Category Archives: External Ornaments

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.

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.

Armorial Bearings of a Priest

Here is one of my more recent commissions. It is the armorial bearings of a priest who is also a Professed Religious in vows. The black galero at the top of the achievement indicates his status as a priest. The chaplet – not often seen these days in heraldry – is used in the achievement as an external ornament indicating a person in Religious Vows. It is often seen in the arms of an Abbess (along with the veiled crozier) who, unlike an Abbot, does not make use of the galero. It is also seen in the armorial achievements of Professed Knights of Malta, whose Knights of Justice are Professed Religious in the Roman Catholic Church.

This armiger is both a monk and a priest. The motto is taken from the Holy Rule of St. Benedict.

A Priest Among the Cardinals

On November 28, 2020 Pope Francis created new cardinals. Among them was Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap (86) who, for the past forty years, has served as the Preacher of the Pontifical Household. Given his advanced age Cardinal Cantalamessa requested to be dispensed from the requirement of receiving episcopal ordination prior to receiving his red hat. While it is not unprecedented it is still rather rare for a Cardinal of the Roman Church not to be a bishop as well. (Contrary to an erroneous idea that never seems to die there were no “lay cardinals” in the Church. All the cardinals who were members of the College of Cardinals previously but had not received ordination were, nevertheless, tonsured clerics and, therefore, NOT members of the laity).

Following the correct customs which are sometimes ignored by the foolish or the ignorant (see: the coat of arms of the late Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ), Cardinal Cantalamessa ensigns his coat of arms with the scarlet cardinal’s galero but does not make use of the episcopal cross behind the shield because he lacks the episcopal character. As a cardinal, he may make use of pontifical insignia when celebrating Mass solemnly (the mitre, the ring and the crozier) and he may wear a pectoral cross. He also has the option of wearing scarlet cardinal’s robes or his own Religious Habit. It was interesting to note that at the Public Consistory at which he was created a cardinal he wore his habit with a surplice and did not wear the scarlet choir dress of a cardinal.

Ad Multos Annos!

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem

On October 24 it was announced that the Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem for the last four years, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, OFM, the former Custos of the Holy Land had been named by the Pope as the Patriarch of Jerusalem for the Latins. Accordingly, His Beatitude’s armorial bearings were updated to include another row of green tassels for a total of thirty tassels suspended from the galero. This rendering, as also the original rendering, was done by Marco Foppoli.

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.

Bishop Romero, Auxiliary of Rockville Centre, NY

On June 29, the Solemnity of Ss. Peter & Paul, the Most Rev. Luis Miguel Romero Fernández, M.Id. (66) a native of Palencia, Spain and a member of the Idente Missionaries currently serving as a pastor in the Diocese of Rockville Centre which covers two thirds of New York’s Long Island, will be ordained the Titular Bishop of Egara and Auxiliary Bishop of Rockville Centre. The coat of arms I assisted him in designing which he will assume as a bishop are as follows:

The coat of arms assumed by Bishop Romero reflects his Religious Community, the diocese in which he serves, his previous ministry and his heritage. The colors used in this coat of arms are primarily red, white and blue, the national colors of the United States because the bishop wishes to honor the country in which he now lives and serves as both a priest and bishop. The main charge, or feature, across the middle of the shield is a bar specifically shaped to suggest an open book with the blue lower portion representing the binding and spine of the book and the white upper portion suggesting the pages. This is used to symbolize the many years the bishop spent working in a university setting as a teacher and administrator.

The lower portion of the shield depicts three red roses on their green stems. This is an allusion to the miracle of the roses in December that accompanied the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Juan Diego. As such they serve as a symbol of Our Lady, especially Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas and a particular devotion to the Hispanic peoples. This is for all the many years the bishop has spent in priestly ministry outside his native Spain serving Spanish-speaking people in other countries, especially in the Americas.

The upper part of the shield contains the symbol of the Community to which the bishop belongs, the Idente Missionaries. He is the first member of this community to be appointed a bishop so it was of great importance for him to include the community emblem in his own coat of arms. This is flanked by two escallop shells taken from the coat of arms of the Diocese of Rockville Centre in which he has served as a priest and pastor and which he is now called to serve in a greater capacity as a bishop.

