On September 30th the Rev. John C. Iffert (53) a priest of the Diocese of Belleville, Illinois will be ordained a bishop and installed as the 11th Bishop of Covington, Kentucky.
The armorial bearings that he will be assuming upon entering his episcopal ministry are:
It is customary in North America for a bishop to marshal his personal coat of arms to those of his jurisdiction, in this case the See of Covington. The method most often used is impalement whereby the two separate coats of arms are depicted side by side on the same shield. This method is most often used heraldically to depict the arms of two married people who are armigerous. In employing this method in the coat of arms of a diocesan bishop it illustrated that the bishop is “married” to his diocese. The arms of the See of Covington were commissioned by William T. Mulloy, 6th bishop of Covington, following the 1953 elevation of the cathedral to a minor basilica. The gold (yellow) sword over the red cross on a silver (white) field is the symbol of Saint Paul, the Patron of the Diocese of Covington. On a chief (upper third of the shield) the gold fleur-de-lis and silver crescent are symbols of the Blessed Virgin Mary who is the titular patroness of the Cathedral of the Assumption.
The right-hand side of the shield depicts the personal coat of arms now assumed by bishop Iffert. The field (background) is green a color used to symbolize hope in the liturgy and which also hearkens to the bishop’s farming ancestors, the color green being associated with the fertile land. Across the center of this field a wavy barrulet ( a line thinner than a bar or fess) represents the the rivers that flow near Belleville, IL (the Mississippi) and Covington, KY (the Ohio). These river cities are the places where Bishop Iffert has exercised his priestly and now episcopal ministry. In the upper portion there is a gold carpenter’s square and an eight-pointed star. These are symbols of St. Joseph and Our Lady. The star also appears in the coat of arms of Pope Francis so combined here they allude to the idea that Bishop Iffert was appointed by Pope Francis during the Year of St. Joseph.
The gold garb of wheat in the lower part of the shield has multiple meaning. At harvest time wheat is brought in and gathered in sheaves or garbs. Harvest time is the time of year when we celebrate Thanksgiving and in the year Bishop Iffert was born his birthday happened to be Thanksgiving Day. In addition, the wheat alludes to what is used to confect the Eucharist, a word that means “thanksgiving”. The area of Illinois from which the bishop comes is often called “Little Egypt”. In addition, the garb of wheat is often used in heraldry to represent agriculture in general so it alludes to the bishop’s already mentioned farming ancestors. So, in the single charge of a sheaf of wheat we can allude to the Thanksgiving holiday, the act of giving thanks which is the central action of the Eucharist as the center of our Catholic lives and the matter of the Eucharist itself, the “gift of finest wheat”.
The motto below the shield is, “In All Things Give Thanks”, taken from 1 Thessalonians 5:18.
The shield is also ensigned with those external ornaments that indicate the bearer is a bishop. The gold (yellow) cross is placed vertically behind and extending above and below the shield. This is often erroneously thought to be a processional cross like those used in liturgical processions. However, in former times archbishops had a cross mounted on a staff carried immediately in front of them while in procession or on solemn occasions. This cross was a symbol of their rank as archbishop. Later, archbishops – and eventually all bishops – began to incorporate this symbol of rank into their coats of arms. A processional cross in Catholic usage is a crucifix and has a corpus on it while the episcopal cross very specifically does not. While such an episcopal cross is no longer used practically it has been retained heraldically. In fact, there are other clerics who make use of the ecclesiastical hat with its many tassels but the one true heraldic emblem of a bishop, and the only essential one, is the episcopal cross placed behind the shield.
Above the shield is the ecclesiastical hat, called a galero which, in heraldry, replaces the martial helmet, mantling and crest. “The hat with six pendant tassels (green, purple or black) on each side is universally considered in heraldry as the sign of prelacy. It, therefore, pertains to all who are actually prelates.” (Heim, Bruno B., Heraldry in the Catholic Church 1978, page 114) The galero is green with green cords pendant from it and twelve green tassels arranged in a pyramid shape on either side of the shield. At one time in history bishops and archbishops wore green before adopting the more Roman purple we see today. In heraldry the green hat and tassels was retained for prelates with the rank of bishop according to the Instruction of the Secretariat of State, “Ut Sive” of March, 1969.
It was both my privilege and my pleasure to assist in the design and execution of the bishop’s coat of arms.