Monthly Archives: April 2014

Bishop Smith (Auxiliary of Portland, OR)


The Most Rev. Peter L. Smith will be ordained auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Portland in Oregon on April 29 by Archbishop Alexander Sample. The new bishop is a priest of that archdiocese. The shield is shaped like that of a Zulu warrior because the bishop was born in the province of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. The flame represents the Holy Spirit, the upraised hands prayer and worship, the gold field stands for devotion to Christ. The jagged division line represents several mountain ranges important to the bearer and the star Our Lady as well as the star of Bethlehem.

The rose on the episcopal cross supposedly stands for Portland, “the rose city”. The designer of this coat of arms, James Noonan, repeatedly likes to design distinctive external ornaments that are particular to each coat of arms which is really heraldically unsupportable. The blazon can only specify that which is on the shield, not the external ornaments.

Design: James Noonan

Artwork: Linda Nicholson

More Armigerous Saints!

Last May while I was vacationing in France I posted about saints who had been armigerous (i.e. who bore a coat of arms). On Sunday, April 27 there will be two more added to that number when Pope Francis canonizes his predecessors in the Chair of St. Peter, Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II.


The coat of arms of Pope John XXIII (above) was identical to the one he used as Patriarch of Venice with the addition of the external ornaments of a pope. The arms are: “Gules a fess Argent; in chief two fleur-de-lis Argent and overall a tower embattled Argent; on a chief Argent the lion of St. Mark Or”. The lower portion consists of the coat of arms that was adopted by Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli when he was named a bishop. Later, when he was promoted to Patriarch of Venice he added the chief (upper third of the shield) with the golden lion of St. Mark, the patron saint of the Venetian church, as is customary for all Patriarchs of Venice. This is one of the few examples in Italian Church heraldry where arms of the See are used. When he was stationed as Papal Nuncio to Paris, Roncalli had a young Bruno Heim serving as his secretary at the Paris Nunciature. The two shared an abiding interest in heraldry. At the time of his election to the papacy John XXIII was not in immediate touch with Heim who was serving elsewhere. John, himself an amateur heraldist approved his arms as they were with the Venetian lion included to be used as his papal coat of arms. A short time later he did employ his former secretary, Heim, to produce the artwork for the official version of the coat of arms. Heim tried to talk him out of retaining the chief of Venice in his papal arms but it was too late. So, it remained.


The coat of arms of Pope John Paul II (above) are also connected to the late Archbishop Heim. The arms are: “Azure a Latin cross skewed to dexter throughout Or; in sinister base the letter “M” Or”. These arms are also the ones adopted by Karol Wojtyła at the time he was made a bishop. However, in the earlier version the cross and “M” were black. On his election to the papacy Heim tried in vain to persuade the new pope to drop the letter “M” and replace it with another Marian symbol. The use of letters in heraldry is considered poor design. The new pope was adamant that his arms had to remain the same as those he had borne under a repressive Communist regime in order to show that he would not modify or weaken the stance he held as a bishop and cardinal in Poland. As a concession to good taste and design, however, so as not to have a color on a color he agreed to change the cross and “M” to gold on blue. Heim, who was afraid that his reputation as a knowledgeable expert in heraldry would suffer did his homework and then added an entire chapter to a second edition of his book, “Heraldry in the Catholic Church” on the use of what are called house markings, which resemble letters, as being particular to both Polish and Swiss heraldry (Heim was Swiss).

So, the age of saints is not long ago and distant but is with us right now. In addition, both of these down-to-earth men (John was the son of peasant farmers from Northern Italy and John Paul the son of a Polish civil servant) had coats of arms. Heraldry is often misunderstood as elitist, exclusive, snobbish and pretentious. Yet, these two men who were holy to a heroic degree such that they are now being held up as worthy of emulation by the faithful and who were known for their genuine humility each had a coat of arms.

Artwork: Bruno B. Heim

Arms of Christ ???

