Category Archives: Abbots & Abbesses

Erik Varden, OCSO

On October 3, the Most Rev. Erik Varden, OCSO, (46) formerly the Abbot of the Cistercian Abbey of Mt. St. Bernard in the UK and a convert to Catholicism was ordained a bishop in the Church and also installed as the 6th Territorial Prelate of the Prelature of Trondheim, Norway, his native country. It is interesting to note that his episcopal ordination took place in the Lutheran Nidaros cathedral, the traditional site of the consecration of the Kings of Norway which was built in the 12th Century and was originally a Catholic Cathedral.

A helpful reader directed me to the following information: The lions are taken from the arms of Mt. St. Bernard Abbey, Bishop Erik’s monastery. The pillar comes from the motto that he had used as abbot (“Columna in templo Dei”) – “A pillar in the temple of God”, a quote from the Book of Revelation. The rose symbolizes the flower that sprang from Root of Jesse, a reference to the mystery of the incarnation. The coat of arms was designed by Archbishop Charles Scicluna.

They are clear, simple and nicely designed. The artwork is also rather nice too.

Archabbot Martin Bartel, OSB of St. Vincent Archabbey

On June 23 the Rt. Rev. Martin de Porres Bartel, OSB (65) was elected by the monks of St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, PA as their 12th Archabbot. On July 10th at Mass he received the abbatial blessing from the Most Rev. Edward Malesic, the Bishop of Greensburg, PA which is the diocese in which the Archabbey, America’s oldest Benedictine Monastery and currently the largest Benedictine Abbey in the world, is located. I studied for my Master of Divinity at St. Vincent Seminary and I used to be a monk in the Community there.

The new Archabbot has assumed a coat of arms:

I’m a bit conflicted in my assessment of this coat of arms. I know the Archabbot and I also know the monk who designed it and executed the artwork. I have a great deal of respect for Archabbot Martin as a priest and a monk and I don’t wish to be too harsh in my critique. I think the best I can say is that it isn’t “horrible”. Another way to say it would be, “It could have been worse” but that is, admittedly, damning with faint praise.

I will not say a word about the artwork because that is not usually the subject of any of my criticism on this blog. Different artist’s draw differently. The style is strongly reminiscent of that of the late Wilfred Bayne, OSB a monk of Portsmouth Abbey in Rhode Island who was an eminent heraldist in his day.

My first, and principal, criticism is that, as has happened in many instances before, the veiled crozier that is the primary heraldic symbol of the coat of arms belonging to an abbot is missing. When St. Paul VI (pope from 1963-1978) decided to remove both the mitre and crozier from the coats of arms of bishops and leave only the episcopal cross in their heraldic achievements many took this to affect the arms of abbots as well. In former times abbatial achievements contained the mitre and the crozier. However, Paul VI’s directive was truly addressing the arms of bishops and cardinals only. The coat of arms of an abbot is still supposed to have a crozier placed behind the shield with a veil (sudarium) attached. It’s origin comes from a time when abbots made use of the crozier (in fact abbots have used the crozier longer than bishops have done) but did not enjoy the privilege of pontifical gloves. The veil served the function of protecting the crozier from dirt and oil that can be present on the hand. It is not usually used practically anymore but it has remained as a heraldic symbol and – I repeat – the heraldic symbol of the coat of arms of an abbot. Other clergy are entitled to the black galero with twelve tassels. Such a galero may be used in the armorial bearings of Vicars General, Vicars Episcopal, Provosts, Major Religious Superiors and, on occasion, some others holding a particular office. Alone, it does not indicate the coat of arms of an abbot.

The arms adopted by the Archabbey in the early 20th Century are very nicely designed and combine well when impaled with the personal arms of the Archabbot.

As for Archabbot Martin’s personal arms: the cross quartered Sable and Argent is a reference to both the Dominican Sisters who educated him as a boy and the order to which his patron, St. Martin de Porres, belonged. Over these is a basket containing bread and a broom. These are, apparently, symbols associated with St. Martin de Porres and the bread is also an allusion to the Holy Eucharist.

