Bishop Persaud of Mandeville

On September 19 the Most Rev. John Derek Persaud (64) a priest of the Diocese of Georgetown, Guyana will be ordained a bishop and installed as the fourth bishop of Mandeville, Jamaica. I was pleased to be able to design his personal coat of arms and marshal it to the existing armorial bearings of the See.

The coat of arms of the Diocese of Mandeville depicts a red field on which there is a black cross filling the space. The cross is outlined in silver (white) to offset it from the red background. In the middle of the cross is the heart with the cross on top of it that is the emblem of the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus, more commonly known as “The Passionists” who were instrumental in the foundation of the diocese. On the upper third of the shield, called a “chief” are blue and silver (white) wavy bars suggesting the waves of the ocean with a gold (yellow) anchor, a symbol of Hope, placed overall.

Bishop Persaud’s arms depict a blue background on which there is a gold (yellow) eagle bearing a red scallop shell on its breast. The halo on the eagle’s head indicates it is the symbol of St. John, the Apostle and Evangelist. The given name John means “a gift from God”. In addition, the bishop’s family name, Persaud, means “gracious gift” derived from the Hindi word, “Prasad”. As both the bishop’s given name and family name have similar meanings the eagle as a symbol of St. John represents both. The red scallop shell on its breast is a heraldic symbol for St. Augustine, to whom the bishop has a special devotion.

In the lower part of the shield the silver (white) wavy lines suggest waves of the sea. This is borrowed from the coat of arms of the bishop’s native country, Guyana, the name of which means, “Land of many waters”. In addition, they also appear in the arms of the See of Mandeville so they possess a double meaning. Above the eagle there are two gold (yellow) pineapples borrowed from the coat of arms of Jamaica, the bishop’s newly adopted country. These are on either side of a silver (white) fleur-de-lis, a heraldic symbol for Our Lady.

The motto below the shield is, “Iustitia in Caritate” (Justice in Love)

The shield is also ensigned with those external ornaments that indicate the bearer is a bishop. The gold (yellow) cross is placed vertically behind and extending above and below the shield. This is often mistakenly thought to be a processional cross like those used in liturgical processions. However, in former times archbishops, and later all bishops, had a cross mounted on a staff carried immediately in front of them while in procession or on solemn occasions. This cross was a symbol of their rank as bishop. While such an episcopal cross is no longer used practically it has been retained heraldically. In fact, there are other clerics who make use of the ecclesiastical hat with its many tassels but the one true heraldic emblem of a bishop, and the only essential one, is the episcopal cross placed behind the shield.

Above the shield is the ecclesiastical hat, called a galero which, in heraldry, replaces the martial helmet, mantling and crest. “The hat with six pendant tassels (green, purple or black) on each side is universally considered in heraldry as the sign of prelacy. It, therefore, pertains to all who are actually prelates.” (Heim, Bruno B., Heraldry in the Catholic Church 1978, page 114) The galero is green with green cords pendant from it and twelve green tassels arranged in a pyramid shape on either side of the shield. At one time in history bishops and archbishops wore green before adopting the more Roman purple we see today. In heraldry the green hat and tassels was retained for prelates with the rank of bishop according to the Instruction of the Secretariat of State, “Ut Sive” of March, 1969.

Do The Work

I’m very gratified whenever someone tells me that they regularly take a look at this blog. Sometimes they will mention that they have learned a thing or two in what they’ve read here and sometimes they also, jokingly or occasionally chidingly, tell me that they are surprised at the sharpness of my criticisms. With increasing frequency, however, I’m also hearing often in both direct contact with me or in other places on the internet where heraldic enthusiasts congregate that those of us who seem to know more about heraldry should do more to educate those who wish to learn more.