The motto below the shield is, “Meek And Humble Of Heart” (Matthew 11:29)

The bishop specifically asked that the episcopal cross behind the shield and the galero be depicted in as simple a style as possible so they are depicted without any ornamentation. This, of course, is not reflected in the blazon because the blazon does not specify the manner of the depiction of the external ornaments. Rather, this was merely the simple manner in which the bishop requested this depiction be rendered.

Three New Ones That Don’t Quite Hit the Mark

Recently, there have been several new bishops ordained and/or installed in the U.S. and in each case their new coats of arms are very disappointing. One of the most valuable sections of the famous book on ecclesiastical heraldry by the late (great) Bruno B. Heim entitled, Heraldry in the Catholic Church concerns the design and adoption of new coats of arms by clergy. In that section, among other pieces of advice, Heim cautions that the new armiger should seek out the advice of someone competent in heraldry and, in particular, ecclesiastical heraldry if they can. That person to be consulted may not be the one who actually does the artwork but they can advise on what is and, more importantly, isn’t appropriate in a coat of arms.

Sadly, none of these new bishops seems to have done that.

I would also add a piece of advice which I have found myself repeating so often over the years to clergy who wish to adopt a coat of arms that it has become, perhaps, the most important piece of advice I can offer. Your coat of arms is not your CV in pictures! A coat of arms is a unique mark of identification. It isn’t a pictorial mission statement, a review of every aspect of your life, a personal history in symbols, a catalogue of all your likes and dislikes or a statement on your ideas of ecclesiology and ministry.

Too many clergy, especially new bishops, don’t seem to understand this. As a result they do too much or they include things that are inappropriate. Let’s take a look.

First, is the armorial bearings of Bishop Francis I. Malone (69) who was ordained and installed as the Third Bishop of Shreveport, Louisiana on January 28. The arms of the See of Shreveport are in the dexter impalement and they are not of any interest. However, the personal arms…oh boy! The chalice overall at the center is inappropriately placed and is also an almost photographic depiction of the bishop’s own personal chalice. Heraldry makes use of symbols, not portraits or photographs. An appropriate charge would be “a chalice” not a particular chalice.

The bishop has also quartered the field in such a way that he has marshaled arms that do not belong to him and appropriated them as his own. In the upper left and right of his arms he has, whole and entire, depicted the arms of the See of Philadelphia and the arms of the See of Little Rock; one because he was born there and the other because he served there as a priest. However, by including them entirely in his own arms it appears he is claiming jurisdiction over both! The better way to handle this would have been to borrow a single charge from each and incorporate them into the design of his own coat of arms rather than illicitly stealing the arms of two dioceses.

The charge on the lower left, the fleur-de-lis is fine and on the lower right the cross and crown is a logo used by his former parish which in and of itself is fine and even makes a nice heraldic charge but the overall arrangement is sloppy, and an attempt at a heraldic CV against which I warn people all the time.

Finally, the smaller Celtic cross superimposed over the episcopal cross which is an external ornament behind the shield is heraldically unsupportable. Whoever designed this coat of arms had the clear (and quite good intention) of including as many things from the bishop’s life and ministry as possible but arranged them in a way that suggests he really wasn’t that well versed in heraldic design to pull it off. Everything included in the coat of arms could have been correctly included in a more aesthetically pleasing manner if only someone who knew about heraldic design had been involved.

Second, is Bishop John McClory (56) a Detroit priest who was ordained and installed as the Fifth Bishop of Gary, Indiana on February 11. Again, the arms of the See are of no concern and, actually, are one of the better diocesan coat of arms in use in the USA with a nice reference to the Guardian Angels (titular patrons of the cathedral church).

This coat of arms is really rather nice. There is a good choice of the symbols to be used as charges. There are no tincture violations or indiscretions and, I would say the overall appearance of the coat of arms is aesthetically pleasing and harmonizes well with the arms of the See.

