Arms of Pope Francis

OK, let’s get this over with. A blog about heraldry and especially Catholic heraldry has to say something about the newly adopted arms of the newly elected pope. Let’s begin with the shield. It’s never a good idea for any prelate who is also a Religious to use the insignia of his Order because it implies he has jurisdiction over the entire Order or that he possesses the entire Order. I suppose in the case of a pope it could be argued that he has jurisdiction over it. Nevertheless, all the examples of popes who have used the arms of their Order in their own arms are examples of poor heraldry. Pope Francis’ arms are no exception. In this case, as it is also a symbol for Jesus within the Holy Family it is understandable why it is being used as a charge but no less excusable. The change of the star from 5-pointed to 8-pointed is nice as is the clarification of the “flower of nard” so that it no longer resembles a bunch of grapes!

While I understand placing the three charges together was an allusion to the Holy Family (Jesus, Mary and Joseph) it shows, nonetheless, poor composition simply to slap three charges onto the shield. Creating a greater unity by changing the star and nard-flower from their original silver to gold was, in my opinion, a good move. However, it would have been better to separate the Jesuit sun-burst from the other charges. Perhaps the shield could have been parted per fess Azure and Argent? The charges could have remained in their present positions but depicted as counter-changed. Thus a white sunburst on a blue field (sufficiently differencing the sunburst from the Jesuit arms) and the other two charges in blue on a white field. This would also have employed the colors of the flag of Argentina as a subtle reference to the homeland of the first South American pope.

The external ornaments seem fine. I was happy to see the ill-placed pallium included in the arms of the last pope was not repeated. The inclusion of the motto is a bit of an innovation. All popes have had mottoes but they are not usually depicted in the achievement. It must be noted that external ornaments CANNOT BE MANDATED by a blazon so the motto on the scroll is not essential when the arms are displayed and it may be left out. The keys and cord are complete copies of the ones first designed by the late (great) Archbishop Bruno B. Heim for the arms of Bl. John Paul II. The tiara-mitre hybrid first poorly conceived by Cardinal di Montezemolo for the arms of Benedict XVI is, predictably, repeated here. It’s still an allusion to the tiara (i.e. a stylized form of the tiara) and, as such, is not essential in its present form. See my comment above about external ornaments.

I’m glad to see the pope didn’t feel the need to completely overhaul the arms he had first assumed as a bishop when later he became pope. The artwork is decent although it could probably be depicted far better by a more experienced artist. The general shape of the achievement is good and, all things considered, this is not a horrible coat of arms.

5 thoughts on “Arms of Pope Francis

  1. Patrick O'Shea

    Agreed. It is not horrible. It doesn’t do much better than that, but there are so many ghastly ecclesiastical coats of arms in current use that we might have seen far worse. And, once again, we can lament the absence of the late (and certainly great) Archbishop Heim. It would be a tremendous blessing to the Church if another competent heraldic authority would rise to prominence to help get Catholic heraldry back on track. (Need another job, Fr. Guy?)

  2. Perpignan

    I couldn’t agree with you more ! If only someone in Rome would read this, even better if they took heed.

  3. Angelo A. Sedacca

    I am disappointed to see that Pope Francis again employed the mistake of using a miter in his arms in lieu of the papal tiara. I was hoping that such use would not become custom.

    I am really surprised that the Holy See has no professional heraldic scholars who could advise on what is proper and appropriate. If that were the case, the tiara would not have been discarded.

    Why are contemporary popes so afraid to use the tiara in their arms and in their inaugurations?! It is a symbol of their office and of the power entrusted to them — as Pope and as Sovereign of the Vatican City State.

  4. Fr. Vernon Knight

    The Miter still has the threefold authority of the “Supreme Pontiff: Universal Pastor (top), Universal Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction (middle) and Temporal Power (bottom). And your “Surprised” surprised that the Holy See has no professional heraldic scholars who could advise on what is proper and appropriate. He is the POPE, he can do whatever he wants including keeping the tri-miter design like Pope Benedict XVI started.


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