First, let me say that the “those who wish to learn more” frequently fall into two categories. There are those who, for whatever reason, have an interest in learning as much as they can about heraldry for their own enrichment. They understand that a study of heraldry means delving into a world of history, genealogy, symbolism and, lastly, art. Heraldry is a science as well as an art. It isn’t just about pretty pictures or “cool” images of dragons and basilisks. It’s not the domain of medieval fantasists (although many of them do enjoy it) or social-climbing faux nobles. It is a perfectly good hobby, so to speak; a wonderful subject to which one can devote a lifetime of study and learning. In addition, a few also become intimately involved in it as a profession or as an avocation and create new coats of arms for the deserving and the desirous. Whether someone becomes a practitioner of heraldic design and art or simply remains a great enthusiast it is a topic about which you can never stop learning more.

But then there is the other type who, again for whatever reason, have an interest in heraldry but don’t really care all that much about learning the “why and wherefore” of heraldic history or design. They have no interest whatsoever in the many ways the development of heraldry differs from country to country or during different centuries. They have, perhaps, read one or two books on heraldry (or maybe even as many as three!) and have now decided that they’ve “got this”. They are now as expert on the topic as the Garter King of Arms. Therefore, the time has come for them to hang out a shingle and begin creating coats of arms themselves…as a “herald”.

Ironically, despite being convinced of their own expertise, it is this second category who seem to complain the most and the loudest that those individuals and organizations online who offer criticism of heraldic designs owe it to everyone else to educate them more.

Well, first of all, reading someone’s criticism of a design should actually help the less educated to learn more in itself. Although, having said that, I must admit that when I come across really appalling examples I often don’t go into a detailed analytical criticism of the coat of arms but just express my great displeasure by means of some exclamation like, “Awful!”. I’ll grant you that someone is hardly likely to learn much from that other than that I didn’t like it.

My area of particular interest is, obviously, ecclesiastical heraldry. This is an interesting sub-set of heraldry that crosses over time and boundaries and has many rules, customs and traditions of its own despite the fact that there is no umbrella heraldic authority over the entire Church. In places where a heraldic authority does exist the coats of arms of clerics are just as subject to that local authority as the armorial bearings of anyone else. The Church makes no claim to having some kind of supra-national jurisdiction over the regulation of heraldry worldwide. Famously, St. John XXIII (himself a heraldic enthusiast) wanted to establish a Pontifical Office of Heraldry. His former secretary and good friend, Abp. Bruno Heim, talked him out of it. Heim said that one couldn’t legislate in matters of taste. He also had a healthy respect for the different ways heraldry developed in different countries and a real love of heraldic creativity. He knew such a Pontifical Office would tend to standardize Church heraldry and stifle creativity.

So, that’s one of the reasons there isn’t now, nor is there likely to be, an office to regulate the armorial bearings of clergy, prelates and institutions in the Church.

Throughout history the Church has primarily concerned itself with the external ornaments of heraldry. That is, those things that are placed around the shield rather than on it which indicate the rank and/or function of the armiger in question. What actually goes onto the shield is a matter of individual taste or family history or inheritance or anything else that would make for a unique mark of identification for the bearer of the coat of arms. The Church has no great desire to get into that. Those are precisely the kinds of things some heraldic authorities do get into. I know someone who had applied for a grant from the College of Arms in England and the individual wanted the shield divided per bend. He was told to modify that request because, in England, they preferred not to divide the field that way. I know of another case where a bishop wished to receive a grant from the Court of Lord Lyon. His arms were designed by a very competent expert in heraldry but they contained a field chequy and Lord Lyon didn’t allow such a field so the design had to be changed. The Holy See has neither the time, the resources to devote, or the desire to get into that kind of heraldic regulation. Rather, it tends to concern itself with things like the appropriate color of the tassels on a galero to indicate a Prothonotary Apostolic, etc.

So claiming that it is the job of the Holy See to provide guidance in this area isn’t the answer especially as they already do to some extent. Similarly, it isn’t the job of the various heraldic societies that exist to make sure everyone knows every and any rule of the heraldic science. For the most part those societies exist for people who already know and appreciate heraldry somewhat and wish to share their love of the subject with other enthusiasts. There is an educational element to that but it comes primarily from mutual enrichment rather than mere instruction. There are the many heraldic artists in the world, many of whom now have a website to display their work and solicit business. But they are not necessarily experts in heraldry. Rather, many of them are happy to provide heraldic artwork, itself a speciality that not every competent artist can undertake, but it is not necessarily their task to educate. Finally, there are the heraldic enthusiasts like myself who have a website or blog and who, sometimes a bit flippantly, offer exposure and criticism in an effort promote good heraldic practices and, perhaps, help some people to avoid bad ones. But, I put it to you that while having such a blog may help others to learn that does not make it incumbent upon me to attempt to provide an exhaustive course of study in the particulars of ecclesiastical heraldry. After all, this is something I do for fun!

