Author Archives: guyselvester

Nelson J. Perez from Cleveland to Philadelphia

This morning the Holy See announced that the Pope has appointed 58-year-old Bishop Nelson J. Perez as the 10th Archbishop of Philadelphia succeeding Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM, Cap. who has served as the 9th Archbishop since 2011 and who turned 75 last September. The Archbishop-elect was born in Cuba, emigrated with his family to Miami when he was a child and was raised in Northern New Jersey.

He was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 1989. In 2012 Pope Benedict appointed him as Titular Bishop of Catrum and Auxiliary Bishop of Rockville Centre, New York. Pope Francis translated him to the Diocese of Cleveland in July, 2017.

His personal arms were assumed at the time he was ordained a bishop on Long Island. The reflect his Cuban heritage (the sun), his home diocese of Philadelphia (the star) and his vision of priestly and episcopal ministry (the lamb).

Philadelphia hasn’t had a priest of their own diocese serve as archbishop there since Archbishop Prendergast (1911-1918) so this is a momentous appointment for the archdiocese to have, if not a native son, a priest from their own presbyterate as their new shepherd. That’s relatively rare in the U.S. these days. I grew up in the Diocese of Rockville Centre and I still have many friends and some family there. I know the people there appreciated Archbishop-elect Nelson’s personality, style and his ministry with them.

Ad Multos Annos!

Duke of Sussex Coat of Arms

In light of the recent announcement that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (aka Prince Harry & Meghan) will be stepping back from duties as senior royals and, consequently no longer styling themselves as “royal highness” not a few people have contacted me to ask out of curiosity if this in any way will have an impact on the coats of arms they both use.

The simple answer is, “No”.

As the grandson of the sovereign Prince Harry employs a coat of arms that indicates he was born a grandson of the sovereign. British royal heraldry is different than many other countries in that the sovereigns children and grandchildren generally bear the royal arms differenced by a variety of labels of either three or five points and the points are charged with marks of difference. That’s really rather boring if you asked me but that’s what they do and they haven’t asked me!

So, when he turned 18 Harry was granted his own arms depicting the royal arms difference by a label of five points the first, third and fifth of which are charged with a red escallop shell. The shell is a charge borrowed from the coat of arms of his late mother, Diana (neé Spencer).

His supporters were also charged with the label for difference and the arms are surmounted by a special coronet used by the children of the heir to the throne. In addition, the royal crest is also charged with the label for difference.

Upon marrying his wife Harry was created Duke of Sussex. Nothing in his coat of arms was modified to reflect this title. Consequently, there is nothing to change in his coat of arms to reflect his new status of stepping down from a senior position in the royal family. He is still a grandson of the sovereign and son of the heir to the throne; he is still the Duke of Sussex; he is still actually an “HRH” but will choose not to style himself as such.

In fact, even after his grandmother passes away and he is the son of the sovereign and, indeed, even after his father passes away and he is the brother of the sovereign the crown used on his arms will remain unchanged as the crown for the child of the heir is identical to the crown used by children of the sovereign and siblings of the sovereign.

So…no changes.

O'Brien: Grand Master Emeritus (UPDATED)

On December 8, 2019 His Holiness Pope Francis appointed Fernando Cardinal Filoni as the VIII Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. With that his predecessor, Edwin Cardinal O’Brien became Grand Master Emeritus of the Order.

Heraldic use in the EOHS is somewhat unclear. There are various sources all claiming to be definitive accounts of the heraldic privileges of the Order but, in fact, since most only exist online none can truly be said to be definitive.

Since 1949 when Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church have been appointed by the Pope as Grand Masters they have observed the heraldic convention, like other orders, of marshaling their personal arms to those of the Order by means of quartering them. No one has disputed their right to do so or that this has been the usual manner. There remains a question, however, of whether or not to marshal the armorial bearings of Grand Masters Emeriti in the same way, or, as the usual heraldic custom would suggest, to have them revert to using their personal arms alone.

Cardinal O’Brien’s coat of arms is of particular interest in this question because of his unfortunate and erroneous habit of retaining armorial elements from his previous postings in his coat of arms each time he has been assigned to undertake a new position. So, the arms he assumed when first ordained Auxiliary Bishop of New York have long ago been abandoned. After he concluded his tenure as Archbishop of of the Military Archdiocese, USA he kept the open globe from the archdiocesan achievement of the US Military and incorporated it as a base into his personal arms when he moved to Baltimore. In an even worse move, when he left Baltimore as its archbishop to go to Rome as Pro-Grand Master and later Grand Master of the EOHS he kept his coat of arms entirely as they had been in Baltimore, impaled with the arms of the See of Baltimore, for which he had absolutely no right whatsoever as he was no longer the Ordinary of that archdiocese. It is important to remember that the custom of bishops impaling their personal arms with those of their See does not mean that the arms of the jurisdiction becomes a part of their own coat of arms. Rather, it is a means of marshaling, that is to say, depicting two separate coats of arms on the same shield to illustrate a relationship between the two, in the case of bishops to indicate that they are “married” to their diocese and exercise jurisdiction over it. If they should leave that diocese they no longer enjoy that right.

