Category Archives: Corporate Bodies

Heraldry For Parish History

Among the various ways that a parish community can record and mark its history is through the use of heraldry. Many are familiar with the custom of churches having incorporated into the architecture of the building, or in a church building’s decoration, the coat of arms of the reigning pope and the bishop at the time the church was constructed or consecrated. The use of the coats of arms of the pastors who have served the parish can be similarly used.

In a previous assignment where I served as Rector of a Shrine Church I entered into a project to devise what would be considered attributed arms for all of my predecessors so that the tenure of each Rector could be remembered by means of a coat of arms for each displayed in the Rectory Office. I was even able to devise a coat of arms for my successor as well!

I arrived at my current parish assignment as Parish Administrator, a common practice in many dioceses including my own. The idea is to have a new priest serve as Administrator (a temporary appointment) for a time until it is determined if the man is a “good fit” for the parish at which time, usually one year, he would be appointed Pastor with a six-year renewable term. In my case I served as Administrator for two years because as the end of my first year was approaching our bishop resigned and a new bishop arrived who wanted to take some time himself to settle in to the diocese before making any major decisions.

At the time my tenure as Administrator began I devised a coat of arms for the parish community. In June of this year I was appointed Pastor of the parish and my official Installation takes place later this month. To mark this start of a new chapter I decided to undertake a similar project of devising coats of arms for my predecessors to be displayed in a suitable place somewhere in one of the parish buildings.

There have been 23 priests in charge of St. Joseph Church, Washington, New Jersey since its establishment as an independent parish in 1871. Of those 23 one of them, Rev. John Eagan, served here for only 11 months in 1943 as Administrator. In addition, one of the priests, Rev. John Auchter, actually served here for six years but was never an incardinated priest of the Metuchen Diocese. Rather, he was and always remained, a priest of the neighboring diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania on loan to the Metuchen Diocese. Consequently, he only had the title “Administrator” but was, for all intents and purposes, the Pastor of this parish as much as any of the others. So, while Fr. Eagan is not counted among the Pastors of St. Joseph Fr. Auchter is counted among their number. As a result I find myself now as the 22nd Pastor of St. Joseph.

For the purposes of this project I found it rather daunting to face the prospect of devising 21 attributed coats of arms. Therefore, I decided to try and pare down the list. But, what criteria should I use to do so. I decided to look at the entire history of the parish in stages. At its foundation in 1871, by Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley, the nephew of St. Elizabeth Ann (Bayley) Seton, the parish was part of the then Diocese of Newark which, at that time, covered the entire state of New Jersey. Just ten years later, in 1881, the parish became part of the newly established Diocese of Trenton encompassing eight counties in the central part of New Jersey. A century later St. John Paul II decided to separate the four northern counties of Trenton and erect the Diocese of Metuchen in November of 1981. Once again, the parish of St. Joseph found itself in a new diocese. It was this last separation, becoming part of the diocese in which it currently finds itself, that I decided to use as my dividing line. At least for the time being this project encompasses the coats of arms of the seven Pastors the parish has had since the erection of the Diocese of Metuchen. At some point in the future other coats of arms can be added until all the Pastors are represented.

Creating attributed arms is both a challenge and a lot of fun. All but two of my predecessors are deceased and the living ones could not be easily consulted. In addition, two of the seven who served here since 1981 are non-armigerous because, sadly, they both were convicted of crimes and sentenced to prison. As such, it is not appropriate to devise coats of arms for them and had they been armigerous the privilege of having a coat of arms would have been lost to them.

In each case the attributed arms contains charges that allude to their names or to some other strong association with them. That way, each is somewhat easily associated with the priest it represents. In all cases their personal arms are emblazoned impaled with the arms assumed for the parish itself and the shield is ensigned with a simple priest’s galero. No mottoes were used in the depiction of these achievements.

