O’Brien: Grand Master Emeritus (UPDATED)

On December 8, 2019 His Holiness Pope Francis appointed Fernando Cardinal Filoni as the VIII Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. With that his predecessor, Edwin Cardinal O’Brien became Grand Master Emeritus of the Order.

Heraldic use in the EOHS is somewhat unclear. There are various sources all claiming to be definitive accounts of the heraldic privileges of the Order but, in fact, since most only exist online none can truly be said to be definitive.

Since 1949 when Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church have been appointed by the Pope as Grand Masters they have observed the heraldic convention, like other orders, of marshaling their personal arms to those of the Order by means of quartering them. No one has disputed their right to do so or that this has been the usual manner. There remains a question, however, of whether or not to marshal the armorial bearings of Grand Masters Emeriti in the same way, or, as the usual heraldic custom would suggest, to have them revert to using their personal arms alone.

Cardinal O’Brien’s coat of arms is of particular interest in this question because of his unfortunate and erroneous habit of retaining armorial elements from his previous postings in his coat of arms each time he has been assigned to undertake a new position. So, the arms he assumed when first ordained Auxiliary Bishop of New York have long ago been abandoned. After he concluded his tenure as Archbishop of of the Military Archdiocese, USA he kept the open globe from the archdiocesan achievement of the US Military and incorporated it as a base into his personal arms when he moved to Baltimore. In an even worse move, when he left Baltimore as its archbishop to go to Rome as Pro-Grand Master and later Grand Master of the EOHS he kept his coat of arms entirely as they had been in Baltimore, impaled with the arms of the See of Baltimore, for which he had absolutely no right whatsoever as he was no longer the Ordinary of that archdiocese. It is important to remember that the custom of bishops impaling their personal arms with those of their See does not mean that the arms of the jurisdiction becomes a part of their own coat of arms. Rather, it is a means of marshaling, that is to say, depicting two separate coats of arms on the same shield to illustrate a relationship between the two, in the case of bishops to indicate that they are “married” to their diocese and exercise jurisdiction over it. If they should leave that diocese they no longer enjoy that right.

So, we see that the arms of the See of Baltimore never should have been included in Cardinal O’Brien’s arms as Grand Master of the EOHS. In the case of the globe from the arms of the US Military Archdiocese at least it can be said that rather than marshaling his arms to those of the Military Archdiocese what O’Brien did was to borrow a charge and incorporate it into his own personal arms which is arguably a better practice and, thus, acceptable.

There are probably those who assume it is acceptable for the cardinal simply to continue using the same achievement he used as Grand Master. They would be wrong. No one in an emeritus position is entitled to heraldically represent jurisdiction they no longer exercise. I have seen some sources that would claim a Grand Master Emeritus, indeed any cleric, may quarter his personal arms with those of the Order. I believe this is false. The convention has always been that quartering the personal arms with those of the Order is the prerogative of the Grand Master alone. I have seen no definitive official source that allows for any cleric to quarter their arms with the arms of the Order.

Accordingly, and logically, the only other recourse would be for Cardinal O’Brien to bear his personal arms alone like other members of the College of Cardinals who have retired; to exclude the arms of the See of Baltimore over which he ceased to have any jurisdiction long ago; to retain the globe from the arms of the See of the US Military as it is now a charge incorporated into his personal arms; to indicate his continued membership in the EOHS by means of placing the cross of the Order (the Jerusalem cross) behind the shield. This, unfortunately, leaves him with a rather unfortunate personal armorial achievement. (below)

There is a good argument to be made for one other possibility. Certain officials of the Order and members of a particular rank within the Order, namely Knights & Dames of the Collar; Lieutenants; Members of the Grand Magistry and Grand Priors, impale their arms with the arms of the Order. It can be argued that the Grand Master Emeritus is both a Knight of the Collar and, honorarily at least, still considered a Member of the Grand Magistry. By that logic a Grand Master Emeritus might impale his personal arms with those of the Order rather than quarter them and this would leave Cardinal O’Brien with an achievement that looks a bit less empty. (below)

4 thoughts on “O’Brien: Grand Master Emeritus (UPDATED)

  1. rdapice

    Dear Fr Guy,

    I agree with your comments about the arms of the Grand Master Emeritus. It will be interesting to see an example of what he uses in retirement.

