Monthly Archives: April 2013

More On Dimidiation


Several people have asked me to illustrate further just what the practice of combining two coats of arms together on one shield via the antiquated method of dimidiation looks like. This form of marshaling was used extensively in the Middle Ages but fell out in favor of impaling. With dimidiation, as the name implies each of the two coats of arms is split down the middle and only one half of each is depicted in the two halves of one shield. An excellent example of this are the arms of Dolní Lomná, a village in the Czech republic. The arms depict an eagle on one half and a tree on the other. Dimidiation obscures part of each of the coats of arms and also sometimes creates somewhat unusual looking creatures like this demi-eagle/demi-tree or even more amusingly the famous arms of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports who seems to bear lions that are also half boat!


Coat of Arms of the New Archbishop of Dubuque, IA


Bishop Michael Jackels of Wichita has been named as the new archbishop of Dubuque, Iowa by Pope Francis (it was really decided by Pope Benedict XVI but not announced until after Francis was elected). The current coat of arms of the good bishop will present some interesting problems when he goes to Dubuque. The arms as they currently are depict two distinct impalements. They both comprise the bishop’s personal arms. Neither is the impalement of the arms of the See of Wichita. In North America it has become customary, although far from mandatory, for bishops to depict their own personal arms side by side on the same shield with the coat of arms of their diocese. This does not make the arms of the diocese part of their own coat of arms. Rather, it is a method called impalement used to depict to separate coats of arms on the same shield together in the same achievement. This is done to illustrate that the bishop is “married” to his diocese. Indeed, impalement was first employed in heraldry as a means of depicting the coats of arms of two armigerous people who were married to each other. The impalement of the husband is depicted in the dexter side of the shield (which appears on the left-hand side as we view the shield) and those of the wife in the sinister side (right-hand side as we view it). In the coats of arms of (arch)bishops we therefore would see the arms of the diocese in the position of the husband’s arms and the arms of the individual incumbent bishop in the place of the wife’s arms. It is worth noting that this is only while he is in office as the diocesan bishop. Auxiliary bishops are not entitled to do this as they do not enjoy jurisdiction over the diocese and, similarly, retired bishops must relinquish impaling their arms with those of the diocese as they no longer have jurisdiction over it. As I said before, the arms of the See do not become part of the bishop’s coat of arms. Rather, two distinct coats of arms are being depicted on the shield side by side to denote the “marriage” of the two.

Impalement is far from the only method of marshaling arms together to illustrate jurisdiction. A bishop may quarter his arms with those of the See. An older, and really antiquated, system of marshaling called dimidiation can also be used. In that method the two coats of arms are divided in half and the dexter half of the arms of the see appear in the dexter half of the shield while the sinister half of the bishop’s arms appear in the sinister half of the shield. This method is hardly ever used for the obvious reason that parts of both coats of arms are obscured from view. It is worth repeating that a bishop is under no obligation, as is often erroneously thought, to marshal his personal coat of arms with those of his See. He may simply bear his own personal arms alone. Indeed, if he chooses he may opt not to adopt a coat of arms at all and simply use the diocesan coat of arms during his tenure as his own emblem.

Bishop Jackels has chosen, during his time as Bishop of Wichita, to use his personal arms alone. (illustrated above) This was probably a wise decision since his personal arms are already impaled and impaling them with the arms of the See would have been disastrous. Of course he could have quartered the arms and repeated the arms of the See in the 1st and 4th quarters (upper left & lower right respectively) while depicting the two impalements in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. Which leads us to the question: why does he have impaled arms in the first place?

I think it is a design flaw borne, most likely, out of ignorance as to what the meaning of impalement is, heraldically speaking. At first glance his personal arms look like the unicorn in the sinister impalement combined with the arms of a See that consist solely of a depiction of St. Michael the Archangel. Or, to see these impaled arms in their historically original context, it looks like a “Mr. St.-Michael” married a “Miss Unicorn”. The bishop would have been far better off if he had adopted arms that were divided per fess (horizontally in a straight line) that then depicted St. Michael in chief and the unicorn in base, or vice versa. Better yet, the unicorn could have been depicted and a symbol for St. Michael (like a cross botonee, or a flaming sword, or angels’ wings, etc.) placed on a chief (a separated upper third section of the shield). All this, then could be marshalled to the arms of his See.