My criticism concerns the arrangement of the charges on the field which is rather like what has come to be known as the “lucky charms” style of heraldry. Namely, a bunch of charges scattered on the field and slapped onto a shield and called heraldry. In addition, trying to “personalize” the episcopal cross which is an external ornament which indicates the rank of the bearer and not a charge on the field which communicate the identity of the bearer is a mistake. It is in the form of a Jerusalem cross to indicate membership in the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre. This is not the way to depict such membership. Either a charge on the field would have been appropriate, or placing the Jerusalem cross near but outside the shield is also acceptable. In addition, the actual insignia of the Order can be depicted suspended below the shield by a black ribbon or, as a bishop, he could have placed the shield on the Jerusalem cross. But, shaping the episcopal cross to a personal preference is not an option.

Nevertheless, this is the best of the three.

Finally, we have the armorial bearings of Bishop Donald DeGrood (54) a priest of St. Paul-Minneapolis who is being ordained a bishop and installed as the Ninth Bishop of Sioux Falls, South Dakota today, in fact, even as I write this post.

Ugh!

For the third time I take no issue with the arms of the See and also think it is one of the better designed diocesan coats of arms in the USA.

As for the personal arms he has, once again, tried to do too much. The tincture combinations are unfortunate and, actually, rather sad looking. The purple priest’s stole on a green field violates the so-called tincture “rule” which dictates that a metal on a metal and a color on another color should be avoided. The sheaf of wheat looks rather anemic (but, in fairness, that may simply be an issue involving this particular depiction of the arms). The charge of the gold letter “M” in the upper right is borrowed from the arms of St. John Paul II. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se. Many warn against using letters as charges but it is well known that John Paul II argued with Bruno Heim for maintaining the “M” in his arms which he has used as a bishop and cardinal. Certainly, that charge became widely known as John Paul’s coat of arms was used extensively during his historic 27-year-long pontificate.

However, in the official version of John Paul’s arms, painted by Bruno Heim himself, the letter “M” was depicted, correctly, as filling the whole space of the field on which it was depicted. So, the charge followed the contours of the shield shape upon which it appeared. This explains why one side of the “M” is longer than the other. However, depicting it this way, floating in the middle of the field, it is completely unnecessary, and also quite ridiculous to depict the “M” with one side shorter than the other. The “M” was not blazoned to be depicted that way, Rather, that was merely an artistic convention. There seems to be the erroneous and utterly stupid notion floating around out there that the “M” must be unevenly drawn to make it the “John Paul II M“. WRONG!

The black cross on a field that is blue and green is a bad choice of tinctures. Once again, it appears as though the new bishop consulted someone who was not very well acquainted with proper heraldic design.

These three represent a situation that is all too common in the Church in general and in the United States in particular. With all the competent assistance available, especially since the advent of the internet, it’s really rather sad that such amateurish and, in some cases, frankly ugly coats of arms continue to be created.

Duke of Sussex Coat of Arms

In light of the recent announcement that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (aka Prince Harry & Meghan) will be stepping back from duties as senior royals and, consequently no longer styling themselves as “royal highness” not a few people have contacted me to ask out of curiosity if this in any way will have an impact on the coats of arms they both use.

The simple answer is, “No”.

As the grandson of the sovereign Prince Harry employs a coat of arms that indicates he was born a grandson of the sovereign. British royal heraldry is different than many other countries in that the sovereigns children and grandchildren generally bear the royal arms differenced by a variety of labels of either three or five points and the points are charged with marks of difference. That’s really rather boring if you asked me but that’s what they do and they haven’t asked me!

So, when he turned 18 Harry was granted his own arms depicting the royal arms difference by a label of five points the first, third and fifth of which are charged with a red escallop shell. The shell is a charge borrowed from the coat of arms of his late mother, Diana (neé Spencer).

His supporters were also charged with the label for difference and the arms are surmounted by a special coronet used by the children of the heir to the throne. In addition, the royal crest is also charged with the label for difference.

Upon marrying his wife Harry was created Duke of Sussex. Nothing in his coat of arms was modified to reflect this title. Consequently, there is nothing to change in his coat of arms to reflect his new status of stepping down from a senior position in the royal family. He is still a grandson of the sovereign and son of the heir to the throne; he is still the Duke of Sussex; he is still actually an “HRH” but will choose not to style himself as such.

In fact, even after his grandmother passes away and he is the son of the sovereign and, indeed, even after his father passes away and he is the brother of the sovereign the crown used on his arms will remain unchanged as the crown for the child of the heir is identical to the crown used by children of the sovereign and siblings of the sovereign.

So…no changes.