Category Archives: Papal

Beatification of Pope John Paul I

On Sunday, September 4 Pope Francis will beatify his esteemed predecessor, Pope John Paul I (Albino Luciani) who was pope from August to September, 1978 for just 33 days, one of the shortest pontificates in history.

The “Smiling Pope” as he was called chose a unique papal name using the names of his two immediate predecessors, John XXIII and Paul VI. He created a new double name, John Paul, which went on to be adopted by the man who succeeded him, St. John Paul II.

Bruno Heim designed a wonderful coat of arms for John Paul I that employed elements from the arms of John XXIII (the chief of Venice) and those of Paul VI (the mountains in base). The three stars (changed form 4-pointed to 5-pointed stars) were used in the coat of arms Luciani had assumed as a bishop. It is, in my opinion, one of Heim’s better designs.

Cardinal Montezemolo R.I.P.

Andrea Cardinal Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo has died. He was a great diplomat for the Holy See and contributed much to the field of heraldry. But, with respect, I disagreed entirely with his ideas about papal heraldry. His encouragement of Pope Benedict to discontinue the use of the triregno heraldically was a mistake. Still, the large part of his service to the Church was outside the field of heraldry and he served the Lord and the Church well. Requiescat in Pace.

Monsignor Francis Kelly, P.A., K.H.S.


The arms (above) I recently completed for Monsignor Francis Kelly, PA a Canon of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Msgr. Kelly is a priest of the Diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts who, prior to his current service worked for many years in Washington, DC for the NCEA and was also on the faculty and later became rector of Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts. After his time there he spect eight years as the Superior at the Casa Santa Maria in Rome which is the graduate division of the Pontifical North American College. In 2013 he was named Prothonotary Apostolic and a Canon of St. Peter’s Basilica by Pope Benedict XVI. I met Msgr. Kelly in 1996 when I was sent for one year of studies at Pope John Seminary. We have been friends since then.

The blazon is:

Azure, between two lions rampant respectant Or, armed and langued Gules the Greek letters Chi and Rho Argent; in base a star of six points Argent. The shield is placed on the cross of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre and is ensigned by the galero of a Prothonotary Apostolic Purpure with cords and twelve tassels disposed in three rows of one, two and three pendant on either side of the shield Gules. On a scroll below the shield is the motto: “To Live For Him”.

The blue field and gold lions are taken from the coat of arms traditionally associated with the name “Kelly”. In that coat of arms the lions are chained and they face a tower. For differencing the chains have been omitted and the tower has been replaced with the Greek letters that are a monogram for the name Christ and a star of six points. These indicate the armiger’s devotion to Christ and Our Lady.

The armiger is a Knight of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher and its cross is placed behind the shield. The purple galero with red cords and tassels indicates a Roman prelate with the rank of Prothonotary Apostolic, the highest of the three grades of prelates addressed as “Monsignor”. The members of the Chapter of the Papal Basilica of the Vatican hold this rank.

The motto expresses a sentiment the armiger has endeavored to embody throughout his entire priesthood.

St. Mark in Papal Heraldry

There were three popes in the 20th C. who had served as Patriarch of Venice prior to their election to the papacy. (and two were also later canonized!) They each decided to retain a chief “of Venice” (with the winged lion of St. Mark, a symbol of Venice) in their papal coats of arms. The three were St. Pius X, St. John XXIII and Pope John Paul I.

Prefect of the Pontifical Household


Gänsewein (former)

Since the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI (2005-2013) the Prefect of the Pontifical Household (formerly called the Majordomo of His Holiness) has been the Most Rev. Georg Gänswein, who also served Pope Benedict as his personal secretary. At the time Gänswein was ordained to the episcopacy he assumed a coat of arms that impaled (that is, combined side by side on the same shield) his own personal emblems with the coat of arms of the pope he served, Benedict XVI. Upon the abdication of of Pope Benedict and the election of Pope Francis Gänswein’s coat of arms changed to reflect the new pope he continued to serve as Prefect of the Pontifical Household. This is an old custom. Below are the coats of arms of several of these Prefects with their arms impaled with the various popes under whom they served.


Gänswein (current)

Mag 014 Harvey




Mag 011 martin3

Mag 010 martin2

Mag 009 martin1


Mag 007 Nasalli a copy

Nasalli Rocca di Corneliano

Mag 008 Callori

Callori di Vignale

unnamed (1)

Mag 004 Patrizi Costantino

Mag 002 Gallarati Scotti Giovanni

unnamed (3)

Coat of Arms of Pope Pius XII (Before and After)

Much has been written in recent years about the practice of a prelate modifying the design of his coat of arms when he moves from one position to another in the Church. Generally speaking I am against the practice. A coat of arms, even an assumed one, becomes a unique personal symbol and is associated with the person who bears the arms. To change the original design simply because one is taking up a new position or ministry is ill advised.