As it is now it seems that the very handsome arms of the See of Dubuque will, once again, have to be left out of the achievement of Archbishop-elect Jackels’ coat of arms. That’s not the end of the world but it is a shame. In addition, it really is poor heraldic design to impale what appear to be two separate coats of arms and call it one unified coat of arms. There is no way to avoid the appearance of two marshaled coats which is why this design falls short. Simply put, there are other and better ways of doing it.

Baroness Thatcher RIP


The coat of arms of the late Baroness Thatcher. This version was done when she was made a Dame of the Garter. While the arms of women are usually depicted on an oval or lozenge shaped shield these are done on the heater shaped shield usually used by men. The  inescutcheon (small plain shield in the center) is placed there to indicate these are not her husband’s arms or inherited from an armigerous ancestor but are, in fact, her own granted coat of arms.

UPDATE: Her husband’s arms which are completely different appear below.



Coat of Arms of Bishop-Elect Robert Coyle


The Most Rev. Robert Coyle, who will be ordained the titular bishop of Zabi and auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of the Military Services, USA on April 25 has adopted the coat of arms above. They are based on a coat of arms he adopted at the time he was named a Chaplain to His Holiness.

BLAZON: Azure, on three barrulets wavy Argent in base a ship under full sail Or, masted of the same; on the sail Argent the letter “M” Azure; in chief to dexter and sinister two escallop shells Or. Ensigned with an Episcopal cross Or placed palewise behind the shield and surmounted by a galero with cords and twelve tassels disposed in three rows on one, two and three all Vert. On a scroll below the shield the motto: “Lord Bid Me Come To You”.

EXPLANATION: When describing things in heraldic terms the coat of arms is described from the perspective of one standing behind the shield and holding it in front of them. So the terms “dexter” (right) and “sinister” (left) are then reversed from the point of view of someone observing the coat of arms from the front.

The shield depicts the personal coat of arms of Bishop Coyle containing symbols having to do with his personal devotion, his service to his country, his home and his priestly ministry. The blue background and large letter “M” on the sail of the ship recall his devotion to Our Lady who is the patroness of the United States. The “M” is also a reference to the coat of arms of Bl. John Paul II during whose pontificate Bishop Coyle was ordained to the sacred priesthood. The ship at full sail is an obvious allusion to the more than 24 years Bishop Coyle has spent in the United States Navy. The ship is also an ancient symbol of the Church; the barque of Peter. It is a fitting symbol for anyone in God’s service to use and somewhat poignant that Bishop Coyle’s appointment as a bishop was announced by Pope Benedict XVI on the very same day he announced his abdication as pope initiating historic days of change in the Church which, nevertheless, did not swamp the barque of Peter which remains on course. In the upper portion of the field to the left and right are depicted two gold escallop shells. These shells appear in the coat of arms of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, Bishop Coyle’s native diocese for which he was ordained to the priesthood and also in the coat of arms of Pope Benedict XVI who called him to service as a bishop.

The external ornaments surrounding the shield indicate the rank of the armiger. In place of the martial helmet, mantling and crest ecclesiastics use a pilgrim’s hat called a “galero”. This broad-brimmed hat was, at one time in history, worn by all prelates. It exists now as a heraldic symbol. The Church has devised a system of various colors and numbers of tassels suspended from the hat to indicate various ranks of prelates. Since the original color worn by bishops was bright green this color has been retained in heraldry as the episcopal color. The galero therefore has twelve tassels suspended from cords and falling on either side of the shield. In addition a gold-colored episcopal cross is placed vertically behind the shield and extending above and below it. This cross, not to be confused with the processional cross used in the liturgy of the Church, is a heraldic symbol which has its origins in an actual cross, rather like a processional cross, which used to be carried immediately in front of any bishop whenever he was exercising his office. Throughout the Middle Ages such crosses were used in addition to the processional cross at the head of a liturgical procession. Eventually they fell into disuse but remain as a heraldic symbol of the office of bishop. These external ornaments conform with the Instruction of the Holy See, “Ut Sive Sollicite” of 1969 for the ornaments proper to a coat of arms for a prelate with the rank of bishop.