So, we see that the arms of the See of Baltimore never should have been included in Cardinal O’Brien’s arms as Grand Master of the EOHS. In the case of the globe from the arms of the US Military Archdiocese at least it can be said that rather than marshaling his arms to those of the Military Archdiocese what O’Brien did was to borrow a charge and incorporate it into his own personal arms which is arguably a better practice and, thus, acceptable.

There are probably those who assume it is acceptable for the cardinal simply to continue using the same achievement he used as Grand Master. They would be wrong. No one in an emeritus position is entitled to heraldically represent jurisdiction they no longer exercise. I have seen some sources that would claim a Grand Master Emeritus, indeed any cleric, may quarter his personal arms with those of the Order. I believe this is false. The convention has always been that quartering the personal arms with those of the Order is the prerogative of the Grand Master alone. I have seen no definitive official source that allows for any cleric to quarter their arms with the arms of the Order.

Accordingly, and logically, the only other recourse would be for Cardinal O’Brien to bear his personal arms alone like other members of the College of Cardinals who have retired; to exclude the arms of the See of Baltimore over which he ceased to have any jurisdiction long ago; to retain the globe from the arms of the See of the US Military as it is now a charge incorporated into his personal arms; to indicate his continued membership in the EOHS by means of placing the cross of the Order (the Jerusalem cross) behind the shield. This, unfortunately, leaves him with a rather unfortunate personal armorial achievement. (below)

There is a good argument to be made for one other possibility. Certain officials of the Order and members of a particular rank within the Order, namely Knights & Dames of the Collar; Lieutenants; Members of the Grand Magistry and Grand Priors, impale their arms with the arms of the Order. It can be argued that the Grand Master Emeritus is both a Knight of the Collar and, honorarily at least, still considered a Member of the Grand Magistry. By that logic a Grand Master Emeritus might impale his personal arms with those of the Order rather than quarter them and this would leave Cardinal O’Brien with an achievement that looks a bit less empty. (below)

Archbishop of Tours

On January 5 Msgr. Vincent Jordy (58) from Perpignan, France, a priest and Auxiliary Bishop of Strasbourg and from 2011-2019 Bishop of Saint Claude will be installed as the 66th Archbishop of Tours.

Unlike so many of his confreres in the French episcopate he actually bears a coat of arms:

Of course as an archbishop, the cross will now be a patriarchal cross with two horizontal bars. The fact that he doesn’t use a galero is his personal choice. As has been mentioned on this blog before, the galero is not an essential part of a bishop’s coat of arms and may be omitted if desired. The one and only distinguishing external ornament essential for a bishop’s coat of arms is the episcopal or archiepiscopal cross placed behind the shield.

Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre

Pope Francis has appointed 73 year-old Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of Propaganda Fide from 2011 to the present, who now becomes Prefect Emeritus of the same Dicastery, as the new Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre. Cardinal Filoni was a priest of the Diocese of Nardó, Italy and was ordained in 1970. In 2001 he was ordained a titular archbishop by St. John Paul II and was Apostolic Nuncio to Iraq from 2001 to 2006 and lived in Baghdad during the war of 2003. For a year, he was the Pope’s ambassador to the Philippines before being called to the Secretariat of State as Substitute, a post he held until 2011. In 2012 he was created a Cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI.

His experience in the Middle East will be valuable in his new role, as the Order of the Holy Sepulchre cooperates particularly with the Middle Eastern Christian communities and supports them with many projects.

In a statement, Cardinal O’Brien expressed his great appreciation for the Pope’s decision, and said he is particularly happy that Cardinal Filoni has been chosen as his successor: “His long and extensive partoral and administrative service in our Universal Church”, Cardinal O’Brien said, “will be precious in guiding the Order on its future path”. 

The custom of the EOHSJ is that the Grand Master quarters his personal arms with the Jerusalem cross of the Order, red on a silver field, which is used as the armorial bearings of the Order itself. The shield is surrounded by the Grand master’s collar and placed on the cross of the Order. The white mantle of the Order also ensigns the shield and the patriarchal cross of an archbishop is included as well as the cardinal’s galero. In addition, the usually secular helm is also included sitting not on a torse but on a crown of thorns recalling the Passion of the Lord.

