Western crosier of Archbishop Heinrich of Finstingen, 1260–1286

A crosier (crozier, pastoral staff, paterissa, pósokh) is the stylized staff of office (pastoral staff) carried by high-ranking Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and some Lutheran, United Methodist and Pentecostal prelates. The other typical insignia of most of these prelates, but not all, are the mitre, the pectoral cross, and the episcopal ring.

Official use

The crosier is the symbol of the governing office of the bishop or Apostle.

Western Christianity

In Western Christianity, the crosier (known as the pastoral staff, from the Latin pastor, shepherd) is shaped like a shepherd's crook. A bishop or head of church bears this staff as "shepherd of the flock of God", i.e., particularly the community under his canonical jurisdiction, but any bishop, whether or not assigned to a functional diocese, also uses a crosier when conferring sacraments and presiding at liturgies. The Roman Catholic Caeremoniale Episcoporum[1] says that, as a sign of his pastoral function, a bishop uses a crosier within his territory, but any bishop celebrating the liturgy solemnly with the consent of the local bishop may also use it. It adds that, when several bishops join in a single celebration, only the one presiding uses a crosier.

A bishop usually holds his crosier with his left hand, leaving his right hand free to bestow blessings. The Caeremoniale Episcoporum states that the bishop holds the crosier with the crook towards the people or forward. It also states that a bishop usually holds the crosier during a procession and when listening to the reading of the Gospel, giving a homily, accepting vows, solemn promises or a profession of faith, and when blessing people,unless he must lay his hands on them. In Anglican tradition the crosier may be carried by someone else before the bishop in procession. When the bishop is not holding the crosier, it is put in the care of an altar server, known as the "crosier bearer", who may wear a shawl-like veil around his shoulders called a vimpa, so as to hold the crosier without touching it with his bare hands. Another altar server, likewise wearing a vimpa, holds the mitre, when the bishop is not wearing it.

The crosier is conferred upon a bishop during his ordination to the episcopacy. It is also presented to an abbot at his blessing, an ancient custom symbolizing his shepherding of the monastic community. Although there is no provision in the liturgy of the blessing of an abbess for the presentation of a crosier, by long-standing custom an abbess may bear one when leading her community of nuns.

The traditional explanation of the crosier's form is that, as a shepherd's staff, it includes a hook at one end to pull back to the flock the straying sheep, a pointed finial at the other tip to goad the reluctant and the lazy, and the rod between as a strong support.

The crosier is used in ecclesiastical heraldry to represent pastoral authority in the coats of arms of cardinals, bishops, abbots and abbesses. It was suppressed in most personal arms in the Catholic Church in 1969, and is since found on arms of abbots and abbesses, diocesan coats of arms and other corporate arms.

The Church of God in Christ, Incorporated, is the largest Pentecostal Christian church in the United States. The Church of God in Christ views its Presiding Bishop as the positional and functional leader of the Church. The Presiding Bishop bears a crosier.

Eastern Christianity

Eastern Orthodox tau-shaped crosier belonging to St. Dimitry of Rostov (Rostov museum)
Russian Orthodox bishop's crosier, 16th century

In Eastern Christianity (Oriental Orthodoxy, Eastern Orthodoxy and Eastern Catholicism), bishops use a similar pastoral staff. When a bishop is consecrated, the crosier (Greek: paterissa, Slavonic: pósokh) is presented to him by the chief consecrator following the dismissal at the Divine Liturgy.

The Archbishop of Cyprus has the unique privilege of carrying a paterissa shaped like an imperial sceptre. This is one of the Three Privileges granted to the Orthodox Church of Cyprus by Emperor Zeno (the other two being to sign his name in cinnabar—i.e., ink coloured vermilion by the addition of the mineral cinnabar and to wear purple instead of black cassocks under his vestments).

An Eastern archimandrite (high-ranking abbot), hegumen (abbot) or hegumenia (abbess) who leads a monastic community also bears a crosier. It is conferred on them by the bishop during the Divine Liturgy for the elevation of the candidate.

When he is not vested for worship, a bishop, archimandrite or abbot uses a staff of office topped with a silver pommel.

Oriental Orthodox Christianity

In the oriental orthodox churches crosiers are used as pastoral staffs held by bishops. The Armenian Apostolic Church uses both eastern and western styled crosiers. The Syriac Orthodox Church along with the Indian Orthodox Church have crosiers that are thicker than their eastern counterparts. The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria along with the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church crosiers look exactly like the Greek ones.

Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria holding a crosier, differences from the Greek crosiers are noticeable especially hight and style . It's decorated with a red cloth as traditional

Although Coptic crosiers are sometimes a bit taller and are always decorated with a bloody red cloth around the top cross and the serpents symbolizing that a bishop is responsible for the blood of his parish.


Crosiers are often made of fine metal, or at least gilded or silver-plated. They may also be made of wood, though this is more common of the crosier carried by an abbot than of a bishop.

