Recent Commission

Below is a coat of arms for a woman that I was recently commissioned to do. The ribbon surrounding the woman’s oval shield has personal meaning to her and is decorative. The common practice in heraldry is that women don’t use helm and mantling in their achievements which leaves them looking rather empty artistically. Decorative knots, ribbons and wreaths are often employed to surround the shield. If you are wondering if you’re seeing things, yes, that is a whisk in the horse’s mouth. It alludes to the armiger’s love of cooking.

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Bishop James Checchio of Metuchen, NJ

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On Tuesday, May 3, 2016 the Most Reverend James F. Checchio, a priest of the diocese of Camden, NJ and most recently until February of this year the Rector of the Pontifical North American College in Rome, will be ordained a bishop in the Church and installed as the fifth bishop of the diocese of Metuchen, NJ, the diocese in which I serve.

His newly adopted coat of arms is depicted, as is the usual custom in the United States for diocesan bishops, impaled with the arms of the diocese. The diocesan arms were designed in 1981 when the diocese was established and modified in 1998. The four quadrants, depicted in silver and gold, the colors of the flag of the Vatican City-State, represent the four counties of the diocese: Middlesex, Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren. The moline cross overall is taken from the arms of Trenton from which the diocese was separated in 1981. In the Trenton arms the cross is gold on a blue field. Originally, it was depicted in the Metuchen arms as black but that was changed in 1998. The red tongue of fire in the upper left alludes to both the Holy Spirit and to the name “Metuchen” which is a Lenne Lanape word meaning “land of firewood”. The crowned letter “M” in the lower right is a reference to St. John Paul II who, as pope, founded the diocese and whose arms depicted a letter “M” in the lower right corner. With the crown it is also a symbol of the Queenship of Mary, the patroness of the diocese. Originally the “M” was also black but when the late Bishop Vincent Breen asked me to undertake a redesign of the diocesan arms in 1998 the “M” was changed to blue along with the cross.

Bishop Checchio commissioned the Italian artist Renato Poletti to work with him on his personal arms and emblazon them marshaled to those of the diocese. The gold escallop shell is a reference to his baptismal patron, St. James the Greater and the silver crescent represents Our Lady under the titles of the Immaculate Conception the patroness of the cathedral of his native diocese of Camden, as well as of the Pontifical North American College and the United States of America. The chevron represents a roof beam and, as such, symbolizes protecting the flock which is the task of a bishop. The sheep and crook are an allusion to his work as rector of a seminary preparing men to be shepherds in priestly ministry.

The motto reads, “Let Us Be Reconciled to God” a fitting message for a bishop appointed during the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Ad Multos Annos, Bishop Checchio!

 

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.

Archbishop Viganó

As he ends his tenure as Apostolic Nuncio to the United States of America we say farewell and THANK YOU to the Most Reverend Carlo Maria Viganó as he begins his well-earned retirement. By his manner and quiet diplomacy he has shone that, indeed, he does know Him in whom he has believed.

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Mother M. Angelica, RIP

On Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016, Mother M. Angelica Rizzo, PCPA passed away. She was the Abbess of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration in Alabama and the Foundress and first CEO of EWTN, the global Catholic television and radio network.

Several years ago she adopted a coat of arms. (below in black and white and in color) It is significant in that despite Poor Clare abbesses not making use of a crozier they are, nevertheless, entitled to use one as a heraldic emblem with the veil attached correctly. In addition, the chaplet surrounding the shield indicates the arms of a Professed Religious and the crown of thorns surrounding the shield is also common in the heraldic achievements of female religious.

May she rest in peace.

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Coat of Arms of a Priest

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Above is the coat of arms for an American Benedictine monk and priest. Disappointed that there was not any external ornament in Catholic heraldry that would specifically and immediately identify a coat of arms as belonging to a Benedictine as, for example, the cross fleury behind the shield used by Dominicans, and cognizant that it was inappropriate simply to marshal his own arms to those of his Order (as far too many Religious mistakenly do) I was asked by him to come up with a design that reflected his membership in the Order of St. Benedict.

The principal charge, a raven, is a symbol of St. Benedict and the heart it holds in its beak is a reflection of both a personal devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the part of the armiger as well as an allusion to the motto which means “Bend my Heart” or “Incline my Heart” which is also inspired by a line in the Holy Rule of St. Benedict.

