instant download. Includes the Catholic Encyclopedia, Church Fathers, Summa, Bible and more — all for only $19.99...


The crosier is an ecclesiastical ornament which is conferred on bishops at their consecration and on mitred abbots at their investiture, and which is used by these prelates in performing certain solemn functions. It is sometimes stated that archbishops do not use the crosier. This is not so, the truth being that in addition to the pastoral staff they have also the right to have the archiepiscopal cross borne before them within the territory of their jurisdiction. According to present-day usage the Roman pontiff does not use the crosier. That this practice is now a departure from primitive discipline is now thoroughly established, for in the early representations of the popes found on tablets, coins, and other monuments, the crosier is to be seen (Kraus, Geschichte der christlichen Kunst, II, 500). But in the eleventh century this must have disappeared, since Innocent III (d. 1216) intimates that it no longer prevailed (Epistola ad Patr. Const.). As a reason why the pope does not use crosier symbolists allege the giving by St. Peter of his staff to one of his disciples in order to raise a dead companion to life. The pastoral staff will here be treated under: (1) the symbolism of the crosier; (2) its origin and antiquity; (3) early forms and subsequent artistic development.


The crosier is symbol of authority and jurisdiction. This idea is clearly expressed in the words of the Roman Pontifical with which the staff is presented to the bishop elect: "Accipe baculum pastoralis officii; et sis in corrigendis vitiis pies viens, judicium sine irâ tenens, in fovendis virtutibus auditorum animos mulcens, in tranquillitate severitatis censuram non deserens" (Pont. Rom. 77). It is then, as Durandus (Rationale Divin. Off., III, xv) says, borne by prelates to signify their authority to correct vices, stimulate piety, administer punishment, and thus rule and govern with a gentleness that is tempered with severity. The same author goes on to say that, as the rod of Moses was the seal and emblem of his Divine commission as well as the instrument of the miracles he wrought, so is the episcopal staff the symbol of that doctrinal and disciplinary power of bishops in virtue of which they may sustain the weak and faltering, confirm the wavering in faith, and lead back the erring ones into the true fold. Barbosa (Pastoralis Sollicitudinis, etc., Tit. I, ch. v) alluding to the prevalent form of the staff, says that the end is sharp and pointed wherewith to prick and goad the slothful, the middle is straight to signify righteous rule, while the head is bent or crooked in order to draw in and attract souls to the ways of God. Bona (Rerum liturgic., I, xxiv) says the crosier is to bishops what the sceptre is to kings. In deference to this symbolism bishops always carry the crosier with the crook turned outwards, while inferior prelates hold it with the head reversed. Moreover, the crosiers of abbots are not so large as episcopal crosiers, and are covered with a veil when the bishop is present.


The origin of the pastoral staff is at times associated with the shepherd's crook. Whether the usage was borrowed from this source is doubtful. Some writers trace an affinity with the lituus, or rod used by the Roman augurs in their divinations, while others again trace in the crosier an adaptation of the ordinary walking-sticks which were used for support on journeys and in churches before the introduction of seats (Catalani, Pont. Rom., Proleg., xx). At all events, it came at a very early date to be one of the principal insignia of the episcopal office. Just how soon is not easily determined, since in the early passages of the Fathers in which the word occurs it cannot be ascertained whether it is to be taken literally or metaphorically (see 1 Corinthians 4:21) or whether it designates an ecclesiastical ornament at all. In liturgical usage it probably goes back to the fifth century (Kirchenlex., s.v. Hirtenstab). Mention of it is made in a letter of Pope Celestine I (d. 432) to the Bishops of Vienne and Narbonne. Staffs have indeed been found in the catacombs that date from the fourth century but their ceremonial character has not been established. The first unequivocal reference to the crosier as a liturgical instrument occurs in the twenty-seventh canon of the Council of Toledo (633). At present it is employed by bishops whenever they perform solemn pontifical functions, by right in their own dioceses and by privilege outside, and by inferior prelates whenever they are privileged to exercise pontifical functions.

Form and development

The evolution of the staff is of interest. Ecclesiologists distinguish three early forms. The first was a rod of wood bent or crooked at the top and pointed at the lower end. This is the oldest form and was known as the pedum. The second had, instead of the crook, a knob which was often surmounted by a cross, and was called the ferula or cambuta. It was sometimes borne by popes. In the third form the top consisted of a crux decussata, or Greek T, the arms of the cross being often so twisted as to represent two serpents opposed. This, known as the crocia, was borne by abbots and bishops of the Eastern Rite. The original material was generally cypress-wood, often cased or inlaid with gold or silver. Later on the staffs were made of solid ivory, gold, silver, and enamelled metal. From the many specimens preserved in churches as well as from the representations in old sculptures, paintings, and miniatures, some idea may be formed of the artistic development of the staff and of the perfection it attained. In the cathedral of Bruges is preserved the crosier of St. Malo, a bishop of the sixth century. The staff consists of several pieces of ivory jointed together by twelve copper strips; but the volute is modern (Reusens, Elém. d'arch. chr t., I, 504). The eleventh and twelfth centuries witness an elaborate display of most exquisite ornamentation bestowed on the head of the staff. The volute often terminated in a dragon impaled by a cross, or in some other allegorical figure whilst a wealth of floral decoration filled up the curve. In the thirteenth century the spaces between the spirals of the crocketed volute were filled religious subjects, statues of saints, and scenes from the animal and vegetable kingdoms, while in those of the Gothic form the knob was set in precious stones and embellished with a wreath of allegorical ornamentation. Quite a number of these rich and valuable efforts of artistic skill have come down to us, and one or more may be seen in almost every old cathedral of England and the Continent. Oxford possesses three very old and interesting patterns, that preserved at New College having belonged to William of Wykeham. St. Peter's staff is said to be preserved in the cathedral of Trier. The legend may be seen in Barbosa (Pastoralis Sollicitudinis, etc., Tit. I, ch. v). As crosier of an abbess see article ABBESS.


BONA, Rerum liturgicarum libri duo (Turin, 1745), I, xxiv; CATALANI, Pontificale Romanum (Rome, 1850). I, Prolegomena xx; MART NE, De antiquis ecclesi ritibus (Antwerp, 1784, I, viii; REUSENS, El ments d'arch. chrét. (Dublin, 1885) I, 502; II, 453; LEROSEY, Manuel liturgique (Paris, 1890), I, 258 MACALISTER, Ecclesiastical Vestments (London, 1896), 56, 124; PUGIN, Glossary of Ecclesiastical Onament (London, 1868); KRAUS, Gesch. der christl. Kunst (Freiburg im Br., 1897) I, 522, II, 500; DE FLEURY, La Messe (Paris, 1889), VIII, 75-110; BOCK, Gesch. der liturg. Gew nder (Bonn. 1856-62), II, 218 sq.; CAHIER, Mélanges d'archéol. (Paris, 1886), IV, 139.

About this page

APA citation. Morrisroe, P. (1908). Crosier. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Morrisroe, Patrick. "Crosier." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Wm Stuart French, Jr. Dedicated to Rt. Rev. Walter A. Coggin, O.S.B, Third Abbot Nullius Belmont Abbey Nullius, Belmont, North Carolina, U.S.A. (also known as Mary Help of Christians Abbey) — Council Father, Second Vatican Council.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is webmaster at Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.

Copyright © 2017 by Kevin Knight. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.