I am, of course, not referring to marshaling the personal arms with those of a jurisdiction (see, abbey, or even a parish). When a cleric is translated from one jurisdiction to another of course he will then marshal his personal arms to those of the new jurisdiction because, after all, impaling or quartering the personal arms with those of a jurisdiction is a means of displaying two or more separate coats of arms together on one shield. The arms of a diocese do not “become” part of the bishops personal coat of arms. They are displayed along with the personal arms of the incumbent during the tenure of his office as part of the overall achievement but that is all.

Rather, I am speaking of a cleric slightly modifying or even changing entirely the design on the shield of his personal coat of arms. In some cases the change is a result of unhappiness with the design originally adopted. Sometimes it is the case that a cleric is appointed to be a bishop and wishes to make use of his new coat of arms at his episcopal ordination which may be as soon as only six weeks away. So, a design is hastily adopted. later, when being translated to a new see the bishop has had time to second guess his original arms and wishes to tweak the design or even change it altogether. While this is understandable it still should be frowned upon. His new position doesn’t mean he is becoming an entirely new person.

Yet we see that this has and continues to happen. Even no less than Pope Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli 1939-1958) bore arms that were slightly different before and after he became pope. When a bishop and cardinal his arms depicted a dove displayed (i.e. with its wings spread) holding an olive branch in its beak. This is a reference to the name Pacelli which means “peace”. The dove was perched on a trimount and sitting below the arc of a rainbow, an allusion to the story of Noah from the Scriptures.


However, after his election to the papacy there are some differences. The dove now has folded wings and sits perched on the trimount which is depicted on field and above waves of water. In addition, the rainbow is now gone. Perhaps Pius XII felt the reference to the story of Noah was redundant or superfluous? Perhaps he wished to express a global desire for peace since he was elected at a time when the world was on the brink of World War II? Perhaps he simply liked this newer design more? We shall never know yet here is a good example of arms modified when going from one position in the Church to another.

piua xii arms in pen and ink

Commandant Gets The Boot

It has been revealed that, due to personality clashes and the pope’s opinion of too much militarism, the Commandant of the Papal Swiss Guard, Daniel Anrig, has been asked by Pope Francis to step down at the end of January. Appointed by Benedict XVI Anrig has served in his position since 2008. I’m not exactly sure how the head of a military corps is supposed to act other than militarily but there is a lot happening in the Vatican these days that no one seems to be able to explain, at least not easily. Anrig’s coat of arms as Commandant of the Papal Swiss Guard is below. It employs the type of charge known as a house marking that is characteristic of Swiss heraldry. The arms of the Commandant is always depicted at the center point of the flag of the Swiss guard.


Pope Paul VI To Be Beatified

On October 19 Pope Francis will beatify Giovanni Battista Montini, also known as Pope Paul VI whose pontificate lasted from 1963-1978. He presided over three of the four session of Vatican II and is really the one responsible for most of the reform and simplification of the Church’s liturgy and ceremonial practices.

In his coat of arms the six hillocks in base are a play on his family name, Montini, which means “little mountains”.

Paul VI

Pope Saint Pius X

August 20, 2014 marks the centenary of the death of Pope St. Pius X (Giuseppe Sarto) who was pope from 1903-1914.


His coat of arms (below) depicts a chief with the lion of St. Mark, a symbol used by the Patriarchs of Venice. St. Pius served as Patriarch of Venice prior to becoming pope and retained this chief (added to the arms he assumed previously as Bishop of Mantua) upon his election. This started a trend for other Patriarchs who were later elected pope like St. John XXIII (1958-1963) and Pope John Paul I (August-September, 1978)



More Armigerous Saints!

Last May while I was vacationing in France I posted about saints who had been armigerous (i.e. who bore a coat of arms). On Sunday, April 27 there will be two more added to that number when Pope Francis canonizes his predecessors in the Chair of St. Peter, Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II.


The coat of arms of Pope John XXIII (above) was identical to the one he used as Patriarch of Venice with the addition of the external ornaments of a pope. The arms are: “Gules a fess Argent; in chief two fleur-de-lis Argent and overall a tower embattled Argent; on a chief Argent the lion of St. Mark Or”. The lower portion consists of the coat of arms that was adopted by Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli when he was named a bishop. Later, when he was promoted to Patriarch of Venice he added the chief (upper third of the shield) with the golden lion of St. Mark, the patron saint of the Venetian church, as is customary for all Patriarchs of Venice. This is one of the few examples in Italian Church heraldry where arms of the See are used. When he was stationed as Papal Nuncio to Paris, Roncalli had a young Bruno Heim serving as his secretary at the Paris Nunciature. The two shared an abiding interest in heraldry. At the time of his election to the papacy John XXIII was not in immediate touch with Heim who was serving elsewhere. John, himself an amateur heraldist approved his arms as they were with the Venetian lion included to be used as his papal coat of arms. A short time later he did employ his former secretary, Heim, to produce the artwork for the official version of the coat of arms. Heim tried to talk him out of retaining the chief of Venice in his papal arms but it was too late. So, it remained.


