Almost Identical

Sometimes, especially in the world of ecclesiastical heraldry, prelates aren’t always so creative and frequently they adopt arms that are very similar to each other’s. On occasion this may indicate a kind of patronage of one prelate over another. For example, St. John XXIII’s longtime secretary, Loris Capovilla, was later made an Archbishop and eventually a Cardinal. At the time of his episcopal ordination he adopted John XXIII’s coat of arms entirely with one tiny exception; he removed one of the fleur-de-lis in order to “difference” his arms from his patron.

Differencing is an old custom in heraldry and often misunderstood. Two different coats of arms might seem identical at first glance. Yet, as long as one element is changed, or “differenced” it makes for a sufficient differentiation between the two in order to avoid two armigers bearing identical coats of arms. Sometimes this could be the changing of a particular charge, the addition of a label or a mark of cadence or even simply changing the tinctures.

Here we see an interesting pair. Both Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, Patriarch of Venice (later Pope St. John XXIII) and Carlos Maria Della Torre, Archbishop of Quito & Primate of Ecuador were created Cardinals by Pope Pius XII in 1953. The arms they each bore were almost identical showing a tower flanked by two fleur-de-lis on a red and white field.

J23  Torre

However, Roncalli’s arms showed a field “Gules, a fess Argent” and Della Torre’s showed a field, “Barry of four Argent and Gules”. These arms allude to his name, “Of the Tower”. In addition, Roncalli added the chief of Venice (depicting the gold lion of St. Mark on a silver (white) field) at the time he was promoted to Patriarch there as is usually the custom for the incumbents in that position. That provided a great visual difference between their arms. However, after Roncalli’s election as Pope in 1958 Della Torre once again made their arms very similar by adopting a chief with the gold lion of St. Mark on a red field; differenced from the Pope’s but only slightly. I suppose given the relative similarity of their coats of arms in the first place he wished to honor his “classmate” as a Cardinal who was also now his Pope.

What is more it is interesting to note that both men bore the same motto despite there being no particular relationship between the two.

These arms seem almost identical, but note quite.

Artwork: The late Michael McCarthy
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