    You state as a general rule “No one in an emeritus position is entitled to heraldically represent jurisdiction they no longer exercise.”

    However, contra we have the example of the Pope Emeritus https://exarandorum.wordpress.com/2015/04/16/pope-benedict-happy-birthday/

    Perhaps, in his case the emeritus rule is rather like the tincture rule so well shown by Heim in Or and Argent to be honoured in the breach.

    Regards and best wishes,

    Richard d’Apice AM AIH


    The Australian Heraldry Society

    E eastover@ozemail.com.au

    M +61 (0)403 213 098


    1. guyselvester Post author

      No, Richard, you’re mistaken. The example you cite of the arms of Pope Benedict do not constitute an exception to what I assert about an emeritus position. Popes bear only their personal arms alone. They do not marshal their personal arms to either arms of the See of Rome or to arms of the Roman Catholic Church, over which they have universal jurisdiction. That jurisdiction is not represented by means of marshaling their arms to arms of their jurisdiction.

      Rather, the tiara and keys indicate a rank, that of pope. Pope Benedict is in the unique position of Pope-Emeritus. In former times popes who abdicated reverted to a lower rank of clergy. Pope Benedict has not done that. While no longer reigning he is still a pope, and entitled to the ornaments of his rank.

      Cardinal O’Brien retains the external ornaments of his rank (the galero of a cardinal and the archiepiscopal cross). As an emeritus Grand Master he still ranks as an archbishop and cardinal of the Church. Any emeritus bishop retains the ornaments of his rank while at the same time relinquishing the arms of his jurisdiction marshaled to his.

      So, the example of a pope-emeritus is not similar to the situation of a Grand Master emeritus. In addition, having a pope-emeritus is not only unprecedented but will likely not be frequently repeated. It is certainly not expected to be a new norm. So, it will not be a custom honored in the breach.

      My original point still stands: no one in an emeritus position is entitled to heraldically represent a JURISDICTION they no longer exercise. Your comment underscores the importance of understanding the significance of external ornaments in an achievement and the coat of arms itself which appears ON the shield as well as the difference(s) between them.

  2. RevAMG

    Is there any difference in placing the cross of the Order (the Jerusalem cross) behind the shield versus using the neck cross encircling the shield? Would the same apply for the Order of Malta?

    1. guyselvester Post author

      First, it is important to note that the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta each make their own rules regarding the heraldic emblems used by members of their respective orders. There are no “one size fits all” rules in these matters and it is NOT regulated by the Church. This is particularly true for the Order of Malta which is a sovereign entity. So, what applies to one does not necessarily apply to another. Second, it is also worth pointing out, I suppose, that the usual practice regarding orders of chivalry in general is that only members of a sufficiently high rank place the cross of the order behind the shield while others make due with suspending the insignia of the order below the shield. Third, it’s very important to note that, at this point in time, it is difficult to ascertain precisely what the rules for heraldic display are in the EOHS because no definitive source (i.e. emanating from the Grand Magistracy) has been published. At present it seems from what I can tell that the practice of placing the shield on the cross of the order (i.e. the Jerusalem Cross) is an option for members of the EOHS at all levels however, some sources claim that one must be an archbishop, bishop, prelate or a lay person holding a title of nobility to do this. In addition, the lower ranking members, that is to say knights/dames and knights/dames commander place the insignia of the order suspended below the shield by a ribbon; knights/dames commander with star place the insignia suspended below the shield by a wider ribbon more of which is visible and ONLY knights/dames grand cross may surround the shield with a black ribbon from which is suspended the insignia of the order. Knights/Dames of the collar surround the shield with the collar.


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