The coat of arms of Pope John Paul II (above) are also connected to the late Archbishop Heim. The arms are: “Azure a Latin cross skewed to dexter throughout Or; in sinister base the letter “M” Or”. These arms are also the ones adopted by Karol Wojtyła at the time he was made a bishop. However, in the earlier version the cross and “M” were black. On his election to the papacy Heim tried in vain to persuade the new pope to drop the letter “M” and replace it with another Marian symbol. The use of letters in heraldry is considered poor design. The new pope was adamant that his arms had to remain the same as those he had borne under a repressive Communist regime in order to show that he would not modify or weaken the stance he held as a bishop and cardinal in Poland. As a concession to good taste and design, however, so as not to have a color on a color he agreed to change the cross and “M” to gold on blue. Heim, who was afraid that his reputation as a knowledgeable expert in heraldry would suffer did his homework and then added an entire chapter to a second edition of his book, “Heraldry in the Catholic Church” on the use of what are called house markings, which resemble letters, as being particular to both Polish and Swiss heraldry (Heim was Swiss).

So, the age of saints is not long ago and distant but is with us right now. In addition, both of these down-to-earth men (John was the son of peasant farmers from Northern Italy and John Paul the son of a Polish civil servant) had coats of arms. Heraldry is often misunderstood as elitist, exclusive, snobbish and pretentious. Yet, these two men who were holy to a heroic degree such that they are now being held up as worthy of emulation by the faithful and who were known for their genuine humility each had a coat of arms.

Artwork: Bruno B. Heim

Papal Throne Modified to Include Heraldry of Pope Francis

From the photos below which were taken on November 30th during a celebration of Vespers for the First Sunday of Advent we see that the throne chair used for papal liturgies (originally emblazoned with the arms of Pope St. Pius X and later modified to bear the arms of Pope Benedict XVI) have once again been slightly modified. The finials on the chair retain their original composition while the charges on the shield itself have been changed to bear the coat of arms of Pope Francis. It is nice to see some things are still being done. It is also odd to see the arms of Pope Francis topped by the tiara!




Benedict XVI to Montezemolo: “No Thanks”

It has been uncovered in a recent article that the proposal from Andrea Cardinal di Montezemolo that Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI should modify his coat of arms and place the crossed keys of St. Peter on the shield has been politely REJECTED. Benedict thanked His Eminence for the interesting study he made of the subject but declined to adopt any of the cardinal’s proposed changes. Good for him! The precedent set would have been a bad one…just like Montezemolo’s bright idea of dropping the tiara as a heraldic emblem in favor of a stylized tiara/mitre hybrid. It’s time that Montezemolo realized he’s no Bruno Heim!

An Extraordinary “Herald” (of sorts)


While certainly never holding the title of herald and not being appointed as an officer of arms in any way by anyone this man was, in his own way, the most extraordinary of contributors to the world, the science and the art of heraldry. It can be said that he was a kind of “herald of the Church” during his long career as a Churchman and Papal diplomat. A one-time assistant to the then Nuncio to France, Angelo Cardinal Roncalli (later Bl. Pope John XXIII), the first Pro-Nuncio to the United Kingdom and the first Papal diplomat above the rank of Apostolic Delegate in England in the modern era since the Reformation as well as the man who quite literally wrote the book on ecclesiastical heraldry in the Roman Catholic Church: Archbishop Bruno Bernard Heim. His original work, “Coutumes et Droits d’Heraldique de l’Eglise” was later expanded and republished with lavish illustrations as “Heraldry in the Catholic Church” (1978). This Swiss priest and diplomat designed the coats of arms for Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II. One can only imagine what the outspoken Helvetian would have made of the arms of Pope Benedict XVI or, far worse, the arms of the present pope. He was, in my opinion, the most knowledgeable person in the XX Century on the subject of ecclesiastical heraldry. As far as I’m concerned one need only justify a particular point of heraldic design or art by saying, “Heim says so”. He was also tremendously knowledgeable about heraldry in general. His book is a must read for anyone interested in the topic in addition to the four other books on heraldry he authored. Sadly, his influence over the revival of good heraldic practices in the Church is beginning to wane since his death in 2003 at age 92.

Recent Acquisitions (part IV)

Four more today including one I missed out on purchasing from the now defunct Heraldry Today.


Papežské Znaky by Zdirad J.K. Čech published in 2009. The book is in Czech but is lavishly illustrated throughout and includes all the papal arms from the dawn of heraldry up to Pope Benedict XVI. (pictured above)

Also, Wappen und Flaggen des Deutschen Reichtes und seiner Bundesstaaten (1871-1918) published in 1979.

Wappen: Ein Spiegel von Geschicte und Politik by Harald Huber published in 1990.

Handbüchlein der Heraldik by D.L. Galbreath published in 1930.

My German is very rusty but these were very nice acquisitions for my little personal library.

Vexillological FAIL


I was a little confused and somewhat saddened to see that on the updated flag of the Swiss Guard the arms of Pope Francis were depicted with the mitre/tiara hybrid as opposed to the tiara as has always been done (even with the arms of Benedict XVI). It’s surprising because the notoriously punctilious Swiss aren’t known for accommodating whim or fashion when it comes to “their stuff”. Another thing changed for the worse.