Today, November 4, in Denver, CO the Most Rev. Jorge Humberto Rodríguez-Novelo is to be ordained Titular Bishop of Azura and Auxiliary Bishop of Denver.
His coat of arms was designed by the Vicar General of the Archdiocese. However, early on in the process, very shortly after the bishop’s appointment was announced, the director of the Office of Worship of the Archdiocese contacted me to ask if I might be willing to act as a consultant during the design phase of the project which I was happy to do. In fact, I explained, this is really and truly the area of heraldry where I am most at home. I am far from a great artist but my real expertise is in the designing of a good coat of arms. I can tell you all the “whys and wherefores” about what goes into a good design. Once again, we see that heraldry is both an art and a science. It is not primarily the realm of the heraldic artist. Rather, first and foremost the whole thing must start with someone who is knowledgeable about the rules, customs and history of heraldry as well as have a good eye for composition, balance and proportion. I am far more at ease with the work of the herald than that of the heraldic artist.
Since its beginnings, and right down to our own day, the work of heralds has involved the devising, granting and recording of coats of arms. However, it has also included expertise in genealogy and family history, protocol and ceremony. In addition, it is rare that the herald actually renders the artistic depictions of the arms he designs. That task is left to those with expertise in drafting and art who are usually contracted independently by the herald or by the armiger to create beautiful emblazonments.
I have always been one of those who comes down firmly in this debate on the side of the herald, not the artist, as the person who does the “real work” of heraldry. This is not to disparage heraldic artist, whose work is not only painstaking and highly detailed but requires tremendous skill as well as training. But, the simple truth is that one can still paint a coat of arms while at the same time knowing absolutely nothing about the science of heraldry whereas one cannot claim to be competent at designing a coat of arms simply because one can paint or draw well. The heraldic world is best served when both act together in tandem to produce beautiful and correct heraldry.
Over the last thirty-three years my focus has been on learning as much as I can about the science of heraldry and only dabbling as an amateur in producing heraldic artwork. I do not now, nor have I ever, claimed otherwise. So, when a person contacts me to ask me to paint their coat of arms I usually balk but when they ask me to consult on a design I’m right in my comfort zone, as well as my “competency zone”.
In the case of the coat of arms of Bishop Rodríguez there were several elements of his life and ministry he wished to represent in his coat of arms. In Denver they came up with an initial design, very much a work in progress and then asked for my in put. The bishop wanted to represent Christ the King, priestly ministry, the local church in Colorado and Our Lady of Guadalupe. This is the first draft:
After some discussion back and forth I made several proposals that sought to unify the imagery and create a single, more simple, more bold design. The first thing to be avoided was falling into the trap of quartering the field and then filling each quarter with things. It was also important to avoid the use of the color brown as this is not one of the tinctures used in heraldry. Since the symbol for Christ the King occupied the first quarter and was, in a sense, the principal element to be represented we first moved to create a large compound charge of the crowned Chi-Rho. This, then alludes to Christ, the King as well as to priestly service as all priests share in the High Priesthood of Jesus. Then it was a simple matter to allude to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado by a division line in the field and to add the rose as a fitting heraldic charge that is frequently used as a reference not only to Our Lady in general but to Guadalupe in particular. This is because of the roses that bloomed in December which were brought by Juan Diego to his bishop who asked for “proof” of the apparitions. I originally proposed placing the red rose on the silver chief or changing it to a golden rose. However, the bishop really wanted the rose depicted in the traditional red so we cheated a little on the tincture rule (avoiding a color on a color or a metal on a metal) by blazoning the rose as “Proper” which does permit such violations in the case of charges that are depicted Proper. After some of my suggestions were considered a second draft was prepared in Denver which also changed the general shape of the episcopal cross behind the shield and the galero and tassels in order to give the whole achievement a look that was unique. This draft met with the new bishop’s approval. So, the arms he has assumed today are:
These arms were designed and emblazoned by Fr. Randy Dollins with me acting as design consultant.
Thank the Lord you got involved. The original design was total rubbish. The final version is heraldry. Could you provide the blazon? I am interested in how you describe the chief.
BLAZON: Azure, the Greek letters Chi & Rho, the lower arm enfiled by an open crown of fleur-de-lis all Or and in dexter chief a rose Gules barbed and seeded Proper; a chief indented of three points, the center point slightly higher, Argent. The shield is ensigned with an episcopal cross Or palewise behind the shield and an episcopal galero with cords and twelve tassels disposed in three rows of one, two and three, respectively, all Vert. On a scroll below the shield the motto, “Misericordia Eius in Progenies et Progenies”
This is an accurate, practical and useful description of the process by which a herald consultant can achieve a handsome design by guiding non-heraldists in arranging design elements they have assembled following an unpromising first pass at the design. Congratulations.
I join Chris in his interest in seeing a blazon. Could it be added?
A vast improvement over the draft design – striking, clean and simple. The chief is a nice, simple representation of the Denver archdiocese. The only item that gives me pause is the color and placement of the rose, which you addressed. I prefer your original idea to place it (or them) on the silver chief. All in all a very nice design of which the bishop can be proud. Well done!