On August 27, in Rome, Pope Francis will create twenty-one new Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church. Among these, the Most Rev. Robert W. McElroy (68) a priest and Auxiliary Bishop in San Francisco who has, since 2015, served as the 6th Bishop of San Diego, California will receive the red hat. He assumed arms when he was made Auxiliary of San Francisco in 2010 and he later modified his coat of arms after he was translated to San Diego. He has decided to make two minor adjustments to his existing coat of arms by changing the episcopal cross which had previously been of a specific shape to a more general form and to change the oak leaf in the base of his shield from green on green to a contrasting color to make it easier to see.
His coat of arms as a Cardinal Priest are:
By heraldic custom observed in North America, the arms of a diocesan bishop are “impaled” side by side on the same shield to the arms of his jurisdiction, in this case, the Diocese of San Diego. This signifies that the diocesan bishop, in this case, the cardinal, is “married” to the See. The same method of impalement is employed in the coat of arms of two married people who are armigerous.
The coat of arms of the See of San Diego is composed of a gold (yellow) field and symbols of San Diego (St. Didacus in Latin), the diocesan patron saint. Diego was born to poor Spanish parents shortly before the year 1400. His love of poverty never left him. As a Franciscan brother he was a selfless servant of the poor and was known to heal the sick with the Sign of the Cross, the central charge of the diocesan coat of arms. The Spanish stew pot in the upper left quadrant indicates Diego’s boundless charity and tireless efforts to feed the hungry. San Diego had a special devotion to the Lord in his Passion, symbolized by the three nails in the other three quadrants. Diego died on Nov. 12, 1463, at the Franciscan monastery in Alcalá, Spain, pressing a crucifix to his heart and repeating the words of the Good Friday chant: “Dulce lignum, dulce ferrum, dulce pondus sustinet” (Precious the wood, precious the nails, precious the weight they bear.)
For his personal arms Cardinal McElroy uses the design he assumed in 2015 upon becoming Bishop of San Diego reflecting his priestly ministry and interests. The arms are composed of two sections of the field. In the upper portion, on a blue background, are stylized depictions of two California Missions. The upper is Mission San Francisco and the lower is Mission San Diego. Prior to becoming Bishop of San Diego the cardinal served as Auxiliary Bishop of San Francisco. The lower part of the field shows a green background. On this field we see a silver (white) dove in flight which symbolizes peace; a silver (white) oak leaf used as a symbol of life and the gold (yellow) scales symbolizing justice. These three virtues are important to the life, work and ministry of the cardinal.
For his motto, Cardinal McElroy has selected the phrase “DIGNITATIS HUMANAE” (Of the Dignity of the Human Person) which is also the title of the Second Vatican Council’s “Declaration on Religious Freedom”.
The shield is ensigned with a gold (yellow) episcopal cross. Such crosses resemble contemporary processional crosses but they are, in fact, different. In the Middle Ages such a cross, without a corpus, was carried directly in front of all metropolitan archbishops and Papal Legates as a symbol of their authority. Eventually all bishops began using this emblem and adopted it in their coats of arms as well. The episcopal cross ceased to be used in the late XIX Century but the cross behind the shield continues to be used by bishops in ecclesiastical heraldry. The cardinal retains the use of an episcopal cross, with a single horizontal bar, because while the Holy Father has promoted him to the dignity of the Sacred College of Cardinals he retains his office as Bishop of San Diego. In the armorial bearings of a Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church the external ornaments around the shield reflect the office exercised by the individual cardinal. Those cardinals who are also archbishops use a cross with two horizontal bars; those who are bishops use one with a single horizontal bar. In the rare case of a cardinal who does not possess the episcopal office no cross at all appears in his coat of arms.
In addition, above the shield is the red ecclesiastical hat called a “galero” with fifteen tassels pendant on either side. This is the singular heraldic emblem that distinguishes the coat of arms of a cardinal. This broad brimmed hat, once worn in cavalcades, is no longer used but remains as a heraldic emblem. The galero was first bestowed on the Cardinals of the Roman Church by Pope Innocent IV at the First Council of Lyon in 1245. It was the first hat to be distinguished by the use of a specific color (scarlet) and it was also to be adorned with tassels. However, originally the number of tassels was not fixed. There are various examples of cardinals’ coats of arms that show as few as two tassels suspended from the galero and as many as seventy-two! What marked these coats of arms as those belonging to cardinals was that the galero, cords and tassels were red and nothing else. No one else could use such a red hat except a cardinal regardless of how many tassels were suspended from it. The number eventually was fixed at thirty (usually depicted as fifteen suspended on either side of the shield in a pyramidal pattern) only in 1832. A system for distinguishing the ranks of other clergy based on the color of the hat, of the cords and the number of the tassels did not come into existence until the Instruction of Pope St. Pius X “Inter Multiplices” in 1905.
These external ornaments are those used for a prelate with the rank of cardinal who is a diocesan bishop while not being a metropolitan archbishop according to the Instruction of the Holy See, “Ut Sive“, of March, 1969.
It was my great pleasure to advise the Cardinal on his armorial achievement and to assist him in preparing this version upon his elevation to the Sacred Purple.