Cardinal Filoni’s arms are those he assumed when he was promoted to titular archbishop in 2001. The are much simpler and also a marked improvement over the personal arms of his immediate predecessor whose achievement was horribly ill-advised and included elements from offices he had formerly held including the entire coat of arms of the Archdiocese of Baltimore …which he no longer held! Cardinal Grand master Filoni’s arms make a welcome change.

Bishop Austin Vetter of Helena

On Wednesday, November 20, the Most Rev. Austin Vetter (52), a priest of the Diocese of Bismarck, North Dakota, was ordained a bishop and installed as the 12th Bishop of Helena, Montana. He was formerly a Spiritual Director at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, the seminary which he himself attended. Like so many other American bishops coming from that source he decided to have his coat of arms designed and emblazoned by an amateur heraldist, a man with another profession, who has begun to work extensively in the field of ecclesiastical heraldry due to his many contacts in Rome. The results are usually somewhat disappointing – not bad; not incorrect; not poorly rendered – but just drab, unimaginative and a ceaseless repetition of the same things over and over again plugged into a basic template making all of them appear, essentially, the same.

From the program prepared for the Ordination we read the following description prepared by the person who designed the coat of arms: “Bishop Vetter’s personal coat of arms blends images representing his origins: the crescent moon is for the Blessed Mother, the Immaculate Conception, patroness of the United States, the Diocese of Bismarck, and the Pontifical North American College (Bishop Vetter’s alma mater where he also later served on faculty); the sheaves of wheat which combine the concept of the Eucharistic symbol and the principle product of the farm where Bishop Vetter grew up; a “wavy barrulet,” the water representing “the spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14) and the Missouri River which begins in Montana and flows through Bismarck, North Dakota; and a “gemel in chevronwise,” one of them recalling the rafter holding the roof of the church which is set upon the foundation of the apostles with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone (meaning protection) and the second representing the Rocky Mountains of Montana.

The color blue (Azure) symbolizes the separation from the worldly values and the ascent of the soul toward God, therefore the run of the Celestial Virtues which raise themselves from the things of the earth toward the sk y. It als o represents the Blessed Mother and the “Big Sky” of Montana. The silver (Argent) of the crescent symbolizes the transparency and the purity of the Virgin Mary. The garb, sheaves of wheat, is in gold (Or), the first among the noble metals, then the symbol of the first of the Virtues , the Faith which enables us to believe in the Eucharistic Host, fruit of wheat, real body of Christ.”

Yeah…blah.

The second paragraph which goes on and on about the symbolism of the colors betrays an error that many amateur heraldist make. Namely, assuming that there are definite meanings assigned to different colors in heraldry. There aren’t. Perhaps, the armiger has chosen to assign meanings to certain colors for himself personally but if that is the case the explanation should stipulate that, as in, “The bishop feels that the color blue means XYZ to him because…” Otherwise, it’s simply made up out of whole cloth.

Another interesting thing in the explanation which goes to my point about the repetition in this person’s designs is the explanation of the use of the “gemel”. In heraldry the word gemel means “twin”. It is a term taken from Scottish heraldry primarily and does not describe a particular charge or object. Rather, it is an adjective that describes certain ordinaries or subordinaries as being depicted twinned, or in a pair. So, it’s not an object, a gemel “chevron wise” (i.e. arranged in the shape of a chevron). Instead, it should be blazoned “Two chevronels gemel”, that is, two thinner chevrons paired.

What is also interesting is this explanation of the coat of arms of a bishop this same artist did several years ago, “The chevron is an heraldic device, best described as an inverted “V”; it signifies the rafter, which holds the roof of the church, and symbolizes the concept of protection.” Does that sound familiar? Perhaps it is supposed that every bishop must have a chevron of some kind in his coat of arms as a symbol of a church? Are there no other symbols of a church, or of the Church, or of protection?

This bishop’s last name – Vetter – comes from the German for “cousin” and yet there was no attempt to try and symbolize that. His first name, Austin, is derived from the name Augustine and yet none of the symbols associated with that saint were used. Why do I point this out? Because a coat of arms is first and foremost a mark of personal identification. As I have written here numerous times, it is not a CV in pictures! It’s not supposed to be about where you are from, where you lived, where you went to school, etc. It is, instead, supposed to identify you, personally. So, using charges that in some way alluded to his name or family name, while far from a necessity in any coat of arms, might have proven a better starting point and certainly would have made for a mark of identity that was more personal.

Instead, there is another cookie-cutter coat of arms. And yet the question persists of “Why are so many bishops’ coats of arms so poorly done?” It is, I believe, because too many bishops are content to copy what they have seen before for the sake of “getting it done” instead of consulting with someone who is well versed in heraldic science as well as someone who can provide real heraldic art instead of something using a computer generated template. This coat of arms, like others is not, as I wrote above, bad, incorrect or poorly rendered. But, it is rather disappointing.