Category Archives: Bad Heraldry


All the world is praying for Paris and Parisians. Their shepherd will need our prayers as well as he tries to comfort the afflicted and the grieving as well as bring aid to the wounded and the frightened. Andre Cardinal Vingt-Trois’ coat of arms is really not a coat of arms (although at least he has SOMEthing…unlike so many of his brother bishops in France) but I point it out because he, a spiritual leader and guide, needs our support and prayers. The arms themselves, rather than a motto, remind us of an important thing, especially in the face of such bald hatred and aggression: “For God so loved the world…” (that He sent His only Son to be our Redeemer) John 3:16

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Bishop Cheri

Bishop Cheri Coat of Arms

Today Bishop Fernand Cheri, OFM was ordained as the auxiliary bishop of New Orleans, Louisiana. His coat of arms has so many things about it that go against accepted heraldic practices, to say nothing of good taste, that I won’t even begin to comment on it.

Except to say no…just…no.

Bishop Garcia

On March 3, the Most Rev. Daniel Elias Garcia was ordained as Titular Bishop of Capsus and Auxiliary Bishop of Austin, Texas. His adopted coat of arms (below) depicts his devotion to Our Lady (the roses), baptism (the shell), the Colorado River and Christ who is the First and the Last.

Dividing the field into two colors (green and gold) by a blue line isn’t really the best design choice. It would have been better if the whole field were gold. In addition, the description of the arms from the ordination program describes the “processional cross” as being in the form of a Jerusalem cross for apparently no reason. First of all it is not a processional cross. The external ornament in a bishop’s coat of arms more than any other that marks it as the coat of arms of a bishop (even more than a mitre or a galero) is the episcopal cross that stands vertically behind the shield. This type of cross, which resembles a processional cross, used to be carried directly in front of a bishop. Like the galero, also no longer in use, such episcopal crosses are no longer used but are retained as not only one of but actually as THE ensign of the coat of arms of a bishop. The galero is optional; the cross isn’t.

Second, it is not permitted to mandate that an external ornament like the episcopal cross, be depicted in a certain shape or style. The blazon concerns itself only with what is on the shield. That may indeed be mandated to be depicted in a particular way. No other artist is bound to depict the episcopal cross of Bp. Garcia’s arms as a Jerusalem cross. It may be his preference but it is not one to which others must adhere.


Another Example of What NOT To Do


Above is the coat of arms of Jan Piotrowski who will be installed on November 29 as the Bishop of Kielce, Poland. The bishop’s arms contain perfectly good charges and are arranged nicely with good composition with one exception. The episcopal cross (often mistakenly thought of as a processional cross) which is the one external ornament that indicates the arms belong to a bishop, since other prelates may use the green galero with 12 tassels, is depicted as passing in front of the shield and piercing it with the bottom of the cross protruding from behind the shield. It is as if the cross is depicted as both a charge on the field and an external ornament at the same time. This is most incorrect. Charges must never extend beyond the edges of the shield; external ornaments should not be placed in a position to obscure any of the shield; objects cannot be depicted as piercing the shield; external ornaments are to be just that: external to the shield. I’m sure the person who designed this and/or depicted it thought he was being very clever and innovative. Instead, it’s just wrong. EPIC FAIL.

Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur



Cut and paste artwork (much of it STOLEN from someone else!), insipid charges, poor design. An example of the WORST kind of heraldry. It’s really not heraldry at all. Just a bunch of nonsense slapped onto a shield. This kind of heraldic device reveals an arrogance and conceit not befitting a bishop.

New Primate of Poland

The new Archbishop of Gniezno, Poland, the Most Rev. Wojciech Polak, will be installed on June 7. In 1948 it was decided that the Archbishops of Warsaw would also be the Archbishops of Gniezno and, thus, Primates of Poland. These two offices were joined “in persona episcopi”. However, later in March of 1992 it was decided once again to separate the two archdioceses with each having its own archbishop. Josef Cardinal Glemp who was Archbishop of Gniezno and warsaw at the time was permitted to retain the title of Primate of Poland until he stepped down in 2009. From 2009 onwards the title Primate of Poland once again rests solely with the Archbishop of Gniezno and not with the Archbishop of Warsaw.