There is no problem with the black in the cross up against the red of the field. The so-called “rule” of tincture (i.e. that a color should not be placed on a color nor a metal on a metal) does not come into play with complex fields or charges. Because the cross is both black (Sable) and white (Argent) it may be placed on a field of a single tincture. (For example: the complex field Azure & Argent of the arms of the Archabbey may have an entirely Sable inverted chevron on it without violating this “rule” because of the complex appearance of the field). However, I think it would have looked better if a lighter shade of red had been used giving the arms a brighter appearance.

I find that the basket of bread is ill-placed as is the broom. In addition, there seems to be no good justification for the basket to be blue. Introducing multiple tinctures into a coat of arms without good reason is unsupportable, heraldically. The broom I suppose to be considered gold (Or). I have not seen an actual blazon of these arms, if one exists. If it is not intended to be gold but brown, of any shade, then it should be noted that brown is not used in heraldry. If it were blazoned as “Proper“, a term which means a particular charge is shown as it appears in nature, I don’t see this as being justifiable either since there is no naturally occurring broom and, therefore, no color which would be considered its “proper” color. Some more attention should have been paid to both the placement and the tinctures of the basket and broom.

So, I return to where I started. This design isn’t “bad” per se. But, having said that, it could have been considerably better. With some further consultation on the design the armiger might have been better served. Of the twelve Archabbots of St. Vincent nine of them have borne unique coats of arms. (The first four used the same coat of arms). Of those nine coats of arms, with 1 being the best and 9 being the worst, I would say that Archabbot Martin’s ranks 8th. The final word I can say is that I have seen abbatial coats of arms that are absolutely horrible and ugly. This is most definitely NOT one of those. But, it is merely…OK.

Archabbot Douglas R. Nowicki, OSB

The Rt. Rev. Douglas R. Nowicki, OSB who served as Archabbot of St. Vincent Archabbey from January 8, 1991 until May 11, 2020. His successor will be elected June 22. During his tenure as Archabbot of the Archabbey he bore his personal arms impaled with those of the Archabbey itself. This form of marshaling two different coats of arms together, called “impaling” is rather the same as combining the two separate coats of arms of two armigerous people who are married to each other. Because the Archabbot has jurisdiction over the monastery his arms (in the position of the “groom”) are displayed together with the arms of his jurisdiction (in the position of the “bride”) on the same shield. When the tenure giving him such jurisdiction comes to an end the privilege of impaling his arms also comes to an end and he bears his personal arms alone. Accordingly, as of May 11, 2020 Archabbot Douglas’ coat of arms now appears as illustrated.

I designed his personal coat of arms in 1991 and prepared the original artwork used at the time of his archabbatial blessing.

New Auxiliary Bishop of Newark (part I)

On June 30, 2020 the Most Rev. Elias Lorenzo, OSB (59) up until now the Abbot-Praeses of the American-Cassinese Congregation of Benedictine Monks and a monk of St. Mary’s Abbey in Morristown, New Jersey will be ordained as the Titular Bishop of Tabuda and Auxiliary Bishop of the archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey. The coat of arms assumed by him is the following:

Upon his election as Abbot-Praeses (i.e. President) of the American-Cassinese Congregation in 2016 I had the privilege of designing the coat of arms he would assume as an Abbot. Upon his appointment to the episcopacy Bishop Lorenzo decided, correctly in my opinion, not to change his arms in any way except to update the external ornaments from those of an Abbot to those of a Bishop. His armorial bearings reflect his family name, the community of his profession, his past ministry and his monastic patron.

The shield is divided by a line shaped like a chevron. This creates the general shape alluding to a mountain, in this case Mount Carmel, the mountain associated with the prophet Elijah from whose name the name Elias is derived. The large tongue of fire in the center of the lower portion of the shield (referred to as “in base”) combined with the mountain allude to St. Elias.