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The Arms of St. Joseph Parish, Washington, New Jersey (est. 1871)

The arms are based on those of George Washington for whom the Borough and Township where the parish is located are named. His arms showed two red bars on a silver (white) field with three red stars above. Here the colors have been reversed and the stars changed to three fleurs-de-lis, a symbol of St. Joseph.

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Rev. William Roos 16th Pastor 1979-1983

The name “Roos” alludes to a rose in Dutch, hence the three roses.

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Rev. (later Monsignor) John A. Auchter (Administrator) 1983-1989

The lamp is from a German coat of arms associated with the family name. The chief contains the arms of the Diocese of Allentown, PA of which Fr. Auchter was an incardinated priest. After his time in New Jersey he returned to his own diocese and was later promoted to Prelate of Honor with the title “Rev. Monsignor”. However, when serving here he was still simply a priest.

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Rev. Michael Santillo 18th Pastor 1989-1992

He does not have a personal coat of arms so the parish arms are impaled with a blank shield. The design on that half of the shield is a technique to fill empty space in heraldry called “diapering” and it is merely decorative.

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Rev. Michael A. Kochon 19th Pastor 1992-1999

Father Kochon’s arms consist of a flaming sword which is symbolic of his patron, St. Michael the Archangel and a wild hog’s head erased. In French the word cochon, similar to his surname Kochon, means pig so his personal arms allude to his given and family names.

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Rev. (later Mr.) Robert J. Ascolese 20th Pastor 1999-2006

He does not have a personal coat of arms so the parish arms are impaled with a blank shield. The design on that half of the shield is a technique to fill empty space in heraldry called “diapering” and it is merely decorative.

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Rev. Blaise R. Baran 21st Pastor 2006-2015

Father Baran’s name means “rain” in Persian, hence the raindrops. His patron, St. Blaise, is alluded to by the two candles crossed in saltire which are used to give the Blessing of Throats on the feast day of St. Blaise.

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Rev. Guy W. Selvester (Administrator 2015-2017) 22nd Pastor 2017 – 

Readers of this blog should know the symbolism of my arms by now but the division line sapiné (shaped like fir trees) alludes to my family name which was originally Silvestri (later anglicized to Selvester) which means a forest dweller or woodsman. The green and gold (yellow) tinctures are for my Irish ancestry and the cross for the centrality of my faith in my life. It is a cross fleury so that the fleurs-de-lis are references to both the Holy Trinity and Our Lady.

Detroit Coat of Arms Redesign: EPIC FAIL

By now so many people have seen the redesign of the archdiocesan coat of arms undertaken by the Archdiocese of Detroit and unveiled last Saturday (below, right).

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Where does one even begin? Perhaps a good place to start is by saying that this was done in conjunction with the release of Archbishop Vigneron’s post-synodal pastoral letter entitled, “Unleash the Gospel”. This letter addresses issues that arose during the archdiocesan synod and outlines the pastoral approaches to be implemented by the archdiocese as it faces the future. As a part of this entire effort someone had the idea that redesigning the coat of arms to reflect the current “realities” of the archdiocese and certain aspects of the archdiocese’s identity would be a good idea. I suppose the thinking was that with a new approach should come a new symbol. The archdiocese’s Moderator of the Curia, Msgr. Robert McClory, who was in charge of the redesign, said, “Initially, we thought about, ‘What is the identity of the archdiocese?’ When people think of the Archdiocese of Detroit, what do they think of, and what visuals are connected to that?”

So, it seems clear that this jettisoning of the former coat of arms and redesigning an entirely new one was done with all the very best of intentions. That seems abundantly clear and, I think, it’s worth pointing out and keeping in mind. There was no malicious iconoclasm motivating a desire to discard outmoded symbolism. Rather, there seems to have been a sincere effort to look to the future in a positive manner with a symbol for the local church that would be more evocative to both members of that local community and those outside of it as well. They were trying to do something good, and new, and fresh.