No, the problem in the world today, especially since the advent of the internet and social media, is that, as usual, people want something for nothing. They want some quick and easy way to skip over the hard stuff and be provided with all the answers they need at the click of a mouse. To put it another way, they don’t want to do the work.

Occasionally, someone is kind enough to describe me as an “expert” in ecclesiastical heraldry, especially Catholic heraldry. That’s very kind. To the extent that it may be true it is so for one reason and for one reason only. It’s because I undertook to begin a serious study of heraldry when I was a young man and have stayed with it for over 35 years. I started doing this before there was an internet (or one to speak of) and it was difficult to communicate with others who shared my enthusiasm. But, I was willing to delve, to do research, to read extensively, to slowly build up a personal heraldic library, to seek the advice of experts and then eventually to come under the tutelage of a person who could critique my own ideas and help me to learn by making mistakes. I did the work!

There are a lot of resources available…if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and do some good, old-fashioned research. You can’t learn about heraldry by reading an book, or two, or even three. You definitely can’t learn about ecclesiastical heraldry by looking at pictures of other bishop’s coats of arms alone. For example, if you look in the back of a really good book on Church heraldry like Bruno Heim’s Heraldry in the Catholic Church you’ll find not only a bibliography but several appendixes quoting papal documents. How many people have undertaken to look up and obtain full texts of those documents and then have them translated into their own language if they don’t have a good command of Latin?

I did.

How many people who claim to really love Church heraldry look at the books in Heim’s bibliography and then set out to obtain as many of them as possible for your own library, or at least track copies of them down in a lending library?

I did.

How many heraldic enthusiasts who can draw reasonably well have said no to undertaking heraldic commissions because they realize they don’t really know enough about heraldry to create a coat of arms for someone else so they wait several years in order to learn more and become more competent in the field before daring to be so bold as to design a coat of arms for someone else?

I did.

To become really good at this -not the world’s greatest, but just really good- takes a lot of effort, a lot of time and a lot of work. Sadly, there are too many people involved with the creation of heraldry who simply don’t want to make the effort, put in the time or do the work. THAT’S why there is so much bad heraldry floating around the Church. It’s because too many people who have no business whatsoever creating coats of arms are doing so. For a bishop to go to a friend, or relative, or seminarian and say, “You draw well. Why don’t you do my coat of arms?” is like me going to a friend and saying, “You know how to sew on a button so why don’t you make me a chasuble?” It’s preposterous! But, it happens all the time. Ignorant dilettantes who don’t have the sense to seek out the advice of someone with greater expertise, let alone refer their “client” to someone with greater expertise, are getting involved in droves in the design and creation of coats of arms in the Church. Not only are the resulting designs really bad but then they have the audacity to say that someone else: the Holy See, a heraldic society, or even a blogger should provide more guidance and instruction to them so that they can avoid mistakes.

Well, I don’t agree. I’m living proof that the resources and material are out there and can be found with a little effort. What is required is having the humility to start out as a student and not jump immediately into attempting to do something about which you know very little as though anyone can do it. It requires the ability genuinely to learn from criticism instead of simply becoming defensive in the face of it. Most importantly, instead of expecting someone else to provide you with ready-made answers at your fingertips so that you can reap all the benefit of the years of effort someone else has made to increase their knowledge and expertise while at the same time barely lifting a finger yourself you need to…

DO. THE. WORK!