Western crosiers

Gold crosier from Carcassonne, 13th century (Musée de Cluny)
Crosier ~ 1220/30, treasury of the former Premonstratensian Rüti Abbey in Switzerland

Crosiers used by Western bishops have curved or hooked tops, similar in appearance to staves traditionally used by shepherds, hence they are also known as crooks. In some languages there is only one term, referring to this form, such as the German Krummstab or Dutch kromstaf. The crook itself (i.e., the curved top portion) may be formed as a simple shepherd's crook, terminating in a floral pattern, reminiscent of the Aaron's rod, or in a serpent's head. It may encircle a depiction of the bishop's coat of arms or the figure of a saint. In some very ornate crosiers, the place where the staff meets the crook may be designed to represent a church.

In previous times, a cloth of linen or richer material, called the sudarium, was suspended from the crosier at the place where the bishop would grasp it. This was originally a practical application which prevented the bishop's hand from sweating and discolouring (or being discoloured by) the metal. Over time it became more elaborate and ceremonial in function. In heraldry, the sudarium is often still depicted when crosiers occur on coats of arms.

In the Roman Catholic Church, the crosier is always carried by the bishop with the crook turned away from himself; that is to say, facing toward the persons or objects which he is facing regardless of whether he is the Ordinary or not. The Sacred Congregation of Rites on November 26, 1919, stated in a reply to the following question,

"In case an outside Bishop uses a Bishops' staff, this being either required by the function or permitted by the Ordinary, in what direction should he hold the upper part, or crook?

Reply. Always with the crook turned away from himself, that is toward the persons or objects which he is facing." (AAS 12-177)

Eastern crosiers

The crosiers carried by Eastern bishops, archimandrites, abbots and abbesses differ in design from the Western crosier. The Eastern crosier is shaped more like a crutch than a shepherd's staff.

The sudarium (crosier mantle) is still used in the Eastern churches, where it is usually made of a rich fabric such as brocade or velvet, and is usually embroidered with a cross or other religious symbol, trimmed with galoon around the edges, and fringed at the bottom. The sudarium is normally a rectangular piece of fabric with a string sewn into the upper edge which is used to tie the sudarium to the crosier and which can be drawn together to form pleats. As the sudarium has grown more elaborate, bishops no longer hold it between their hand and the crosier, but place their hand under it as they grasp the crosier, so that it is visible.

The Eastern crosier is found in two common forms. The older form is tau-shaped, with arms curving down, surmounted by a small cross. The other has a top composed of a pair of sculptured serpents or dragons with their heads curled back to face each other, with a small cross between them, representing the bishop's diligence in guarding his flock.


A crosier on the coat of arms of Basle, which was ruled by Prince-Bishops during the Middle Ages

The traditional explanation for the form of Western crosiers, beyond the obvious reference to the bishop as a shepherd to his flock, is this: the pointed ferrule at the base symbolizes the obligation of the prelate to goad the spiritually lazy; the crook at the top, his obligation to draw back those who stray from the faith; and the staff itself his obligation to stand as a firm support for the faithful. It is considered to be both a rod and a staff (Psalm 23:4): a rod for punishing the recalcitrant, and a staff for leading the faithful.

The Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic crosier is found in two common forms. One is tau-shaped, with curved arms, surmounted by a small cross. The other has a top comprising a pair of sculptured serpents or dragons curled back to face each other, with a small cross between them. The symbolism in the latter case is of the bronze serpent made by Moses in Numbers 21:8-9. It is also reminiscent of the caduceus of Hermes or the rod of the ancient Greek god Asclepius, whose worship was centered around the Aegean, including Asia Minor, indicating the role of the bishop as healer of spiritual diseases.

Additionally, there is a probable link between the shape of the crosier and that of the lituus, the traditional staff of the ancient Roman augurs.[2]

Papal usage

Pope John Paul II holding the Papal ferula on 5 October 1997

A crosier was also carried on some occasions by the pope, beginning in the early days of the church. This practice was gradually phased out and had disappeared by the time of Pope Innocent III's pontificate in the thirteenth century. In the Middle Ages, popes would carry a three-barred cross (one more bar than on those carried before archbishops in processions), in the same manner as other bishops carried a crosier. This was in turn phased out, but Pope Paul VI introduced the modern papal pastoral staff in 1965,[3] which instead of a cross or a triple-cross depicts a modern rendition of the crucified Christ, whose arms are fixed to a crossbar that is curved somewhat in the manner of an Eastern Catholic crosier. John Paul I and John Paul II carried this same pastoral staff, as did Benedict XVI at the beginning of his papacy. Benedict XVI later carried more traditionally wrought staffs or ferulae, the first one from the pontificate of Pope Pius IX, then a second one newly made in 2009. Pope Francis continued to carry the new crosier of Benedict XVI but has also carried the crosier of Paul VI, alternating the use of both crosiers.



  1. ^Caeremoniale Episcoporum (Vatican Polyglott Press, 1985), 59
  2. ^
  3. ^ The Saint Bede Studio Blog: Liturgical Designs for Catholic Worship.