Author Archives: guyselvester

Great Use of a Wonderful Coat of Arms

In 1966 Francis Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York celebrated the golden jubilee of his ordination to the priesthood. A special commemorative medal was struck to mark the occasion. The obverse depicted a portrait in profile of the cardinal. The reverse (pictured) depicted his very nicely designed coat of arms. These arms are actually not those he assumed upon becoming a bishop. When he moved to New York he adopted an entirely different coat of arms which he used for the rest of his life. Those are on the medal.

The personal coat of arms containing a chief “of Religion” is shown, as is tradition, impaled with he arms of the See of New York. In addition, as was the older usual custom in addition to the cardinal’s galero and archiepiscopal cross there are both a mitre and a crozier (turned “outward”) depicted as well as the cross of the Order of Malta placed behind the shield.

Monk & Priest

Fr. Pachomius Meade, OSB a monk and priest of Conception Abbey in Missouri is an artist by avocation. He is very interested in heraldry as well and has had occasion to design some very nice coats of arms. But, up until now, he had not adopted armorial bearings for himself. With my encouragement he eventually set about doing so and, in my opinion, took the right path which was to take his time and go through many draft ideas. He has finally settled on a design which I also told him was a striking and good one.

The explanation of the charges chosen for this design are in his own words:

The top third of the shield (chief) is made up of two charges (one repeated). It depicts a royal crown between two birds’ claws erased. The talons are designed so as to be obviously those of falcons. Heraldry often places leather straps (jess) and bells on falcon legs. I took the artistic license to show the feathers around the talon in a diagonal conical form, as several species of falcons display around their legs. The talons plus the crown together are a rebus for my religious name Pachomius, which in the Coptic language means “king’s falcon.” These charges on a chief make them, therefore, canting arms, which is to say the arms “speak” the name of the armiger. Additionally, the base of the chief – which is usually a straight line – is enarched, a very simple variation on the line. I liked the idea of an elegant variant such as this.  Other than the stylistic choice, on a personal level I like that it is Romanesque, which is the style of my abbey’s basilica and is a subtle nod to the structure of a church.  

The lower two thirds of the shield depict smaller white shields (escutcheons) on a green field. The repeated charge spread evenly on a field in heraldry is called semy or semé, meaning “seeded.” This is a feature of heraldry that I particularly love and what was lacking in some of my original ideas for a coat of arms. The charge of a white shield without a charge of its own is a traditional symbol for a painter or heraldist. Probably my most obvious talent since I was a child has been art and it seemed like a no-brainer to have this charge. Again, there’s nothing more to it than that, but my own theological reflection on this part of the shield can also be that monastic life is called a white martyrdom – to distinguish from red martyrdom – and the spiritual combat of this charism. My surname is Meade, which is a meadow, and a green field makes sense (although, I believe my last name is really an Anglicized Gaelic word that had a completely unrelated definition).”  

I think he has come up with a clear bold design. The symbolism of the charges makes sense. He kept the overall design somewhat simple. The choice of tinctures is not only good from the point of view of symbolism they are aesthetically pleasing. The priest’s galero above the shield symbolizes his priesthood while the chaplet (rosary) encircling the shield is the accepted heraldic external ornament indicative of the armiger being a Consecrated Religious, in this case, a professed monk.

I say, “Well done!”. Incidentally, the artwork is by Fr. Pachomius as well.

DO NOT FOLLOW THIS EXAMPLE!

Recently, while taking a short trip for some post-Easter R&R I went to visit friends in western Pennsylvania. I found myself in the town of Loretto, PA where I had attended college at St. Francis University (but in my day it was still just St. Francis College). In that town is the fine parish church of St. Michael, built entirely at the expense of Charles M. Schwab, the US Steel president whose summer residence was located in Loretto. His former mansion is now the motherhouse of the TOR Franciscans who run the university. Schwab generously built the fine romanesque revival structure and donated it to the parish. Andrew Carnegie donated the church’s pipe organ. Some time ago the church was designated a minor basilica. It’s churchyard is the resting place of its founder, Father (Prince) Demetrius Gallitzin.

While looking around the lovely structure which has been spruced up since the the days when I occasionally saw it as a student some 37 years ago I noted in a side chapel a large display of the basilica’s coat of arms…and almost vomited.

What a poor coat of arms for the purpose intended. In fact, it is simply the Altoona-Johnstown diocesan coat of arms with the base changed to have the arms of St. John Paul II (who bestowed the dignity of basilica on the church) shoved in as well. The motto is the one used by the bishop at the time the church was raised to basilican rank.

The fess with three plates is borrowed from the arms of William Penn. The two charges in chief represent the cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Altoona and the co-cathedral of St. John Gualbert in Johnstown. The cross in base is borrowed from the coat of arms of the aforementioned Demetrius Gallitzin. Of course the ombrellino and crossed keys are typical external ornaments of a minor basilica.

But what a complete lack of creativity this design displays. Instead of alluding to the diocese or to the pope who bestowed the honor it is the arms of the diocese and the arms of that pope shoved together. There is absolutely nothing in there to identify the basilica as being dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel, or being located in Loretto, or to the Franciscan heritage of that place. The slender line dividing the silver Gallitzin cross from the arms of John Paul II is also heraldically unsupportable. From beginning to end this thing is junk.