Anchorage-Juneau

On September 17 the official merger of the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska with the neighboring suffragan See of Juneau, Alaska will take place creating the Archdiocese of Anchorage Juneau. The current bishop of Juneau, the Most Rev. Andrew Bellisario, CM, will be installed at Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral in Anchorage and also will be invested with the pallium as a Metropolitan Archbishop. The sensible decision to combine the coats of arms of the two dioceses by simply borrowing elements from each was made. The new coat of arms combines all that had been in chief of the arms of the Diocese of Juneau with what had been in base for the arms of the Archdiocese of Anchorage. It’s a lot of blue as each one had a primarily blue field but the overall look is not unpleasant.

Armorial bearings of the new, combined archdiocese.
Original coat of arms of the Archdiocese of Anchorage.
Original coat of arms of the Diocese of Juneau.

Archbishop Rozanski of St. Louis

On August 25th the Most Rev. Mitchell Rozanski (62), a Baltimore priest who most recently served as Bishop of Springfield, Massachusetts, will be installed as the 11th Archbishop of St. Louis, Missouri.As mentioned earlier in the blog his coat of arms will be:

The explanation from the archdiocesan website is as follows: The armorial bearings of the Archdiocese of St. Louis (left side) is a blue field with a gold crusader’s cross, and a crown representing Saint Louis IX, King of France, and patron of both the Archdiocese of St. Louis and City of St. Louis. On the extremes of the cross are found the fleur-de-lis flower that recalls the French foundation of the city.

For his personal arms, His Excellency Archbishop Rozanski has selected a design that is based on two major themes; his Polish heritage and his service to the Archdiocese of Baltimore.   In the upper portion of the design, in red and silver (white), the colors of the Polish national flag, are a cross bottony (each arm terminates in a triple ball), which represented in red on silver, is a variant on the symbolism known as a “cross of St. Michael,” the Archbishop’s baptismal patron. To the right of the cross is a silver rose on a red field, drawing upon the significance that His Excellency’s family name refers to “Rose flower” in Polish.

In base, on the alternating vertical bars of black and gold (yellow) with a red diagonal bar called a “bend,” is an open book of the Most Holy Scriptures. These charges, drawn from the arms of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, signify that His Excellency’s ministry as a deacon, priest, and now as an archbishop is to spread God’s Holy Word to the faithful of the Archdiocese. This symbolism joins well with the Archbishop’s motto, that is taken from the 100th Psalm, that in all that Archbishop Rozanski is to do for The Lord, he is called to “SERVE THE LORD WITH GLADNESS.”

I think it makes for a handsome combination. Ad Multos Annos!

Bishop Marshall of Alexandria, Louisiana

On August 20, 2020, the Most Rev. Robert Marshall (61) up until now a priest of the Diocese of Memphis, Tennessee will be ordained a bishop and installed as the thirteenth bishop of Alexandria, Louisiana. The diocese was founded originally as the diocese of Natchitoches and was later called Alexandria and then Alexandria-Shreveport until Shreveport was separated to be its own diocese in 1986.

Bishop Marshall’s coat of arms impaled with those of Alexandria are:

To the left we see the arms of the Diocese of Alexandria. The red background represents the Red River which runs through the city. The silver (white) cross stands for the Christian faith and is surrounded by four bells borrowed from the ancient See of Alexandria, Egypt for which the city that is the seat of the diocese is named. Over all of this is a crescent divided into gold (yellow) and black checks. This is borrowed from the Spanish arms for the family “Xavier” and serves as an allusion to St. Francis Xavier, the titular patron of the cathedral church.

Bishop Marshall’s arms depict a blue background with a silver (white) Cross of Calvary. This type of cross is depicted as a Latin cross (the lower arm being longer than the other three) atop three gradings or steps. Both the background color and the cross are derived from the coat of arms associated with the name “Martin”. This was the bishop’s mother’s maiden name and is used to honor his family heritage. The lower portion of the field is divided from the upper third called a “chief” by a narrow silver (white) wavy line. This wavy line represents the Mississippi River near to which the bishop has lived for most of his life. In addition, a symbol of the Mississippi River is included in the coat of arms of the Diocese of Memphis in which the bishop served as a priest prior to becoming a bishop.

