Category Archives: External Ornaments

Benedictine Abbot Primate

Polan copy

Last September the Benedictine Confederation, more commonly referred to as the Order of St. Benedict, elected its 10th Abbot Primate since the institution of that office by Pope Leo XIII in 1893. They elected the fourth American monk to hold that office by choosing the Abbot of Conception Abbey in Missouri, Rt. Rev. Gregory J. Polan, OSB (67). He succeeded Notker Wolf and became Abbot of Sant’Anselmo and the Most Rev. Abbot Primate on September 10, 2016.

Seven of his eight predecessors bore a coat of arms as abbots and as Abbots Primate. Two of the Americans, Jerome Theisen, OSB a monk of St. John’s in Collegeville and Marcel Rooney, OSB also a monk of Conception chose not to be armigerous either as abbot or as Abbot Primate. (the fourth American was Rembert Weakland, OSB a monk of St. Vincent Archabbey in Pennsylvania and the Archbishop-Emeritus of Milwaukee)

At the time he became Abbot of Conception in 1996 Abbot Gregory wasn’t particularly interested in a coat of arms. But the community had a heraldic tradition and one of the monks there devised arms for him to assume keeping it very simple. The plain gold field with the single charge of a black bull’s head is a symbol associated with the abbot’s family. This was then quartered with the arms of the abbey.

Upon his election as Abbot Primate the same monk who originally designed the arms decided to prepare something the abbot could use as Abbot Primate. The personal arms are “Or, a bull’s head erased Sable; on a canton Azure a fleur-de-lis Argent”. The addition of the small augmentation of the blue canton charged with a silver fleur-de-lis, borrowed from the arms of Conception Abbey, are employed as a way of paying homage to the abbot’s Motherhouse by augmenting his personal arms rather than changing the design entirely. These personal arms are then impaled with the arms used by the Order of St. Benedict, “Azure, issuing from a trimount a patriarchal cross, overall the word “PAX” all Or“. Note that sometimes the trimount is depicted as Vert (green) rather than Or (gold).

The shield is ensigned with the usual ornaments of an abbot: black galero with twelve black tassels and a veiled crozier. The previous Abbot Primate, Notker Wolf, commissioned an artist who depicted his arms with twenty black tassels. The thinking was that, as the head of the Order the Abbot Primate should have an ornament that indicated a higher rank like an archbishop’s hat having twenty tassels instead of the twelve used by other bishops. The problem with that line of reasoning is that the Abbot Primate is not the Abbot General of the Order of St. Benedict. He is merely a figurehead; a nominal “head” but really just a visible figure to promote communication within the Order and to act as a liaison between the Order as a whole and the Holy See. Leo XIII didn’t like the decentralized nature of the Benedictines. In reality each house under its own abbot is autonomous. What binds Benedictines together is that they follow the Holy Rule of St. Benedict. Eventually, houses began to band together into federations, now called Congregations, and each of those Congregations, some of which are international but many of which are structured along national lines, adopts Constitutions and a customary observed by all the houses within the Congregation. In addition, they elect a Praeses, or Abbot President, who acts as their canonical superior with jurisdiction. The Abbot Primate, however, does not have jurisdiction over the whole Order the way a Superior General does in other Religious Orders. So, he is merely a figurehead elected by the Abbots gathered in Congress.

Not possessing a higher rank, or greater authority, or jurisdiction over all Benedictines it makes no sense for the Abbot Primate’s galero to suggest so. The Abbot Primate remains an abbot like any other, indeed during his tenure (which is a four year term renewable by re-election) he is the abbot of the Abbey of Sant’Anselmo on the Aventine Hill housing the Anselmianum where students study about the sacred liturgy. Outside of heraldry the Abbot Primate is accorded certain honors to mark his position as the Primate, namely, he is permitted to wear the purple zucchetto instead of a black one and he is addressed as “Most Reverend” instead of the usual “Right Reverend” used by other abbots.