The arms of Archbishop Polak (below) show a simple design. However, the galero is shown with 30 green tassels instead of 20 and those tassels also appear ro have a skein of gold interwoven in them. Such a hat is used in Roman Catholic heraldry by Patriarchs, not Primates. Frequently, it is erroneously asserted that Primates are entitled to the same external ornaments as Patriarchs. This is false and untrue! So, this new Archbishop-Primate begins his tenure by claiming additaments on his coat of arms to which he has no credible claim.

Heraldry: FAIL



St. James Parish, Jamesburg, NJ


Above is the coat of arms recently designed for St. James Parish in Jamesburg, NJ. I’m not pleased with this design but much of it is the result of what the client requested. The sad reality is that frequently the heraldic designer and/or the heraldic artist must compromise their own tastes and even their knowledge of heraldry in order to accommodate the wishes of the client who has commissioned them. This one has been a little too ambitious in its use of color and has also overcharged the shield a bit. But, the client was happy with the design.

Archdiocese of Westminster


The archdiocese of Westminster (UK) recently launched the use of a new rendering of the archdiocesan coat of arms. Previously, they had used the arms of the See (Gules a pall Proper) under the galero of an archbishop with the patriarchal (double-barred) cross. This was technically incorrect as the cross and galero imply the arms of an individual archbishop rather than a corporate body like a diocese. So, that has now been rectified with the use of this new rendering that more correctly indicates this is the coat of arms of the archdiocese, rather than of the Cardinal-Archbishop.

As for the artwork: isn’t it hideous?

Bishop Myron Cotta

Earlier today the Most Rev. Myron Cotta was ordained as the Auxiliary Bishop of Sacramento, California. His newly assumed arms are below.


The field is divided by an inverted chevron alluding to a carpenter’s square for St. Joseph and the San Joaquin Valley. In chief there is an amphora charged with the letters “SC” for sacred chrism. The bishop’s given name, Myron, is the Greek word for the sacred oil.

In base there appears a monogram composed of the letters “I”, “M” and “H”. This stands for (if you can believe it) the Immaculate heart of Mary with the “M” taking the most prominent place. The bishop has a great devotion to Our Lady under this title.

The motto translates to “Grace and Mercy” and is in Portuguese to reflect the bishop’s ethnicity as being from the Azores.

Well, there is an overabundance of the use of letters in this achievement. Someone clearly never heard that the use of letters in heraldry is considered port design. The “SC” on the amphora is, in my opinion, unnecessary. The amphora alone is a sufficient symbol for sacred oil. Why not actually depict the Immaculate Heart of Mary instead of abbreviating it? The monogram is an example of extremely poor design. It’s weak and not self evident where the image of the Immaculate heart would have been. In addition, since most people don’t know that the name Myron means sacred oil they will naturally assume that the gigantic “M” in the coat of arms stands for Myron and not for Mary.

This was done by Paul Sullivan. Not one of his best efforts.

Bishop Baldacchino

Below is an image from “The Florida Catholic” of the coat of arms of the newly ordained Auxiliary Bishop of Miami, the Most Rev. Peter Baldacchino. I am disappointed that the bishop chose to make no allusion to his baptismal patron, St. Peter, in the coat of arms. Similarly, I am disappointed that he passed up the obvious choice to have canting arms by depicting a baldacchino, or canopy, over an altar. In fact, it might have been interesting to depict the famous Bernini baldacchino of St. Peter’s Basilica as a way to combine the two. Instead, he has chosen a cluttered design filled with far too many charges in an attempt to create a “C.V. in pictures” which is precisely what a coat of arms is NOT.


The description of the symbolism in the design is also from “The Florida Catholic”:

Dominating the coat of arms is Christ crucified. The Cross emerges as a sign of victory over death, represented by the waters of the baptismal font, the source of Christian life which communicates to every Christian the victory of Christ. The baptismal font is a reference also to his own rediscovery of baptism through the Neocatechumenal Way and to the work of evangelization: bringing people to live their baptism so that they may receive divine life.