 On the red background of the chief are a single silver (white) five-pointed star between two gold (yellow) pine cones. The star comes from the emblem of the LaSalle Christian Brothers who educated the bishop both in his high school and college years as well as educating his father and uncles. That Religious Community of men had a profound and lasting impact on not only the bishop’s education but also on his spiritual life and journey and on the lives of his family. The red background and pine cones are borrowed from the coat of arms of the bishop’s patron saint, St. Robert Bellarmine.

The motto below the shield is, “Live, Jesus In Our Hearts” from a prayer attributed to St. John Baptist de La Salle (1651-1719), founder of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools and patron saint of teachers of youth.  The prayer is used multiple times each day in LaSallian schools throughout the world.  It is used most frequently in dialog.  The leader says, “Live Jesus in our hearts,” and the students respond, “Forever!”

It was my privilege to design the bishop’s personal arms, marshal them to the arms of the See and emblazon them.

Bishop Tylka of Peoria

On July 23, the Most Rev. Louis Tylka (50), a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, will be ordained a bishop in the Church and also become the Coadjutor Bishop of Peoria, Illinois. A Coadjutor Bishop functions within the diocese very much like an Auxiliary Bishop and has duties that are at the discretion of the Diocesan Bishop. However, what distinguishes a Coadjutor Bishop is that he has a right to automatically succeed to the See on the death or resignation of the current Diocesan Bishop. So, when the day comes that Bishop Jenky, CSC of Peoria leaves office Bishop-Elect Tylka will immediately succeed him as Diocesan Bishop.

The coat of arms he assumes now is his personal arms alone which will, in due time, be impaled with those of the Diocese of Peoria after he succeeds to the See.

The field is red which is a color associated with the Holy Spirit. The life of any priest and bishop is placed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The two silver (white) “waves,” at the bottom of the shield symbolize Lake Michigan (the shores of the archdiocese of Chicago where Bishop Tylka served prior to becoming a bishop) and Lake St. Mary (at the seminary which the bishop attended). Together the waves hearken to our Baptism which initiates into the life of Christ and also alludes to John the Baptist.

The main charge – a mystical rose – is composed of several elements that are layered as each aspect of our faith builds upon the various encounters we have with the Lord, the Church and others. Together, they create a symbol of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is a slight reference to the parish of Mater Christi where the bishop served for ten years as pastor. In addition, the rose also alludes to the need to grow in our faith which blossoms as it grows. The larger petals of the rose consist of heart-shapes surmounted by small tongues of fire resembling the traditional image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This represents His sacrificial love for us. The flames above each heart also remind us of the Holy Spirit. Coincidentally, the Sacred Heart was a particular devotion of St. Julie Billiart, the patroness of the parish in which the bishop has served as pastor for the last six years.)

At the center of the rose are five gold (yellow) petals surrounding a silver (white) roundel on which there is a cross. This represents the Sacred Host in the monstrance and it is placed at the center of the whole image as a way of expressing the Eucharist being at the center of the life of faith. Traditionally a heraldic rose is depicted with thorns which, in this instance, have been shaped like the fleur-de-lis. This has multiple meanings as it alludes to St. Joseph and to the bishop’s home parish of St. Joseph, St. Louis the King (the bishop’s baptismal patron) and the Archdiocese of Chicago (from whose coat of arms they were borrowed).

Blazoning this complex charge was a bit challenging but it turned out to be, “…a Mystical Rose composed of five heart-shaped petals Argent each surmounted by a tongue of fire Or surrounding an inner circle of petals Or; seeded with a plate charged with a Greek cross Sable and barbed with fleurs-de-lis Or.” In general, it’s considered a good practice to keep a blazon as succinct as possible but sometimes, especially as in this case when coming up with something new and unique, it’s best simply to describe it as thoroughly as possible in case someone in the future will be working from the blazon.

The motto below the shield is, “Go Make Disciples” from Matthew 28:19.

The Bishop-Elect requested an emblazonment that was as simple as possible and also reflected his preference for a more modern style.

I was very pleased and happy to design and emblazon Bishop Tylka’s achievement.

Bishop Lewandowski, C.Ss.R.