In addition, the blue and silver (white) checked pattern also has a multi-layered meaning. The American-Cassinese Congregation was founded by Benedictines from St. Michael’s Abbey in Bavaria. The motherhouse of the Congregation, St. Vincent Archabbey in Pennsylvania, makes use of the blue and silver fusils (a kind of elongated diamond pattern) from the coat of arms of Bavaria in its own coat of arms. Several other monasteries in the Congregation which are daughter houses or grand daughter houses of St. Vincent also make use of this pattern. One such abbey is St. Mary’s in Morristown, New Jersey. At this monastery Bishop Elias entered monastic life, made his profession of vows and was ordained. In his coat of arms the blue and silver (white) fusils have been turned sideways forming a grid of blue and white squares or checks. The grid pattern suggests the gridiron on which St. Lawrence was roasted alive as the means of his martyrdom. This is an allusion to the Abbot’s surname, “Lorenzo” which in Italian means “Lawrence”. The grid of blue and white squares combined with the fire represents St. Lawrence while at the same time the blue and white squares are a slightly differenced reference to the coat of arms of St. Mary’s Abbey as well as Bavaria in general as the homeland of the Congregation’s founders.

At the center of the flame there is a red rounded cross. This cross is taken from the coat of arms of Sant’Anselmo in Rome where, for seven years before his election as Abbot-President , the armiger was served as Prior of the monastic community.

Above the chevron in the upper portion of the shield (referred to as “in chief”) there are two blue crescents. The crescent has long been associated with Our Lady in particular under her title of the Immaculate Conception. That title is also the one by which Mary is the Patroness of the United States of America. In addition, crescents appear in the coat of arms of St. Mary’s Abbey and the coat of arms of the Delbarton School, the Abbey’s principal apostolate, both of with which Bishop Elias is closely associated.

The motto below the shield is taken from Luke 1:37 and is translated as, “Nothing is impossible with God”.

Another Ordinary Australian

On August 27 Monsignor Carl Reid, PA, (68) a Canadian who converted to Catholicism in 2012, was installed as the second Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross in Australia. His personal arms were granted by the Canadian Heraldic Authority and are impaled with the arms of the Ordinariate. Richard d’Apice (in consultation with myself) assisted the Canadian heralds with the design of the personal arms. Mr. d’Apice and I designed the arms of the Ordinariate as well.

The unusual use of the crozier has been a precedent set among the Personal Ordinariates after their establishment by Pope Benedict XVI. It derives from the use of the crozier to denote Ordinary Jurisdiction while at the same time leaves off the sudarium (veil) attached to the crozier in abbatial arms which has become a symbol proper to abbots. Msgr. Reid exercises full Ordinary Jurisdiction and makes use of the pontificalia while celebrating the Sacraments like a bishop but does not possess the episcopal office. NOTE: The Personal Ordinary for the UK does not make use of a coat of arms and the Personal Ordinary for N. America is a bishop.

The artwork is by the talented Australian, Sandy Turnbull.

New Austrian Provost

On April 9, 2019 the Augustinian Canons of Stift Herzogenburg in lower Austria elected Fr. Petrus Stockinger (37) to be their new Provost. In the world of Canons Regular some communities of canons are governed by Abbots. Others, like some Collegiate or Cathedral chapters, are governed by a Provost.

What is interesting for the purposes of this blog is that a Provost, who also enjoys the privilege of using pontificals, like an Abbot, also has the same heraldic privileges as an Abbot. These are, the black galero with black cords and twelve black tassels as well as the crozier with the sudarium attached. The armorial bearings of the newly-elected Provost are below.

Ad Multos Annos!

Abbess Hildegard Dubnick, OSB of Eichstätt

919px-Wappen_Hildegard_Dubnick.svgOn January 4, 2019 the nuns of St. Walburga Abbey in Eichstätt, Bavaria elected Mother Hildegard Dubnick, OSB, (57) an American and a nun at their daughter foundation, St. Walburga Abbey in Virginia Dale, Colorado, to succeed Mother Franziska Kloos, OSB who had served as Abbess of Eichstätt for 34 years and retired from office on December 27, 2018. Abbess Hildegard received the abbatial blessing from Bishop Gregor Maria Hanke, OSB of Eichstätt on February 23, 2019.