More is the pity. It is precisely all these good intentions that underscores the appalling ignorance with which this process, in the works for more than a year, proceeded. An article in the archdiocese’s publication, “The Michigan Catholic” indicates the following:

“Archbishop Vigneron consulted with a wide range of people, including laity and the archdiocesan Presbyteral Council, before deciding to go ahead with the changes, Msgr. McClory said. While the archdiocese enlisted the help of a Cleveland-based design firm for the project, the process also benefited from Archbishop Vigneron’s experience redesigning the coat of arms of the Diocese of Oakland, Calif., where he served as bishop from 2003-09.”

Apparently, the Archbishop’s previous experience left him feeling confident in doing a wide and varied consultation with just about everyone, except someone well versed in the customs, rules and traditions of good heraldic design. That really baffles me. In these days even a simple Google search will easily yield at least some possibilities of contacting a group or individual who has some knowledge or expertise in designing a coat of arms. Consulting such a person or group really wouldn’t be so difficult. I have to ask why it was deemed important to solicit the opinions of laity and the Presbyteral Council? What experience or learning do they possess that would enable them to determine a good heraldic design? I can appreciate the Archbishop’s desire to avoid making such a change by episcopal fiat and to seek the input of various people in his archdiocese. Nevertheless, the way to design or redesign a coat of arms is not by committee. I think the end result is clear evidence of that.

What they have come up with is, simply put, bad. The artwork is cartoonish and dated. The overall composition bears little to no resemblance to anything remotely like a coat of arms. The mitre on top has the appearance more of a royal crown than an episcopal mitre. The confusing miss-mash of charges float all over the place on the field. You cannot simply take a bunch of logo-like symbols, slap them onto a shield and call it “heraldry”!

Most of all, however, I think the epic fail has its origins in a basic misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of a coat of arms in the first place. Monsignor McClory goes on to say:

“A major difference between the old coat of arms and the new, Msgr. McClory said, is one’s ability to tell the story of faith using its symbols: Starting with the Old Testament in St. Anne and continuing through the revelation of the New Testament through her daughter, Mary, one comes to Christ through the waters of baptism and is invited through the open doors of the Church to bring others with them to their ultimate fulfillment with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in heaven. I think you can really tell a story with this. You can’t do it with the old coat of arms.”

And there you have it. Once again, because something is connected to the Church it becomes about “telling a story”, or “tracing a history”. Not everything connected to the Church has to be a catechetical tool; not everything is a means of evangelization. Just as a personal coat of arms is not supposed to be one’s pictorial C.V.  so, too, a corporate coat of arms is not supposed to be a visual mission statement or pictorial history.

Heraldry was developed as a means of creating a unique identifying mark. Full stop.

In addition, because even modern heraldry still hearkens back to the medieval period in which heraldry has its origins there is supposed to be both a timelessness and a sense of permanence to heraldry. It’s quite wrong to change a coat of arms simply because it was designed and adopted in a different time and because the thinking has changed about what should be on it. A coat of arms doesn’t have to “tell a story”; it doesn’t have to “reflect present realities”; it is supposed to be immutable. Since it becomes the identifying mark of the individual or corporate body that uses it the permanent character of it must be respected.

That is not to say that there are no instances of changes being made to a coat of arms. Even within the science of heraldry itself techniques such as marshaling (combining two or more coats of arms on the same shield), augmentation (adding a new element to an existing coat of arms to reflect an honor, event or accomplishment) and differencing (slightly changing an initial design to indicate its use by a relative, descendant, or protégé) exist to make changes within the accepted framework of heraldic custom and practice. But, simply throwing out the former coat of arms and redesigning the thing from scratch is foreign to the nature of heraldry. Let me be clear: it is sometimes done and whenever it is, it is always wrong.

Rather, the archdiocese has fallen victim to a not uncommon phenomenon present today. That is, equating heraldry with a logo. Corporate logos frequently change. Whether it’s to mark the takeover of the corporate body by another, or simply to refresh and renew the artwork, or to indicate the corporate body embarking on a new phase or vision the transitory nature of corporate logos almost necessitates their periodic updating or full-scale redesign. I note that the archdiocese consulted with a Cleveland based design firm. But, what does this firm know of heraldry? How much experience do they have designing a heraldic achievement? I would hazard a guess that its very little compared with their experience of coming up with a first time logo or doing a redesign for a group interested in “re-branding”. But, a coat of arms is neither a logo nor a brand.