The coat of arms assumed by the Most Rev. Bruce Lewandowski, CSsR who will be ordained the Titular Bishop of Croae and Auxiliary Bishop of Baltimore on August 18th:

While many reactions leap to mind such as: incorrect, poorly-designed, clashing styles (the dove’s wing going right up off the shield is particularly ridiculous) among others there is really only one word to describe this:

HIDEOUS!

Found in Translation

The Most Rev. Edward Malesic (59) who, since 2015 has served as the fifth Bishop of Greensburg, Pennsylvania is now to be translated to the See of Cleveland, Ohio becoming its twelfth Bishop. The announcement was made in Rome this morning. Very well liked and respected in Greensburg, Bishop Malesic, originally a priest of Harrisburg, PA, will be greatly missed. He brings to Cleveland his gifts and talents and hopefully he will have a fruitful ministry there. His coat of arms, assumed in 2015, will impale well with those of the Diocese of Cleveland.

Bishop McGovern of Belleville

On July 22 the Most Rev. Michael McGovern (56) a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, will be ordained a bishop in the Church and installed as the IX Bishop of the Diocese of Belleville, Illinois.

The new bishop is assuming a personal coat of arms which will be impaled with the arms of the See:

In the dexter (left side as we view it) impalement, Belleville is symbolized by a blue field with a green mount or hill rising from the base of the design. This hill has a dual significance. It refers to Compton Hill, the name of Belleville until 1814, and to Cahokia Mounds near which Bishop Laval of Quebec established the first mission serving the Cahokia Native Americans in 1699. On the top of the hill is a castle which is the traditional symbol for a city (“ville”). It is rendered in gold for beauty (“belle”) which identifies the See city, Belleville. Rising above the castle is a gold cross with arms that end in fleur-de-lis to honor the French missionaries who served the Native Americans of Southern Illinois. Above the castle is an arched bar which is taken from the Coat of Arms of His Holiness, Pope Leo XIII who erected Belleville as a Diocese in 1887. Just above this bar are the symbolic “keys to the Kingdom of Heaven” given by Christ to Simon Peter, the rock on which He built the Church. This is in recognition of the diocese’s Cathedral Church of Saint Peter.

The personal coat of arms assumed by Bishop McGovern combines symbols that are meaningful to him reflecting his spiritual life and priestly ministry. The field is red, a color associated with the Holy Spirit as well as with the Passion of the Lord. The life and ministry of a priest and bishop are rooted in the Paschal sacrifice of Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit. The main charge, a silver (white) pelican in its piety, symbolizes the discipleship to Christ to which all Christians are called. It depicts a pelican vulning its breast, or picking at its own flesh to feed its young with its blood. This is clearly an image of Christ and the Eucharist who calls us all together as His brothers and feeds us with His Body & Blood.

Below the pelican is a gold (yellow) crescent which is a symbol of Our Lady under her title of the Immaculate Conception, the patroness of the United States of America. Above the pelican are two gold fleurs-de-lis which, while also being a symbol associated with Our Lady, are included here because they are taken from the coat of arms of the Archdiocese of Chicago where Bishop McGovern served as a priest prior to becoming a bishop.  

The motto below the shield is, “Vos Autem Dixi Amicos”, taken from John 15:15. Jesus says to His disciples, “I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” This, too, is an allusion to the fellowship of discipleship which Jesus gives to all people.

It was both my privilege and my pleasure to design and emblazon the bishop’s coat of arms as well as to marshal them to the existing coat of arms of the See of Belleville..

Archabbot Martin Bartel, OSB of St. Vincent Archabbey

On June 23 the Rt. Rev. Martin de Porres Bartel, OSB (65) was elected by the monks of St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, PA as their 12th Archabbot. On July 10th at Mass he received the abbatial blessing from the Most Rev. Edward Malesic, the Bishop of Greensburg, PA which is the diocese in which the Archabbey, America’s oldest Benedictine Monastery and currently the largest Benedictine Abbey in the world, is located. I studied for my Master of Divinity at St. Vincent Seminary and I used to be a monk in the Community there.

