Coat of Arms of Pope Pius XII (Before and After)

Much has been written in recent years about the practice of a prelate modifying the design of his coat of arms when he moves from one position to another in the Church. Generally speaking I am against the practice. A coat of arms, even an assumed one, becomes a unique personal symbol and is associated with the person who bears the arms. To change the original design simply because one is taking up a new position or ministry is ill advised.

I am, of course, not referring to marshaling the personal arms with those of a jurisdiction (see, abbey, or even a parish). When a cleric is translated from one jurisdiction to another of course he will then marshal his personal arms to those of the new jurisdiction because, after all, impaling or quartering the personal arms with those of a jurisdiction is a means of displaying two or more separate coats of arms together on one shield. The arms of a diocese do not “become” part of the bishops personal coat of arms. They are displayed along with the personal arms of the incumbent during the tenure of his office as part of the overall achievement but that is all.

Rather, I am speaking of a cleric slightly modifying or even changing entirely the design on the shield of his personal coat of arms. In some cases the change is a result of unhappiness with the design originally adopted. Sometimes it is the case that a cleric is appointed to be a bishop and wishes to make use of his new coat of arms at his episcopal ordination which may be as soon as only six weeks away. So, a design is hastily adopted. later, when being translated to a new see the bishop has had time to second guess his original arms and wishes to tweak the design or even change it altogether. While this is understandable it still should be frowned upon. His new position doesn’t mean he is becoming an entirely new person.

Yet we see that this has and continues to happen. Even no less than Pope Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli 1939-1958) bore arms that were slightly different before and after he became pope. When a bishop and cardinal his arms depicted a dove displayed (i.e. with its wings spread) holding an olive branch in its beak. This is a reference to the name Pacelli which means “peace”. The dove was perched on a trimount and sitting below the arc of a rainbow, an allusion to the story of Noah from the Scriptures.


However, after his election to the papacy there are some differences. The dove now has folded wings and sits perched on the trimount which is depicted on field and above waves of water. In addition, the rainbow is now gone. Perhaps Pius XII felt the reference to the story of Noah was redundant or superfluous? Perhaps he wished to express a global desire for peace since he was elected at a time when the world was on the brink of World War II? Perhaps he simply liked this newer design more? We shall never know yet here is a good example of arms modified when going from one position in the Church to another.

piua xii arms in pen and ink

4 thoughts on “Coat of Arms of Pope Pius XII (Before and After)

  1. Hans van Heijningen

    I agree with father Guy, except in the situation that the bishop has heraldically-bad coat of arms. The are several auxiliarians in the USA who should use the possibility to change their personal symbols, when they transfer to a residential see, f.i. bishop Cozzens, aux of Saint-Paul & Minneapolis and bishop Justice, aux. of San Francisco.

    Of the last saturday created new cardinals are a few who had coats of arms that were so bad that they cried for change! The best example in this is the change done in his arms by cardinal Arlindo Gomes Furtado, cardinal-bishop of Cabo Verde. See wikimedia bishops crests. He changed his arms (the orginal one did n’t deserve this name) with suffcient heraldic result.
    Arms that also could be much improved are those of cardinal Sturla Berhouet: maintain all the three symbols, bu drwa them better in heraldic tincture and remove that pseudo-papal mitre with two bends by taking back a well-shaped double cross and a red cardinal-hat.
    Most of the new cardinals had however well-shaped arms and thank God they kept their shields unchanged.

  2. Netanel

    Very interesting point which i’ve never paid attention to (when a design is hastily adopted…).
    Was there any change in Heraldry after the Protestant reformation?

    1. Hans van Heijningen

      Dear Netanel and webmaster

      I don’t think we can say ‘in general’ that there was change in heraldry after the Protestant reformation. In my country, the Netherlands, the Protestantism is mostly Calvinistic. Churches have sometimes seales here, but not more then that.
      1. The Anglicans, and the Lutheran churches in (Northern-)Europe have good church heraldry with systems about like the Roman Catholic Church, but with different elements.
      2. In the espicopal-Lutheran and evangelical-Lutheran churches in Germany we see some c.o.a.’s of bishops and preachers.

      Concerning about the ‘non-Roman’ – catholic churches:
      3. The Liberal-Catholic church (from 1916, Leadbeater) has its own system, however with prelate hat’s, crosses and croziers.
      4. The Old-Catholic Church (Union of Utrecht, 1889) has a congruent system as the RC church, but last decades they removed the hat’s as being ‘to much Roman).
      5. The Old Roman Catholic Church (1908, John Henry Matthew) had a system congruent to the RC church.
      6. In especially Northern America I saw a lot of regional curches calling themselves catholic, with a kind of heraldry, leaning strong on the RC church but with often bad amateuristic designs.
      7. The eastern-Orthodox churches have theur own heraldry with kings manteau’s, own croziers and crosses and mottoes in Greec of Slavic languages.

  3. Hans van Heijningen

    Today the auxiliary bishop of San Francisco, mgr. McElroy has been appointed bishop of San Diego. We see here a good example of a bishops c.o.a., that had correct elements in the shield but badly colored from a heraldic point of view: two tinctures of green in the base, very thick dividing lines and a chevron that is more a dividing line.
    Here I think a change will be needed (beside the common marshalling with diocesan c.o.a. ofSan-Diego). Enough work for my USA-collegues. Good luck!


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