The simplest solution to their present situation would have been to leave their diocesan coat of arms alone and design a logo which would be used not only for the roll out of this most recent pastoral letter and the ensuing archdiocesan efforts at implementing it but could have also become the favored symbol used by the archdiocese in place of the coat of arms. Things like letterhead, signage, etc. could easily have borne this newer logo and simply ignored the coat of arms. Its not the solution that those of us who prefer heraldry might like but it certainly is far from unprecedented. Numerous ecclesiastical institutions have desired a symbol that was considered more in keeping with the times. They have chosen to respect the existence of a previously adopted coat of arms and merely make minimal use of it in favor of the newer logo they have adopted as more fitting to their situation.

The Archdiocese of Detroit could have done the same. They could have tried, with the help of a competent heraldic designer, to truly re-design the present coat of arms. They could have, for example retained the gold field, the black cross and three gold stars on the cross and removed the antlers and martlets. Then in those now empty quadrants they could have placed charges symbolic of what they desired. They could have augmented the current coat of arms by means of placing a smaller shield at the center of the design bearing whatever symbols they wanted. They could have adopted a kind of heraldic badge (a symbol composed of heraldic charges but separate from a shield) and used that in conjunction with the archdiocesan coat of arms as well as had new artwork prepared for both. They could have decided to adopt an archdiocesan logo to be used instead of the coat of arms while leaving the former alone.

Instead, they chose the ill-advised path of completely throwing out the coat of arms first adopted 80 years ago and used regularly throughout the archdiocese in many ways and in many places, and coming up with an entirely new design, poorly executed, which bears little to no resemblance to the original and destroys any visual continuity with what had been used.

It has been announced that over time the former coat of arms will slowly but systematically be expunged and the Archbishop plans to have a new rendering of his own coat of arms impaled with this mess. I think that’s a very bad idea. Rather, if he wishes no longer to use the older archdiocesan arms the Archbishop should simply use his personal arms on the shield alone. That way, if his successor wishes to correct this error and revert to the former coat of arms he can do so easily.

I suppose that it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that this kind of thing happened considering what the archdiocese did to redesign what had been its beautiful cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Much of that renovation is quite nice (I’m thinking in particular of the floor of the sanctuary) but most of it doesn’t fit at all with the style of a neo-gothic structure. Once again in the interest of “updating” the archdiocese has an epic fail on its hands. What I find particularly sad is the failure isn’t because of a difference of opinion regarding taste. Rather, the fail occurred because of inexcusable ignorance of the subject at hand. They simply don’t get what a coat of arms is supposed to be. What they’ve ended up with is unheraldic and ugly.

Cathedral Dean

Here is the coat of arms of the Very Rev. Fr. Donald Richardson, BTh, STB, MA, KCHS who is presently the Dean of the Cathedral and Basilican Church of the Immaculate Mother of God, Help of Christians  more commonly known as St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, Australia. He has long been armigerous being a heraldry enthusiast himself and the cathedral church has made use of a corporate coat of arms different from that of the Archdiocese for a long time. When he was appointed Dean I told him I would prepare a nice emblazonment with his own arms impaled with the cathedral arms.

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Because his personal arms are so similar to the arms of the cathedral I chose to use a line of separation in a color other than black since black wouldn’t provide a clear enough separation. There’s nothing wrong with this. many other artists and authors have advocated it as well. (See: Carl Alexander Vov Volborth’s works, Heraldry: Customs, Rules and Styles and The Art of Heraldry)

In addition, while Fr. Richardson does not possess a Roman Honor his arms are ensigned with the galero used for what is collectively known as “Minor Officials” which would include cathedral deans and/or rectors, rectors of shrine churches or seminaries, basilica rectors, Vicars Forane, Religious Superiors, etc. This galero has two tassels pendant on either side of the shield and they may be shown hanging one below the other or, as here, side by side from a median knot. Father will bear these arms “pro hac vice”, that is to say, during his tenure as Dean of the Cathedral only.