The new Archabbot has assumed a coat of arms:

I’m a bit conflicted in my assessment of this coat of arms. I know the Archabbot and I also know the monk who designed it and executed the artwork. I have a great deal of respect for Archabbot Martin as a priest and a monk and I don’t wish to be too harsh in my critique. I think the best I can say is that it isn’t “horrible”. Another way to say it would be, “It could have been worse” but that is, admittedly, damning with faint praise.

I will not say a word about the artwork because that is not usually the subject of any of my criticism on this blog. Different artist’s draw differently. The style is strongly reminiscent of that of the late Wilfred Bayne, OSB a monk of Portsmouth Abbey in Rhode Island who was an eminent heraldist in his day.

My first, and principal, criticism is that, as has happened in many instances before, the veiled crozier that is the primary heraldic symbol of the coat of arms belonging to an abbot is missing. When St. Paul VI (pope from 1963-1978) decided to remove both the mitre and crozier from the coats of arms of bishops and leave only the episcopal cross in their heraldic achievements many took this to affect the arms of abbots as well. In former times abbatial achievements contained the mitre and the crozier. However, Paul VI’s directive was truly addressing the arms of bishops and cardinals only. The coat of arms of an abbot is still supposed to have a crozier placed behind the shield with a veil (sudarium) attached. It’s origin comes from a time when abbots made use of the crozier (in fact abbots have used the crozier longer than bishops have done) but did not enjoy the privilege of pontifical gloves. The veil served the function of protecting the crozier from dirt and oil that can be present on the hand. It is not usually used practically anymore but it has remained as a heraldic symbol and – I repeat – the heraldic symbol of the coat of arms of an abbot. Other clergy are entitled to the black galero with twelve tassels. Such a galero may be used in the armorial bearings of Vicars General, Vicars Episcopal, Provosts, Major Religious Superiors and, on occasion, some others holding a particular office. Alone, it does not indicate the coat of arms of an abbot.

The arms adopted by the Archabbey in the early 20th Century are very nicely designed and combine well when impaled with the personal arms of the Archabbot.

As for Archabbot Martin’s personal arms: the cross quartered Sable and Argent is a reference to both the Dominican Sisters who educated him as a boy and the order to which his patron, St. Martin de Porres, belonged. Over these is a basket containing bread and a broom. These are, apparently, symbols associated with St. Martin de Porres and the bread is also an allusion to the Holy Eucharist.

There is no problem with the black in the cross up against the red of the field. The so-called “rule” of tincture (i.e. that a color should not be placed on a color nor a metal on a metal) does not come into play with complex fields or charges. Because the cross is both black (Sable) and white (Argent) it may be placed on a field of a single tincture. (For example: the complex field Azure & Argent of the arms of the Archabbey may have an entirely Sable inverted chevron on it without violating this “rule” because of the complex appearance of the field). However, I think it would have looked better if a lighter shade of red had been used giving the arms a brighter appearance.

I find that the basket of bread is ill-placed as is the broom. In addition, there seems to be no good justification for the basket to be blue. Introducing multiple tinctures into a coat of arms without good reason is unsupportable, heraldically. The broom I suppose to be considered gold (Or). I have not seen an actual blazon of these arms, if one exists. If it is not intended to be gold but brown, of any shade, then it should be noted that brown is not used in heraldry. If it were blazoned as “Proper“, a term which means a particular charge is shown as it appears in nature, I don’t see this as being justifiable either since there is no naturally occurring broom and, therefore, no color which would be considered its “proper” color. Some more attention should have been paid to both the placement and the tinctures of the basket and broom.

So, I return to where I started. This design isn’t “bad” per se. But, having said that, it could have been considerably better. With some further consultation on the design the armiger might have been better served. Of the twelve Archabbots of St. Vincent nine of them have borne unique coats of arms. (The first four used the same coat of arms). Of those nine coats of arms, with 1 being the best and 9 being the worst, I would say that Archabbot Martin’s ranks 8th. The final word I can say is that I have seen abbatial coats of arms that are absolutely horrible and ugly. This is most definitely NOT one of those. But, it is merely…OK.