Bishop of Aachen

On November 12 the Most Rev. Helmut Dieser was installed as the VI Bishop of Aachen, Germany. His coat of arms is:


The description (translated from the diocesan website) is:

The coat of arms of the new bishop of Aachen shows two motifs in the shield: the one stands for the diocese of Aachen, and the other identifies the person of the bishop.The Diocese of Aachen has a black cross on a golden ground in the shield. In the smaller Mittelschild, the person of Bishop Dr. Helmut is designated.

The middle shield shows a silver dove against a red background with a green olive branch in its beak. The new bishop accepted this motif from his former coat of arms as an auxiliary bishop in Trier. It symbolizes his episcopal motto from the Philippine letter: “The peace of God exceeds all understanding“. The two colors red and silver also recall his origin from the diocese of Trier, which is a red cross in front of a silver ground in the shield. The dove with the olive branch is used in Christian art as a symbol of the new peace that God wants to bring to all his creation. This goes back to the biblical narrative of Noah and the great flood in the Book of Genesis. When finally the water no longer rises and gradually begins to flow away, Noach lets a dove fly from the ark several times. The second time she comes back with a fresh olive branch in the beak (Gen 8, 9-11). Noah understands: God does not want to spoil the earth, but makes it back to the homeland for life. God creates a new peace, which Noah and his own may accept in faith.

Peace, which surpasses all understanding, and which the whole of creation longingly waits for (see Romans 8: 21-22), arises from the greatest love of God, in which he gives his Son, so that all may come to the new life. The embellishments surrounding the coat-of-arms signify its bearer as a bishop: the green hat with six green tassels on each side, and the gold episcopal cross.

Armigerous Candidates for US President

This is one of those posts that has absolutely nothing to do with the heraldry of the Church. Those do come up occasionally on this blog but I try to keep them to a minimum. I couldn’t let this opportunity pass, however, to discuss how, for what must be the first time in a quite a while (although its not unprecedented) both of this country’s major party candidates are heraldically connected, so to speak.

The Republican candidate, Donald Trump, is well known as a business man with hotels and resorts around the world. One such property is the golf course he built and owns in Scotland. To make it “look good” a logo for the place in the form of a coat of arms (not a particularly good one, in my opinion) was devised and used on their promotional materials. The problem is that Scotland happens to be one of the few countries where they take heraldry and the public use of heraldry very seriously.

The body that regulates heraldry in Scotland is the Court of Lord Lyon and indeed it is a standing civil and criminal court under the Scottish legal system. The incumbent of the office of Lord Lyon King of Arms is usually a lawyer well versed in the laws affecting genealogy and heraldry and he sits as judge over cases of dispute. By contrast the English Heralds are incorporated into a College and while there is Her Majesty’s High Court of Chivalry which has existed since the 14th C. and sits as a civil court to regulate all matters of English and Welsh heraldry it rarely sits. The last time was in 1954 for the case of Manchester Corp. v. Manchester Palace of Varieties, Ltd. Prior to that the court hadn’t sat for 200 years!


Trump’s self-designed and adopted coat of arms (above) ran afoul of the Scottish legal system in 2008 when it was asserted that he had no right to use the coat of arms. In 2012 the Court of Lord Lyon ruled in Trump’s favor and now he may make use of the coat of arms originally designed for his Aberdeen golf course. Trump’s mother is of Scottish origin and Lord Lyon claims jurisdiction worldwide over any Scot, even expats, or anyone with Scottish ancestry. Unfortunately, I do not have an image of the coat of arms in full color. I wonder if anyone in the Trump organization even bothered to have one made in full color since this is primarily used as a logo.

The Democrat Party candidate, Hillary Clinton, does not, as far as I know, have a coat of arms in her own right, but her husband does. In 1995, at the request of the Taoiseach (the Irish Prime Minister), Mr. John Bruton, the Chief Herald of Ireland devised and granted a coat of arms to Mr. Clinton whose mother was of Irish ancestry (below). It was presented to him as a gift on his state visit to Ireland. As I say, Mrs. Clinton does not have a coat of arms in her own right, at least not yet. Who knows? It is possible that another head of state may be asking another heraldic authority to grant her a coat of arms at some point in the future. Only time will tell.


