The coat of arms (above) of the Most Rev. Barry C. Knestout, since 2008 Titular Bishop of Leavenworth and Auxiliary Bishop of Washington, D.C., his native diocese, appointed as the 13th Bishop of Richmond, Virginia last December. He will be installed in Richmond on January 12.
His coat of arms, expertly rendered by Marco Foppoli, impale the arms of the See of Richmond with the personal arms of the bishop assumed finally, after two other previous iterations, shortly after he was ordained a bishop.
While Bishop Knestout was always rather clear on what charges (individual elements) he wished to employ on his coat of arms the composition of the design went through various changes until he finally settled on the arms he bears today. He always intended to pay homage to the Ordinary he would serve under as Auxiliary Bishop, HE Donald Cardinal Wuerl, by using the single charge in the cardinal’s own arms; a tower. In addition, Bishop Knestout wanted very much to honor the previous Archbishops of Washington whom he served for many years as private secretary, HE James Cardinal Hickey, and HE Theodore Cardinal McCarrick. From their respective arms he borrowed a lion. In addition, the bishop wished to include symbols alluding to his ancestry and his native state of Maryland. This was accomplished with the other charges and the choice of tinctures and metals to be employed.
At first the arms were to look like this:
However, on further reflection it was decided to try and incorporate the charges symbolic of the Archbishops together on the field and to bring greater uniformity to the other charges and keep them separated on the chief. In addition, he decided to render the motto in english rather than latin. The design then looked like this:
In fairness, it was probably not in the bishop’s mind that he would be made a diocesan bishop himself one day so he probably wasn’t thinking along the lines of how his coat of arms would look if impaled with the arms of a diocese. If he had he might have stopped here because this design would, indeed, have more easily impaled with another coat of arms and not suffered too much from being squeezed into one half of a shield. Finally, another decision was made to surround the field with a bordure (border) rather than use a chief and we arrived at the arms Bp. Knestout has used for almost ten years:
While it is not mandatory but merely customary for in North America for bishops to impale their arms with those of their See (i.e. depict their own personal coat of arms marshaled together side by side with the arms of their diocese on the same shield in the manner of two coats of arms of people married to each other) the decision to do just that has been made. It is the usual custom in the USA but it presents a problem.
The usual practice in heraldry when arms with a bordure are impaled is not to continue the bordure all the way around the field. Rather, along the line of impalement the bordure is not depicted. This is known as dimidiation. It applies not only to bordures but also to any kind of orle or tressure. If it were a plain bordure this wouldn’t matter so much. But, in the case of Bishop Knestout’s arms the bordure contains charges. Dimidiating the bordure leaves those charges out and/or cuts them in half.
Dimidiation would be most correct not only for the bordure around the field of the bishop’s personal arms but also the red tressure on the arms of the See of Richmond. As you can see in the coat of arms of the last bishop, the late Francis X. DiLorenzo:
Plainly one can see that the red orle, or tressure, that surrounds the silver field is not entirely depicted. This has been the custom for previous bishops of Richmond as well. However, as I have already noted, this doesn’t have as big an impact as the dimidiation of the bordure in Bishop Knestout’s personal arms which would, of necessity, require one of the fish to be omitted and two of the crosses to be cut in half.
In addition, the space required to (incorrectly) depict the entire bordure forces the lion to be shown as “spilling over” the field and onto the bordure as well in order to be clearly seen and not reduced to the point of being difficult to discern. Again, this is problematic. I will simply quote the great Bruno Heim, “In heraldry the charges should never overlap.” The bordure is an ordinary charge that should entirely surround the field and contain those charges depicted thereon.
These criticisms I offer hesitantly because of the well deserved reputation of Marco Foppoli, the artist who depicted this rendering of the bishop’s impaled arms. Marco is an internationally known and respected heraldic artist of the highest calibre. However, he did not design the armorial bearings of Bishop Knestout or of the See of Richmond. Perhaps he was simply complying with the wish of his client to have his arms both impaled with the See of Richmond and depicted fully without the dimidiation?
So, what is the better, more “heraldically correct” solution to the problem? There are two options. The first is to respect the usual conventions of heraldic marshaling and dimidiate both the bordure in the bishop’s personal arms as well as the orle in the arms of the See. It is sometimes the case when two or more coats of arms are marshaled together on the same shield that such circumstances occur. Again, I will remind the reader that an individual does not assume a coat of arms by designing them to harmonize well with some yet unforeseen coat of arms with which they may be impaled or quartered. Anyone who does that would be, to put it mildly, slightly presumptuous! The second solution is the easier, albeit less conventional. Namely, in this instance the bishop could have chosen simply to bear his own arms and not impale them with the See of Richmond. As I indicated above impaling the arms is customary not mandatory. In addition, it just so happens there is adequate precedent for such a course of action in the history of the Diocese of Richmond. Bishop Knestout’s predecessor, Bishop DiLorenzo was himself preceded by Bishop Walter Sullivan who served from 1974-2003 and was also an Auxiliary Bishop of Washington prior to that from 1970-1974. Bishop Sullivan for all of his twenty-nine years as Bishop of Richmond bore his personal arms alone, the arms he assumed on becoming a bishop, and did not impale them with the arms of the See of Richmond.
My compliments to Marco Foppoli for another very nice artistic rendering. However, to whomever made the decision to impale the arms without the necessary dimidiations I would suggest that was an ill-conceived idea that flies in the face of accepted heraldic practices and was, furthermore, completely unnecessary given the precedents.
Heraldry has rules and you can’t just do whatever you wish!