Below the shield on a decorative scroll we see the bishop’s chosen motto, “Lord Bid Me Come to You” from Gospel according to St. Matthew, chapter 14.

Coat of Arms of Archbishop Welby

The very nicely designed and elegant coat of arms of Justin Portal Welby, 105th Archbishop of Canterbury. His personal arms impale the traditional arms of the See of Canterbury: Azure an episcopal cross palewise Or; overall a pall Proper. Rather ironic that the arms of the See of Canterbury display the archiepiscopal pall (or pallium) a vestment granted to Metropolitan Archbishops by the Pope to signify their communion with the See of Rome! Such a communion no longer exists and current Archbishops of Canterbury no longer wear the pallium. Nevertheless, history is history. Still a very fine coat of arms.

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.

Really? Again?

I know what you’re thinking. A blog…again Fr. Guy? Haven’t we been down this road before? Well, yes, we have but what I was always attempting to do with the other blogs was, frankly, too much. I don’t have the time to do a blog that is updated several times a day everyday. I don’t have the resources to do a blog that is a source of news and information about the Church, the USA, the world or anything else for that matter. I don’t have a lively enough interest in lots of different things to do a blog about, you know, lots of different things.

So, why am I betting (read: hoping) that the third time is a charm? Because this time I’ve decided to do a blog that I think will be more manageable. It’s about heraldry. The overriding passion, avocation really, of my life has been my abiding and ever-deepening interest in heraldry in general and ecclesiastical heraldry in particular. So, this blog is about just that: heraldry. Because that is a topic that elicits every reaction from enthusiastic agreement to mild amusement to searching for the quickest exit without making any sharp or jerking movements from those with whom I share it I know that it is never going to become anyone’s “go to” blog for anything. In addition, its not like heraldry has got breaking stories every hour of the day so there will be no need for me to attend to it all the time.

When there is something I want to write or something I want to share or something I want to criticize or something I want to bring to your attention, I will. For those of you who already like heraldry and have some knowledge of it that should be fun. For those of you who may be looking to learn more about heraldry I hope it will teach you a thing or two. For those who have just a passing interest in the subject and/or might be searching for information for a particular reason I hope this blog may prove helpful. For those of you who haven’t got the slightest interest in this topic: why are you still reading?

Oh! And for those wondering about the name. It is “heraldry” in one of the many translations into Latin that are considered acceptable.

Coat of Arms of Bishop David Talley

This is the coat of arms assumed on April 2, 2013 when David Talley was ordained an auxiliary bishop for Atlanta.

Bishop Talley’s arms are composed of a twelve-pointed silver (white) star known as the “Stellar Maris,” or “Star of the Sea,” a classic symbol honoring Our Blessed Mother between two Cherokee Roses that have silver (white) petals and gold (yellow) barbs and seed and are the state flower of Georgia displayed in the arms of the Diocese of Savannah and in the arms of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. The chevron, from the Prescott family arms is composed of Silver (white) and blue wavy bars, representing water and it signifies the Chattahoochee and the Savannah rivers that run throughout
the territories of the two Georgia dioceses.

In the base of the design, is the bark of St. Peter, gold (yellow) with a silver (white) sail charged with the IHS, the monogram of the Holy Name, in red. The bark is the central feature of the logo of the ”Year of Faith”.

(artwork by P. Sullivan)

Coat of Arms of Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland, OR

This is the coat of arms of the Most Rev. Alexander Sample, former Bishop of Marquette, MI who was installed on April 2 as Archbishop of Portland, OR. The left side of the shield (as we view it) depicts the arms of the archdiocese. They are impaled with the personal arms of the archbishop which he assumed at the time he became a bishop. In the upper section the border that is shown only partially employs a now-defunct method known as dimidiation. This manner of depicting charges fell out in favor of full impalement quite some time ago. It’s not that dimidiation is unheard of any longer. Rather, it is simply rarely used.