Of course the way the election on November 8 will turn out remains to be seen and there is a great deal of speculation on both sides. It does seem to be far from certain even at this very late stage in the campaign. But, one thing is, nevertheless, absolutely certain. Regardless of the result of the voting that will take place across the United States next Tuesday one of the two people mentioned above, Trump or Clinton, come next January 20th will be able to make use of yet another old and venerable means of identification that employs the ancient and respected use of heraldry as a large part of its symbolism. It’s an armorial seal…


Bishop Rodríguez

Today, November 4, in Denver, CO the Most Rev. Jorge Humberto Rodríguez-Novelo is to be ordained Titular Bishop of Azura and Auxiliary Bishop of Denver.

His coat of arms was designed by the Vicar General of the Archdiocese. However, early on in the process, very shortly after the bishop’s appointment was announced, the director of the Office of Worship of the Archdiocese contacted me to ask if I might be willing to act as a consultant during the design phase of the project which I was happy to do. In fact, I explained, this is really and truly the area of heraldry where I am most at home. I am far from a great artist but my real expertise is in the designing of a good coat of arms. I can tell you all the “whys and wherefores” about what goes into a good design. Once again, we see that heraldry is both an art and a science. It is not primarily the realm of the heraldic artist. Rather, first and foremost the whole thing must start with someone who is knowledgeable about the rules, customs and history of heraldry as well as have a good eye for composition, balance and proportion. I am far more at ease with the work of the herald than that of the heraldic artist.

Since its beginnings, and right down to our own day, the work of heralds has involved the devising, granting and recording of coats of arms. However, it has also included expertise in genealogy and family history, protocol and ceremony. In addition, it is rare that the herald actually renders the artistic depictions of the arms he designs. That task is left to those with expertise in drafting and art who are usually contracted independently by the herald or by the armiger to create beautiful emblazonments.

I have always been one of those who comes down firmly in this debate on the side of the herald, not the artist, as the person who does the “real work” of heraldry. This is not to disparage heraldic artist, whose work is not only painstaking and highly detailed but requires tremendous skill as well as training. But, the simple truth is that one can still paint a coat of arms while at the same time knowing absolutely nothing about the science of heraldry whereas one cannot claim to be competent at designing a coat of arms simply because one can paint or draw well. The heraldic world is best served when both act together in tandem to produce beautiful and correct heraldry.

Over the last thirty-three years my focus has been on learning as much as I can about the science of heraldry and only dabbling as an amateur in producing heraldic artwork. I do not now, nor have I ever, claimed otherwise. So, when a person contacts me to ask me to paint their coat of arms I usually balk but when they ask me to consult on a design I’m right in my comfort zone, as well as my “competency zone”.

In the case of the coat of arms of Bishop Rodríguez there were several elements of his life and ministry he wished to represent in his coat of arms. In Denver they came up with an initial design, very much a work in progress and then asked for my in put. The bishop wanted to represent Christ the King, priestly ministry, the local church in Colorado and Our Lady of Guadalupe. This is the first draft:


After some discussion back and forth I made several proposals that sought to unify the imagery and create a single, more simple, more bold design. The first thing to be avoided was falling into the trap of quartering the field and then filling each quarter with things. It was also important to avoid the use of the color brown as this is not one of the tinctures used in heraldry. Since the symbol for Christ the King occupied the first quarter and was, in a sense, the principal element to be represented we first moved to create a large compound charge of the crowned Chi-Rho. This, then alludes to Christ, the King as well as to priestly service as all priests share in the High Priesthood of Jesus. Then it was a simple matter to allude to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado by a division line in the field and to add the rose as a fitting heraldic charge that is frequently used as a reference not only to Our Lady in general but to Guadalupe in particular. This is because of the roses that bloomed in December which were brought by Juan Diego to his bishop who asked for “proof” of the apparitions. I originally proposed placing the red rose on the silver chief or changing it to a golden rose. However, the bishop really wanted the rose depicted in the traditional red so we cheated a little on the tincture rule (avoiding a color on a color or a metal on a metal) by blazoning the rose as “Proper” which does permit such violations in the case of charges that are depicted Proper. After some of my suggestions were considered a second draft was prepared in Denver which also changed the general shape of the episcopal cross behind the shield and the galero and tassels in order to give the whole achievement a look that was unique. This draft met with the new bishop’s approval. So, the arms he has assumed today are:


These arms were designed and emblazoned by Fr. Randy Dollins with me acting as design consultant.