The background is a variation of the blue and silver fusils in bend that can be found in the arms of Bavaria. The monastery to which he belongs is one of several in the U.S. founded by Bavarian monks who came to the U.S. as missionaries in the mid 19th C. and it also forms part of the monastery’s own coat of arms. Here the fusils are placed in a straight vertical position rather than in bend and the field draws in close to create a single fusil in the center as the background for the raven.

This coat of arms was designed by me in 2014 and most recently and very beautifully rendered by the Italian heraldic artist, Marco Foppoli.

Abbess of Regina Laudis

The coat of arms used by the Third Abbess of the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Connecticut, Rev. Mother Lucia Kuppens, OSB. She was elected February 1 of 2015 and received the abbatial blessing on the following May 10th from the Archbishop of Hartford.

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The Abbess describes the design (executed by Mother Alma Egger, OSB) as follows:

The book symbolizes my maternal ancestry, one hundred percent Irish, from Galway in the west of Ireland. A strong Celtic influence permeated my home. From these roots I received my love of the word, of poetry, of learning, education, culture, and music. The book could be interpreted to represent Scripture, or The Rule, literature itself or the works of Shakespeare, the particular focus of my doctoral dissertation. On a practical level, the book refers to much of my work in the Abbey, which includes supporting others in their studies, hosting student groups, directing the Monastic Internship Program, and when called for, writing about the Abbey. My Clothing and Profession ceremonies were both on the Advent feast of “O Sapientia” in celebration of Wisdom. The book is open, conveying the imagination and intellect open to the Wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

The roof truss at the top of the shield symbolizes my paternal ancestry. The dominant national identity in my father’s family was Alsatian, from northeastern France, just a stone’s throw from the German border. They were a people who suffered and survived much in war, as their borders continually changed. From my father’s family comes a rootedness in the earth, an appreciation of manual work, a respect for practical solutions and love for what is essential in life. From him comes my attraction to the other main area of my monastic service, the Cellarer’s Office. Until fairly recently my father worked all over the Abbey helping repair and build things. Through my involvement with a Lay Oblate Community (The Closed Community) prior to entering the Abbey, I had many experiences of participating in building on the Abbey land, notably the Chapter House on the Hill. Since 2009 I have been working with others to renovate the original monastic buildings and envision this being a major work for the whole community for the next ten years.

Continuity with Lady Abbess and Abbess David is represented by the wavy line in the center that marks the pine hill, which was on both of their shields as well. The hill is the central feature of our land. It is where our church was built and it represents the spiritual center and heart of the monastery. The three stars, which also appeared on Abbess David’s shield represent the continued commitment to build the triadic nature of our authority structure composed of Abbess, Prioress, and Subprioress.

The consecration lamp is an ancient and rich symbol of consecrated virginity and therefore seemed an apt symbol for representing the light of St. Lucy, Virgin and Martyr. Each nun receives such a lamp, made by our potter, at the time of her Consecration, when the church bestows its blessing and affirmation on the fruitfulness of her vows. The burning oil lamp symbolizes the gift of self, consumed in the fire of love. Two flames rise from this lamp symbolizing for me that the gift of one’s love to Christ is never solitary, but is given in relationship to others. The consecration lamp unifies the whole shield, mediating between the speculative and practical polarities of my genealogy and bringing our attention to the meaning of the motto, which is taken from the Office of St. Scholastica, sister of St. Benedict and a consecrated virgin. As told in the Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great, one night she prevailed on her brother to disobey his Rule and instead of returning to his monastery, stay with her talking and praying. Though she did not tell him why, she knew her death was near. He refused her, but her tears of supplication to God caused a sudden storm that prevented St. Benedict from leaving. Thus in that moment, she prevailed over him and St. Gregory says of her, ‘Plus potuit quia plus amavit,’ which is translated: ‘She was able to do more because she loved more.’ The banner of the motto embraces the whole shield and all the symbols on it, signifying that all we do is possible only through love and the grace of God.

Why the decision to use a simple oval shield alone without the external ornament of the veiled crozier pale wise behind the shield is a mystery. It is the only heraldic ornament that would mark this as the coat of arms of an abbess. Without it, these are simply the arms of a woman and a motto. Similarly, the previous abbess’ coat of arms used no crozier but employed supporters! It causes one to wonder if there is a lack of proper heraldic knowledge amongst the nuns. It is a shame they have not been advised better.

The abbey itself has a fine coat of arms designed and emblazoned by the late great practitioner of the science and art of heraldry, Dom Wilfrid Bayne, OSB, a monk of Portsmouth Abbey in R.I.

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