Beneath the Cross and baptismal font is found an image of a palm tree upon which a lobster rests, a well-known symbol of the early Church, representing the mystery of salvation through baptism: a sea creature, accustomed to live in the waters of sin, through the work of the Holy Spirit, can leave behind its natural environment and live upon a palm tree, symbol of eternity and paradise.

Above the Cross hovers a dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit, who is the life of the Church, and without whom nothing can be done. In the upper part are found the moon, representing the Blessed Virgin Mary: “And a great sign was seen in heaven; a woman arrayed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev 12:1); and the Cross of Malta, but also the star which leads the way to Christ. The palm tree is also a reference to the Archdiocese of Miami, and the lobster to the Turks and Caicos Islands, where Bishop Baldacchino ministered for 15 years. The coat of arms is completed by the three waves of the baptismal font representing the three rivers of the Archdiocese of Newark, where Bishop Baldacchino was ordained in 1996.

The motto translates to: “Where God is, there is joy”.

Two New Korean Bishops

Two Auxiliary bishops of the Archdiocese of Seoul, Korea were ordained today. There coats of arms are interesting. They are Bishops Timothy Yu Gyoung-chon and Peter Chung Soon-taek, OCD. (that is, Order of Discalced Carmelites). The coat of arms of Bishop Timothy is unconventional bordering on the bizarre. It makes extensive use of writing and seems to have the motto on the shield itself. It also makes use of no external ornaments to indicate these are the arms of a bishop. On the other hand the coat of arms of Bishop Peter is more conventional in appearance. His arms are primarily composed of the coat of arms of the Order of Discalced Carmelites differenced by the exclusion of the two additional stars that usually appear in the upper left and right thirds of the shield. In addition, he employs a galero that is somewhat unique to Asian heraldry. The tassels are green as would be usual for a prelate with the rank of bishop. However, the hat is decidedly not green. Here it is a shade of red but sometimes a purple hat is used. This is to avoid the awkward and embarrassing situation that would arise from a bishop employing a green hat. To “wear a green hat” is a colloquial expression in many parts of Asia that means the man is a cuckold. To avoid this association with the well known expression many Asian bishops from various countries make use of a hat of some color other than green.



Bishop Caggiano UPDATE


The diocese of Bridgeport, CT has finally released the coat of arms of Bishop Frank Caggiano which were posted here earlier. As has become increasingly frequent these days the bishop has chosen to completely redesign his personal arms in having them impaled (that is, marshaled together side-by-side on the same shield) with the arms of the See of Bridgeport. This is an ill-advised course of action. Nevertheless, many heraldic designers and artists who may be consulted to prepare the coat of arms of a bishop but who did not originally design the bishop’s personal arms encourage them to redesign their arms. One wonders if this is primarily because they wish to “have a crack at it” and improve on what they see to be an inferior design?

More often than not a competent artist can improve a poor design simply by the manner in which it is depicted artistically. This saves the unfortunate consequence of changing the personal arms of the bearer long after they have already become associated with him as his personal emblem. It can be seen as a repudiation of everything that came before. For a bishop this is, perhaps, not the best signal to send as it looks rather like he is negating all the ministry he did previous to the present moment and starting fresh rather than continuing in ministry. In fact, it was for this very reason that soon-to-be Saint John Paul II insisted on leaving the letter “M” in his coat of arms despite the protestations of the late great Bruno Heim that letters were inappropriate heraldic charges. John Paul II argued that even though it was heraldically a poor design he had already borne those arms for years and under Communist rule where the Church in Poland was seen as a haven for those who loved freedom. To change the arms upon election as pope might inadvertently send the signal that his stance against Communism would somehow modify or soften with his new position. This was something John Paul II wasn’t willing to risk even the appearance of. So, while he acquiesced to Heim’s suggestion of changing the colors from black on blue to gold on blue the “M” stayed.