John Cardinal Ribat, MSC, KBE

(Sir) John Ribat, MSC, KBE currently the Archbishop of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, will be elevated to the Sacred Purple and created Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church on November 19, 2016. We’re not concerned with his coat of arms as they would have appeared upon his ordination to the episcopacy as Auxiliary Bishop of Bereina, PNG in 2001. Rather, since 2008 when he succeeded as Archbishop of Port Moresby he has born the arms:

Quartered; 1) Argent, the Sacred Heart of Jesus enflamed superimposed on the Greek letters Chi and Rho all Gules, 2) Azure, the monogram of Our Lady Or, 3) Azure an open book Or the pages charged with the Greek letters Alpha and Omega Gules, 4) Argent, a branch of betel nut Proper.


These arms had been rendered for him by Renato Poletti, a Roman lawyer who, like many amateur heraldic enthusiasts, dabbles in heraldic design and produces his artwork on computer. He took it upon himself, unsolicited, to produce a new rendering of the Cardinal-designate’s coat of arms with the external ornaments of a Cardinal (above). However, Archbishop Ribat had already been contacted by Mr. Richard d’Apice of the Australian Heraldry Society to discuss a re-working of the emblazonment of his arms to reflect his new honor. Such projects have frequently been undertaken by Mr. d’Apice before as well as the designs of new coats of arms for many prelates and laypeople in his own Australia. Mr. d’Apice, as he often does, consulted with me to seek some advice and input.

While I do not particularly like the design of the arms I advised that it would be best at this point for a man who has been a bishop for fifteen years and an archbishop for eight to retain the arms he has been using. The deplorable habit so many bishops have today of completely redesigning their coats of arms every time they move or are promoted is to be avoided at all costs, even at the cost of maintaining a coat of arms of an inferior design. Simply to change one’s personal arms because there has been a change in office or rank goes against the whole point of heraldry as a mark of personal identification. While external ornaments correctly change to indicate a change in rank and personal arms may be marshaled with other coats of arms simply deciding after several years that one would like to adopt a different coat of arms is, in a word, wrong.

However, it is often the case that a different artist can emblazon a coat of arms in a manner that will make it both aesthetically more pleasing as well as heraldically more bearable (pun intended). This is the case with the arms of Cardinal Ribat. Mr. d’Apice and I agreed that perhaps the best thing we could do was to advise His soon-to-be Eminence to have the arms rendered by the artist with whom we usually work, Mr. Sandy Turnbull, also a member of the Australian Heraldry Society who also works in computer generated artwork. The result of Mr. Turnbull’s efforts may be seen below.


The overall shape of the achievement and the rendering of the charges, in particular the fact that they fill the field in each quarter better, as well as the depiction of the branch of betel nut are definitely an improvement. The placement of the pallium (which, for the record, I oppose in any heraldic achievement) is also better. In addition, the color palette and vibrancy of the colors is, in my opinion, also superior. The Cardinal-designate was so pleased that he communicated to Mr. d’Apice through his Vicar General that Mr. Turnbull’s rendering will be used, in particular, on his letterhead and official documents. It is indeed difficult to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear but, on occasion, the solution to what to do about a less than happy heraldic design is simply to emblazon the arms in a better fashion.

Cardinals from Noble Families (a continuation)

In the past I have highlighted some of the coats of arms of members of the College of Cardinals who had come from some of the great noble families of Europe. Unlike the Cardinals of today, almost all of whom simply assume a coat of arms on becoming a bishop, many Cardinals from an earlier time came from armigerous families and the arms they bore as Cardinals were composed of coats of arms they had inherited. Here are just a few (all rendered by the late Michael McCarthy).


