The diocese of Bridgeport, CT has finally released the coat of arms of Bishop Frank Caggiano which were posted here earlier. As has become increasingly frequent these days the bishop has chosen to completely redesign his personal arms in having them impaled (that is, marshaled together side-by-side on the same shield) with the arms of the See of Bridgeport. This is an ill-advised course of action. Nevertheless, many heraldic designers and artists who may be consulted to prepare the coat of arms of a bishop but who did not originally design the bishop’s personal arms encourage them to redesign their arms. One wonders if this is primarily because they wish to “have a crack at it” and improve on what they see to be an inferior design?
More often than not a competent artist can improve a poor design simply by the manner in which it is depicted artistically. This saves the unfortunate consequence of changing the personal arms of the bearer long after they have already become associated with him as his personal emblem. It can be seen as a repudiation of everything that came before. For a bishop this is, perhaps, not the best signal to send as it looks rather like he is negating all the ministry he did previous to the present moment and starting fresh rather than continuing in ministry. In fact, it was for this very reason that soon-to-be Saint John Paul II insisted on leaving the letter “M” in his coat of arms despite the protestations of the late great Bruno Heim that letters were inappropriate heraldic charges. John Paul II argued that even though it was heraldically a poor design he had already borne those arms for years and under Communist rule where the Church in Poland was seen as a haven for those who loved freedom. To change the arms upon election as pope might inadvertently send the signal that his stance against Communism would somehow modify or soften with his new position. This was something John Paul II wasn’t willing to risk even the appearance of. So, while he acquiesced to Heim’s suggestion of changing the colors from black on blue to gold on blue the “M” stayed.
So here we see that Bishop Caggiano, upon assuming the office of Diocesan Bishop of Bridgeport has chosen to mark the occasion not only by marshaling his personal arms with those of the diocese as is the usual custom in North America but also by abandoning the coat of arms he assumed upon becoming a bishop in favor of a redesigned coat of arms that retains the same basic elements rearranged in a new way…for reasons passing understanding.
If a redesign somehow greatly improves a coat of arms then it could be argued that it is justified. However, in this case any improvement is difficult to see.
As ever, you have hit this recurrent and irritating nail squarely on the head.