So here we see that Bishop Caggiano, upon assuming the office of Diocesan Bishop of Bridgeport has chosen to mark the occasion not only by marshaling his personal arms with those of the diocese as is the usual custom in North America but also by abandoning the coat of arms he assumed upon becoming a bishop in favor of a redesigned coat of arms that retains the same basic elements rearranged in a new way…for reasons passing understanding.

If a redesign somehow greatly improves a coat of arms then it could be argued that it is justified. However, in this case any improvement is difficult to see.

Bishop Cozzens

In an earlier post I noted how Auxiliary Bishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis, Andrew Cozzens, had his coat of arms carved into the crook of his crozier. Here now we see the coat of arms in its full achievement.

Hmmm. Less than wonderful.

The shield is divided by a saltire which is traditionally the X-shaped “St. Andrew Cross”. The three hearts represent the Sacred Heart of Jesus (center) the Immaculate Heart of Mary (to dexter) and the Heart of St. Joseph (to sinister). I have never heard of the latter being depicted either in heraldry or in any Catholic religious symbolism and art. Perhaps it was made up by the armiger to balance the other two? Either way, three hearts is a bit much and, if they were to be used, in heraldry it would have been better NOT to depict them in the traditional form with flames, roses, thorns, etc. and simply to depict three heart-shaped charges to stand for these three hearts.

The waves in base are from the arms of the See, which the bishop now serves and had served as a priest as well. However, the mountains in chief, to allude to his native Colorado, should be stylized and not depicted in a portrait landscape style. When…When…WHEN are people going to get it through their heads that you cannot simply take any image or picture you want, slap it onto a shield and call it heraldry???

The cord around the perimeter of the shield represents the bond of fraternity that the bishop has with a group of priests who form a priestly fraternity of which he is a member. That’s a perfectly good symbol for such a bond but should have been depicted within the edge of the shield as a bordure. Depicting it as the actual edge of the shield is heraldically unsupportable.

In the description of the achievement the episcopal cross is described as being Celtic. There are two problems there. The first is my often mentioned admonition that individual armigers are not free to determine the shape, style and manner of the depiction of the external ornaments. That creative freedom applies only to that which is on the shield. The second problem in this case is that the cross depicted is not even Celtic!

So, all in all there are nice ideas here and the charges were chosen to represent wonderful priestly and personal virtues but the overall effect is disappointing at best.


When NOT to Use Heraldry Decoratively

OK. I love heraldry. Can’t get enough of it. I like to see its use where and whenever I possibly can. I actually think it is underused in the Church. But, there are limits. As much as I love heraldry there are times and places when even I am forced to admit that slapping a coat of arms onto it is a bad idea. Case in point the photo below of the gathered bishops of Indonesia. The bishop in the back row third from the right and his fellow bishop in the front row third from the left look RIDICULOUS. Coats of arms on the front of a mitre? NO!


Basilica of Regina Pacis, Brooklyn, NY


Arrrrrgh! This is horrible, Horrible, HORRIBLE!!! This coat of arms devised for the newly-designated Basilica Church of Regina Pacis in the Diocese of Brooklyn, NY is an excellent example of everything heraldry should NOT be. Do the “designers” (and I use the term loosely) of this monstrosity think that you simply take whatever images you want in whatever style you want and tack it to a shield and that’s called heraldry?

The only correct thing about this coat of arms is that basilica churches do, in fact, have the use of the ombrellino or pavilion and keys as external ornaments. Literally, everything else about it is horribly incorrect and completely lacking in imagination, creativity or even a passing knowledge of heraldic design.

The motto should not cross the shield but be depicted below it. Why is there a second scroll above the shield bearing only the name of the church? Is a coat of arms not identifying enough? The inclusion of the arms of the See of Brooklyn in its entirety is questionable but since it was done it would be good if part of it weren’t cut off! The pictorial images of Our Lady and of the church itself are wholly inappropriate and the whole is clearly a mish-mash of images cut and pasted together that don’t even match in style!

This is the worst kind of slap-dash, indifferent, ignorant heraldry that it sadly in use in far too many parts of the United States. IT STINKS!