The cross of Jerusalem is included in the achievement to note that he is a Knight Commander in the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre. The motto means, “Lord, It Is Good For Us to Be Here” (Matt. 17:4)

Trenton Co-Cathedral

Uh-Oh!

Not quite, Trenton. On February 19 the church of St. Robert Bellarmine in Freehold, NJ was designated the Co-Cathedral of the venerable diocese of Trenton. The reasons for Bishop O’Connell requesting the designation of a co-cathedral, something usually reserved for diocese with a dual or twin seat of the bishop (such as Altoona-Johnstown, PA or Springfield-Cape Girardeau, MO) are of no concern here. The bishop desired it, his consulters concurred and the Holy See gave its permission.

However, during the ceremony elevating the 1,000 seat suburban parish church to co-cathedral one of the elements of the ritual, including the blessing of a new cathedra for the bishop, was the handing over of a new coat of arms for the co-cathedral (below).

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The design uses the arms of the See of Trenton which, as I have always said, is probably one of the nicest and most heraldically correct coats of arms of any diocese in the USA. The only addition was to add a chief with the pine cones taken directly from the arms of St. Robert Bellarmine himself.

Some might wonder why a church would need a coat of arms? Actually, it is quite common for churches, both parish churches and cathedral churches, to make use of corporate arms of their own. In fact, in many places the cathedral church incorrectly assumes that it has the right to employ the arms of the diocese as its own since it serves as the seat of the bishop of that diocese. Such an assumption is actually incorrect. The arms of the diocese cannot be used by the cathedral church, chapter or parish as also “theirs”. So, the idea of a separate coat of arms for the co-cathedral parish is a perfectly good one.

I note that the mother church of the diocese of Trenton, the cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, does not seem to make the mistake of employing the arms of the See of Trenton as their own. Indeed, it does not seem to make use of any coat of arms. So, this begs the question, “Why does the co-cathedral need its own coat of arms when the actual cathedral does not use one?”

I think the design of the new arms is a good one. It still maintains a sense of clarity and simplicity, clearly identifies with the diocese, and makes good use of charges from the armigerous patron saint of the place.

However, the problem is in the external ornament. The shield is surmounted by a mitre. Here, a similar mistake to a cathedral simply stealing the arms of the diocese has occurred. Someone involved in the design of this coat of arms just assumed that as a cathedral church the mitre is the most appropriate external ornament to adorn the shield. In heraldry the mitre is used, in some places still, to denote the arms of a bishop and in most places the arms of a diocese…not a cathedral. Just as a cathedral cannot simply make use of a diocesan coat of arms, similarly, a co-cathedral cannot usurp the ornaments proper to the corporate arms of a diocese. Quite unintentionally the person who designed this has created arms for a new diocese!

As is the case with the corporate arms of any church it should make use of the shield alone and, possibly, a motto if desired. There is no crest, no mitre, no crozier or cross, indeed, no external ornament to denote the arms of a cathedral or co-cathedral. Once again, rather than consulting with someone knowledgeable a person, or persons, just struck out on their own, extrapolated from what they had seen elsewhere…and got it WRONG!

I find this kind of ignorance annoying, appalling and fairly commonplace, especially when it comes to the Catholic Church in the United States.

 

Varying Versions

A recent Facebook post of mine on the arms of three English Kings of Arms on a College of Arms devisal for the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama piqued my interest about how some armigers employ different versions, not just renderings by different artists but actual different versions, of their armorial achievements. Sometimes this reflects added honors; sometimes the exercise of a new or different office (appointed or elected); sometimes it’s a version to be used specifically on certain occasions or under specific circumstances or only for use within a particular group, etc.