An abbess in the Catholic Church makes use of some of the same pontifical insignia as an abbot. Abbesses wear the pectoral cross and ring and also carry a crozier. In addition, they usually have a personal coat of arms. The coat of arms assumed by Mother Hildegard is described in an article from the Eichstätt Courier as:

“Mutter Hildegards Wahlspruch aus Psalm 47 (47,10 Vulgata) “Suscepimus Misericordiam Tuam” lautet übersetzt: “Wir haben dein Erbarmen empfangen.” Der Spruch umfließt ein Wappen mit drei Eichen im Mittelpunkt, deren Stamm sich aus Wasser speist. Es nimmt in den Eichen Bezug auf den tschechischen Nachnamen Mutter Hildegards, der übersetzt “kleine Eiche” bedeutet, ebenso auf ihren Geburtsort Oak Park in Illinois (USA) und stellt letztlich eine schöne Verbindung zu ihrem neuen Wirkungsort Eichstätt dar. Die drei Wellen versinnbildlichen den im Wahlspruch erwähnten Strom des Erbarmens und der Gnade Gottes, das Ölfläschchen weist hin auf das Geschenk des Walburgisöls, das am Grab der heiligen Walburga fließt.” Translated that is:

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Mother Hildegard’s motto from Psalm 47 (47.10 Vulgata) “Suscepimus Misericordiam Tuam” translates: “We have received your mercy.” The saying is on a scroll around a coat of arms with three oaks in the center, whose trunk is fed from water. The oaks refer to the Czech surname of Mother Hildegard, which means “small oak tree”, as well as to her birthplace Oak Park in Illinois (USA) and ultimately represents a beautiful connection to her new place of Eichstätt. The three waves symbolize the the river of mercy and grace of God mentioned in the motto, the bottle of oil points to the gift of Walburgis oil that flows at the tomb of St. Walburga.

Ad Multos Annos, Mother Hildegard!

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Grand Master of the Teutonic Order

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In August of 2018 the Teutonic Order (Deutscher Orden), a formerly medieval military order of chivalry which had, by the 20th Century, been transformed into a Religious Order, elected Fr. Frank Bayard, O.T. as its Grand Master. The Grand Master of the order has the rank of abbot. Fr. Bayard succeeds Fr. Bruno Platter who was elected as Grand Master of the Teutonic Order in 2000 and re-elected in 2006.

The coat of arms of the Grand Master is ensigned with the external ornaments of an abbot and the galero is black with cords and tassels that are white. deutscherordengm.jpg.w300h397By custom the mitre is also included in the achievement despite the 1969 Instruction from the Holy See stating otherwise. In addition, the secular sword is included which is tolerated given the order’s history as an order of chivalry prior to becoming a Religious Order within the Church. The arms of the Grand master traditionally follow a pattern which makes use of a basic shield depicting the arms of the order as used by the Grand Master which divides the field into four quarters by a sable cross charged with a gold cross fleuretty and an inescutcheon overall depicting Or, an imperial eagle Proper. In the first and fourth quarters the usual arms of the Order (Argent a cross throughout Sable) are placed. The personal arms of the individual Grand Master then occupy the 2nd and 3rd quarters of the shield.

In November, 2018 The Rt. Rev. Frank Bayard received the abbatial blessing from Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, O.P. of Vienna, where the headquarters of the Order is located. The arms assumed by Grand Master Bayard are:

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The coat of arms used by the previous two Grand Masters, Bruno Platter and Arnold Weiland followed the same pattern.

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Norbertines in the USA

While neither of these abbots was elected very recently, within the last year there were two new Premonstratensian (aka Norbertine) abbots elected and blessed in the USA, one in Wisconsin and the other in Pennsylvania.

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The Rt. Rev. Dane J. Radecki, O.Praem elected on April 4, 2018 as the VII Abbot of St. Norbert Abbey in DePere, WI. He was blessed on July 11, 2018.

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The Rt. Rev. Domenic Rossi, O.Praem, elected on January 23, 2018 as the IV Abbot of Daylesford Abbey in Paoli, PA. He was blessed on April 14, 2018.

Norbertine Cardinals

There have been fewer cardinals in the Church from the Order of Canons Regular of Prémontré (aka Norbertines) than there have been of other orders and, as far as I can tell, two of those known to be associated with that Order were Abbots in Commendam only. The Premonstratensian Cardinals are:

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Armand Jean du Plessis, Duke de Richelieu, Bishop of Luçon, Commendatory Abbot of Prémontré, (also Territorial Abbot of Cluny and Abbot in Commendam of Citeaux)

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Johannes von Bucka, O.Praem. Archbishop of Olomouc

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Ippolito II d’Este, Archbishop of Auch, Archbishop of Arles, Commendatory Abbot of Prémontré