Coat of Arms of the New Archbishop of Dubuque, IA

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Bishop Michael Jackels of Wichita has been named as the new archbishop of Dubuque, Iowa by Pope Francis (it was really decided by Pope Benedict XVI but not announced until after Francis was elected). The current coat of arms of the good bishop will present some interesting problems when he goes to Dubuque. The arms as they currently are depict two distinct impalements. They both comprise the bishop’s personal arms. Neither is the impalement of the arms of the See of Wichita. In North America it has become customary, although far from mandatory, for bishops to depict their own personal arms side by side on the same shield with the coat of arms of their diocese. This does not make the arms of the diocese part of their own coat of arms. Rather, it is a method called impalement used to depict to separate coats of arms on the same shield together in the same achievement. This is done to illustrate that the bishop is “married” to his diocese. Indeed, impalement was first employed in heraldry as a means of depicting the coats of arms of two armigerous people who were married to each other. The impalement of the husband is depicted in the dexter side of the shield (which appears on the left-hand side as we view the shield) and those of the wife in the sinister side (right-hand side as we view it). In the coats of arms of (arch)bishops we therefore would see the arms of the diocese in the position of the husband’s arms and the arms of the individual incumbent bishop in the place of the wife’s arms. It is worth noting that this is only while he is in office as the diocesan bishop. Auxiliary bishops are not entitled to do this as they do not enjoy jurisdiction over the diocese and, similarly, retired bishops must relinquish impaling their arms with those of the diocese as they no longer have jurisdiction over it. As I said before, the arms of the See do not become part of the bishop’s coat of arms. Rather, two distinct coats of arms are being depicted on the shield side by side to denote the “marriage” of the two.

Impalement is far from the only method of marshaling arms together to illustrate jurisdiction. A bishop may quarter his arms with those of the See. An older, and really antiquated, system of marshaling called dimidiation can also be used. In that method the two coats of arms are divided in half and the dexter half of the arms of the see appear in the dexter half of the shield while the sinister half of the bishop’s arms appear in the sinister half of the shield. This method is hardly ever used for the obvious reason that parts of both coats of arms are obscured from view. It is worth repeating that a bishop is under no obligation, as is often erroneously thought, to marshal his personal coat of arms with those of his See. He may simply bear his own personal arms alone. Indeed, if he chooses he may opt not to adopt a coat of arms at all and simply use the diocesan coat of arms during his tenure as his own emblem.

Bishop Jackels has chosen, during his time as Bishop of Wichita, to use his personal arms alone. (illustrated above) This was probably a wise decision since his personal arms are already impaled and impaling them with the arms of the See would have been disastrous. Of course he could have quartered the arms and repeated the arms of the See in the 1st and 4th quarters (upper left & lower right respectively) while depicting the two impalements in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. Which leads us to the question: why does he have impaled arms in the first place?

I think it is a design flaw borne, most likely, out of ignorance as to what the meaning of impalement is, heraldically speaking. At first glance his personal arms look like the unicorn in the sinister impalement combined with the arms of a See that consist solely of a depiction of St. Michael the Archangel. Or, to see these impaled arms in their historically original context, it looks like a “Mr. St.-Michael” married a “Miss Unicorn”. The bishop would have been far better off if he had adopted arms that were divided per fess (horizontally in a straight line) that then depicted St. Michael in chief and the unicorn in base, or vice versa. Better yet, the unicorn could have been depicted and a symbol for St. Michael (like a cross botonee, or a flaming sword, or angels’ wings, etc.) placed on a chief (a separated upper third section of the shield). All this, then could be marshalled to the arms of his See.

As it is now it seems that the very handsome arms of the See of Dubuque will, once again, have to be left out of the achievement of Archbishop-elect Jackels’ coat of arms. That’s not the end of the world but it is a shame. In addition, it really is poor heraldic design to impale what appear to be two separate coats of arms and call it one unified coat of arms. There is no way to avoid the appearance of two marshaled coats which is why this design falls short. Simply put, there are other and better ways of doing it.

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