One of the Kings of Arms whose coat of arms appeared in that post was the late, great John Brooke-Little. Here we see his full achievement as Norroy & Ulster King of Arms:

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Brook-Little’s own personal coat of arms were used by him without any extras. Here the arms are rendered by Anthony Wood:

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In addition, we see that sometime he added quite a bit to the achievement to indicate offices held such as a bookplate depicting his coat of arms and banner as Richmond Herald (1967-1980) including both the Richmond Herald badge and the badge from when he had been Bluemantle Pursuivant (1956-1967):

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Finally I include one probably not seen by many: a version of his arms impaled with those of The Heraldry Society which he founded and served for many years as chairman and later as president. This last one was simply for use within that Society:

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All his life his own coat of arms remained as it is depicted in the second image. In other words he did not “change” his coat of arms. However, throughout his life and career he did employ various versions of his achievement some of which included personal honors, some ornaments of office and others additions for private use. This is a good thing to know about and an idea that many interested in heraldry, especially the various uses for a coat of arms, too often overlook. A coat of arms as a personal mark of identification may be employed in various ways to suit the various things one does in life. The armorial achievement does not have to be singular and include everything from every aspect of the life of the armiger. To be sure there are those who prefer this “maximum display” theory. However, an equally meritorious theory is one that makes use of varying versions or varying achievements suited to the time, place, group or activity in which the armiger is engaged.

Here is another example, again from the English College of arms, using the coat of arms of Sir Henry Paston-Bedingfeld, Bt. which are:

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Sir Henry, when he was still just plain old “Mister” served the College as Rouge Croix Pursuivant from 1983-1993 and the as York Herald from 1993-2010. In that latter capacity and prior to the death of his father and his inheriting the title “Baronet” he used the following achievement:

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Sir Henry was appointed Norroy & Ulster King of Arms in 2010 and served in that capacity until his retirement in 2014. Here is a version of the shield of his arms from that time:

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Finally, another example of a different version for private use and also only for a set period of time. From 2012-2013, for just a year Sir Henry served as Master of the Worshipful Company of Scriveners and impaled his arms with the arms of the Company for use in that capacity while at the same time also using the version above and the version in the first photo:

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Again we see that he maintained the personal arms he had inherited from his father and did not “change” his coat of arms. Rather, he chose to display it in varying versions to suit the role of the moment or group.

The world at large already, for the most part, sees heraldry as effete but there are many within the (for lack of a better term) heraldic community, that is to say, the rather small group of people in the world who account themselves heraldic enthusiasts, who, through their own ignorance, misunderstand the concept I’m illustrating here. The advent of the internet has increased the possibility for communication between such enthusiasts throughout the world but has also made for a rash of self-appointed heraldic “experts” who don’t wish to engage in any scholarly pursuit of the heraldic arts and sciences and, either accidentally or purposefully, seek to limit the possibilities for heraldic display accusing anyone who deviates from their own preconceived notions as guilty of self aggrandizement.

It strikes me as slightly ironic that in a modern world that eschews heraldry as an anachronistic pretense anyone possessing a coat of arms themselves could accuse others of self aggrandizement. Then again, ignorance and irony can, at times, be seen to be cousins.

St. Benedict’s Abbey, Still River

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The monastic community of St. Benedict in Still River, Massachusetts decided recently to modify their existing coat of arms which was originally designed by the late, great, Dom Wilfrid Bayne, OSB of St. Anselm’s Abbey in Rhode Island. The coat of arms was designed some sixty plus years ago for the St. Benedict Center on Bow and Arrow streets in Cambridge, MA which was the origin of the community that eventually grew into St. Benedict’s Abbey today. There was originally no external ornament in the achievement. The community simply bore a shield with the coat of arms.

The decision was undertaken recently to add an abbatial crozier as an external ornament to bring the achievement into conformity with what is usual for a monastery with the rank of Abbey. While it is the usual custom to depict a sudarium, or veil, pendant from the crozier in the coat of arms of an abbot usually when depicting the arms of an abbey, a corporate body, the sudarium is omitted.