There is an old custom in the world of heraldry of attributing a coat of arms to fictional characters or to people who were real but who lived long before the dawn of heraldry. Great figures from throughout history have had a coat of arms devised for them and attributed to them. This includes people such as Constantine the Great, King Arthur, the Blessed Virgin Mary and even her divine Son, Jesus Christ. On this Good Friday I wanted to highlight some examples of the arms attributed to Jesus. Most include the instruments of His Passion. In addition, this fascination with attributing arms to Jesus seems to have been at its height in the medieval period but the last example I share today is very recent.





Bishop Burnette of Passaic


The arms of the Most Rev. Kurt Burnette, Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Eparch of the Eparchy of Passaic which has parishes on the eastern seaboard of the USA from Connecticut to Florida. He was ordained and enthroned several months ago. Recently, Byzantine bishops in the USA have taken to using emblems composed of icons with the external ornaments of a coat of arms in a kind of hybrid. Bishop Kurt has chosen a genuine coat of arms. The motto is from Psalm 150 and says, “Praise him with the sound of the trumpet”. It alludes to the main charge of a hunting horn fashioned after the horn of Leys given to Alexander Burnett by Robert the Bruce in 1363. The Burnette family traces its origins back to the 11th Century. One of the bishop’s ancestors emigrated from Scotland to the American colony of New jersey in 1700. The cross of St. Andrew is a further allusion to Scotland as well as to the first called Apostle so revered in the Eastern Churches.

Bishop Manetti

The arms (above) of the Most Rev. Stefano Manetti, installed April 13 as the Bishop of Montepulciano-Chiusi-Pienza, Italy. The wavy line is a reference to the waters of baptism; the star to Our Lady and the scallop shell to the pilgrim journey of faith. Very nice!


Bishop Scharfenberger of Albany

Thanks to the tireless efforts of one of my intrepid readers we see below the coat of arms of Edward Bernard Scharfenberger who will be ordained and installed today as the 10th Bishop of Albany, NY. The design of his arms is simple and clear and borrows from the arms associated with a family called Scharfenberger (the mountains). The star of David represents his mother, Miriam, who was of Jewish origin. The wavy lines allude to the various rivers associated with the bishop’s life and the golden feather in base is an allusion to both the Holy Spirit and the native Americans of upstate NY. My criticism would have to do mostly with this particular artistic rendering and so, I will refrain from commenting further as that is often simply a matter of taste. The beaver holding a crozier in the arms of the see come from the fact that the original name of Albany was “Beaverwyck” as it was a major outpost on the trade route for traders. It holds a crozier as an indication of Albany as the seat of a bishop. The crescent alludes to the Immaculate Conception, the titular of the cathedral church.



New Bishop of Derry, Ireland

The Most Rev. Donal McKeown will be installed April 6 as the new bishop of Derry, Ireland. His arms (below) are briefly described on the diocesan website: The Bishop’s coat of arms takes some elements from the traditional McKeown family symbols – the salmon, which is an ancient Irish symbol of wisdom, and the red hand. However, the simple penal crosses now flank the One whose hands were pierced for the world’s salvation. The salmon reflects the words of the prophet Isaiah, who said “with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Is 12:3).

The Bishop’s motto “Veritas in Caritate” occurs in the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians (4:15).


Bishop of Porto, Portugal


The arms (above) of António Francisco dos Santos, newly installed bishop of Porto, Portugal. It is a simple and elegant design. Some would be critical of the green collé on a blue field but the so-called “tincture rule” isn’t so much a hard and fast rule as much as it is a custom as frequently honored in the breach than in the observance. Read Bruno Heim’s book, “Or and Argent” if you don’t believe me. My only criticism would be that the episcopal cross behind the shield is depicted as a teeny tiny one. It could be larger. I also find the choice of an oval shield (usually used by women in heraldry) as interesting, but not necessarily wrong as its use is not exclusive to females.