It was so horribly disappointing to see this is what was used. The raising of the church to the rank of a basilica occurred only in 1996. By that time the internet was an easy place to find the right person or the right guidance on the design and creation of a fitting coat of arms. There is no excuse for the horrible result they ended up with, except the laziness or arrogance of those in charge of that decision.

This basilica coat of arms is useful for one thing and one thing only: to serve as an example of what not to do!

Bishop of the Virgin Islands

On April 17, 2021 the Most Rev. Jerome Feudjio (65) a priest of the Diocese of St. Thomas, American Virgin Islands was ordained a bishop and installed as the sixth Bishop of St. Thomas. The bishop is a native of Cameroon. The armorial bearings he has assumed are:

These are placed here for your information with no further comment. (I’m feeling charitable today)

Bishop Scantlebury

On June 11 the Most Rev. Neil Sebastian Scantlebury (55) a priest of the Diocese of St. Thomas, American Virgin Islands and since March 1 the Administrator of the Diocese of Bridgetown, Barbados, Antilles will be ordained as the 4th Bishop of Bridgetown.

The armorial bearings assumed by Bishop Scantlebury combine symbols that are meaningful to him reflecting his life and identity.

The coat of arms of the Diocese of Bridgetown depicts a green field with a stylized form of dolphin that actually appears slightly more fierce than what we are used to seeing in nature. This charge, silver (white) with a mouth, fins, flippers and tail that is gold (yellow) is borrowed from the armorial bearings of Barbados where it appears as one of the figures supporting the shield. The trident head is an image borrowed from the flag of Barbados. A similar “broken” trident appears on the flag missing it’s lower part to symbolize a break with its colonial past.

Bishop Scantlbury’s arms depict A gold (yellow) field on which are two arrows crossed in the form of an “X”. The arrows are a symbol of his patron saint, St. Sebastian who, prior to being martyred by being bludgeoned to death, was tied up and shot with arrows as a form of torture. The arrows are flanked by two red hearts which evoke the mercy and the love of God. In addition, they are reminders of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. At the center point is a stylized heraldic rose to allude to the bishop’s devotion to St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the “Little Flower”. 

On the upper third of the shield, called a chief, there is a blue background on which there are four five-pointed sliver (white) stars in the corners with an open book in the middle the pages being white and the binding of the book gold (yellow). The blue field with the four stars is borrowed from the armorial bearings of the Diocese of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands where Bp. Scantlebury was ordained and served in priestly ministry before becoming a bishop. The open book alludes to the Scriptures and the bishop’s degree in the Sacred Scripture.

The motto below the shield is, “Thy Will Be Done”. 

I was pleased to assist the Bishop-Elect with the design of his coat of arms.

Bruno Heim Birthday

March 5 marks the 110th anniversary of the birth of the man many people, myself included, consider to have been “the” master of Catholic ecclesiastical heraldry, the late Archbishop Bruno Bernard Heim. He literally wrote the book on the subject starting with the publication of “Wappenbrauch und Wappenrecht in der Kirche” in 1947 which was published in 1949 in a French edition, “Coutumes et Droit Héraldiques de l’Église” and finally completely revamped, expanded, lavishly illustrated and published in English in 1978 as “Heraldry in the Catholic Church”. He helped revive the art and science of heraldry in the Church which is, sadly, once again in desperate need of some renewal. But his heraldic work was actually a sideline to his ordained ministry and his work in the Holy See’s diplomatic corps where he served in several posts concluding as Pro-Nuncio to the Court of St. James’s in London. He died March 18, 2003 at age 92. Requiescat in Pace.

Third Priestly Arms

Recent days have been busy and I have now completed a trifecta of sacerdotal arms all, as it happens, for priests who are also Benedictine monks. They’re from different communities and made their requests independently of each other. In addition, they have all proven to be men of exceeding patience because their projects kept getting sidelined by commissions I’d received to prepare a coat of arms for a new bishop. Those commissions are always time sensitive so all other considerations would have to go by the way side whenever I’d receive one.

Finding a window in the calendar I decided to make the extra effort to complete this three long-standing commissions. This is the last of the three.

These arms reflect the armiger’s community, apostolate, family history and monastic name. The inclusion of the chaplet encircling the shield indicates that he is a Professed Religious in vows and the galero indicates he is ordained to the priesthood. Not all Religious armigers choose to use the chaplet, especially if they are also ordained priests. It is a matter of choice.

In fact, it is worth pointing out that while there are specific external ornaments which may be used by an armiger to indicate what rank they hold, or honors they have received, none of these are required to be used. If an armiger should so desire, he/she may simply bear a shield and motto, or indeed even just the shield alone. I mention that last part because everyone in ecclesiastical circles seems to make such a big deal out of the motto. (Bishops especially). Mottoes are, strictly speaking, not really part of the coat of arms. It has become customary to display one’s motto in the achievement of arms but that, too, is not necessary.