Ippolito d’Este, created Cardinal-Deacon of S. Lucia in Silice in 1493 (later Archbishop of Capua)


Philipe de la Chambre, OSB, created Cardinal-Priest of S. Martino ai Monte in 1533 (later made Bishop of Frascati)


Simone Tagliavia de Aragon, created Cardinal-Deacon of S. Maria degli Angeli in 1583 (later Bishop of Albano, and Bishop of Sabina)

King of Thailand, RIP

With the death of King Bhumibol of Thailand, who was the world’s longest reigning monarch at the time of his death, the country enters into a period of mourning under a regent until the accession of Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn. According to Thai law Prem Tinsulanonda, President of the Privy Council, assumes the regency until the accession of the new king.

While the former Kingdom of Siam made use of an emblem a bit more similar to the western idea of a coat of arms the current royal emblem or “arms”, which appears on the yellow royal standard, is the Buddhist Garuda.

Appearing in the Hindu epic, the Ramayana, Garuda is the mystical firebird who serves as the mount of the god Vishnu. Garuda appears as the coat of arms of the Republic of Indonesia as well as the royal emblem of the Kingdom of Thailand.


Abbot Elias Lorenzo, OSB

The delegates to the general chapter of the American-Cassinese Congregation, from June 19-24, 2016 elected Father Elias Lorenzo OSB, monk of St. Mary’s Abbey, Morristown, NJ as their new Abbot-President (Abbot-Praeses). For seven years Abbot President Elias had been Prior at Collegio Sant’Anselmo, Rome. Thursday, June 23, 2016, the Rt. Rev. Douglas R. Nowicki OSB, Archabbot of St. Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, PA, motherhouse of the congregation, conferred the abbatial blessing during the chapter. Abbot Elias returned to Sant’Anselmo for the Congress of Abbots, September 2016 and thereafter he will reside in Morristown.



Shortly after his election, Abbot Elias contacted me to ask that I assist him in designing his coat of arms. The explanation I also provided for him is:

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 whom 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 Abbot 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 serving 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. While the Congregation is made up of American monasteries as well as some communities outside the U.S. it was, nevertheless, founded in the U.S. so the reference to the patroness of that country is fitting. 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 Abbot Elias is closely associated.

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

The shield is also ensigned with those external ornaments that indicate the bearer is an abbot. The gold (yellow) crozier is placed vertically behind and extending above and below the shield. Attached to the crozier is a veil or sudarium. Widely used in the Middle Ages it is rarely seen in actual use today. It dates from a time when abbots were already making use of the crozier as a sign of their authority but had not been granted the privilege of full pontificals which would have included liturgical gloves. The purpose of the sudarium was originally practical; it shielded the metal of the crozier from dirt and perspiration from the hands. Later, it became merely symbolic and has been retained in heraldry as distinguishing the crozier of an abbot. The use of pontificals by an abbot is regulated in the Motu Proprio, “Pontificalia Insignia” of June 21, 1968 (Acta Apostolicae Sedis 60 (1968) 374-377 Not 4 (1968) 224-226). Because abbots make use of the crozier they may use it as an external ornament in their coats of arms. The prohibition against the use of croziers in heraldry found in the Instruction of the Secretariat of State of the Holy See, “Ut Sive” of 31 March, 1969 (Acta Apostolicae Sedis 61 (1969) 334-40) does not apply to abbatial heraldry. Above the shield is the ecclesiastical hat, called a galero which, in heraldry, replaces the martial helmet, mantling and crest. The galero is black with black cords pendant from it and twelve black tassels arranged in a pyramid shape on either side of the shield. “The hat with six pendant tassels (green, purple or black) on each side is universally considered in heraldry as the sign of prelacy. It, therefore, pertains to all who are actually prelates…Prelates who are regulars do not, as a rule, wear purple. (Abbots’) ceremonial garb is normally black and, in consequence, their heraldic hats are also black.” (Heim, Bruno B., Heraldry in the Catholic Church, 1978, page 114).