Bruno Heim mentions in his book, Heraldry In The Catholic Church that the Church never made provisions for Archabbots, Abbots General or Abbots Primate to use a galero different from other abbots. However, some authors argue that it is Archabbots (a title of honor that confers no greater jurisdiction or powers) should use a galero with twenty tassels like archbishops. The point is open to debate. I have always believed archabbots should use the galero with twenty tassels but I know of no instances where one actually does so. Therefore, despite the compliment paid to him by the artist who depicted Abbot Primate Notker’s coat of arms Abbot Primate Gregory’s arms use the traditional galero of an abbot with twelve tassels.

Both the design and the very nice artwork were done by Dom Pachomius Meade, OSB of Conception Abbey in Missouri.

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)

An American in Poland

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The arms (above) I recently devised for an American priest who lives and works in the USA but who, in addition to his pastoral responsibilities at home, was honored by being named an Honorary Canon of the Collegiate Chapter of the Basilica of St. Florian in Krakow.

The arms are:

Quarterly skewed to the dexter Gules and Argent; at the cross point a cross of St. Florian counterchanged Or and Azure; in sinister base above a mullet of six points Or an open crown Argent. Suspended below the shield is the badge of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher. The shield is ensigned by the galero of a Canon Sable with cords and six tassels in two rows of one and two respectively Sable. On a scroll below the shield is the motto, “Fiat Voluntas Tua” (Let it Be Done According to Your Will).

The principal colors of the field are the Polish national colors and the division of the field alludes to the off-center cross found in the arms of St. John Paul II (who raised St. Florian Church, his own first priestly assignment, to the rank of a basilica). the cross associated with St. Florian himself is superimposed over the cross point and is colored in blue and gold counterchanged to avoid the tincture violations. These colors are also found in the arms of St. John Paul II.

In the lower right there is a six pointed star to symbolize Our Lady and it is crowned with an open crown alluding to Mary’s Queenship, the patroness of the armiger’s home diocese.

The black galero  with black cords and six black tassels indicates the bearer is a cleric with the rank of Canon, in this case, a Collegiate Canon. Being a Knight of the Holy Sepulcher he also chose to display the badge of that Order pendant below the shield from a black ribbon.

Monsignor Francis Kelly, P.A., K.H.S.

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The arms (above) I recently completed for Monsignor Francis Kelly, PA a Canon of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Msgr. Kelly is a priest of the Diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts who, prior to his current service worked for many years in Washington, DC for the NCEA and was also on the faculty and later became rector of Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts. After his time there he spect eight years as the Superior at the Casa Santa Maria in Rome which is the graduate division of the Pontifical North American College. In 2013 he was named Prothonotary Apostolic and a Canon of St. Peter’s Basilica by Pope Benedict XVI. I met Msgr. Kelly in 1996 when I was sent for one year of studies at Pope John Seminary. We have been friends since then.

The blazon is:

Azure, between two lions rampant respectant Or, armed and langued Gules the Greek letters Chi and Rho Argent; in base a star of six points Argent. The shield is placed on the cross of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre and is ensigned by the galero of a Prothonotary Apostolic Purpure with cords and twelve tassels disposed in three rows of one, two and three pendant on either side of the shield Gules. On a scroll below the shield is the motto: “To Live For Him”.

The blue field and gold lions are taken from the coat of arms traditionally associated with the name “Kelly”. In that coat of arms the lions are chained and they face a tower. For differencing the chains have been omitted and the tower has been replaced with the Greek letters that are a monogram for the name Christ and a star of six points. These indicate the armiger’s devotion to Christ and Our Lady.

The armiger is a Knight of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher and its cross is placed behind the shield. The purple galero with red cords and tassels indicates a Roman prelate with the rank of Prothonotary Apostolic, the highest of the three grades of prelates addressed as “Monsignor”. The members of the Chapter of the Papal Basilica of the Vatican hold this rank.

The motto expresses a sentiment the armiger has endeavored to embody throughout his entire priesthood.

Sacerdotal Coat of Arms

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The coat of arms recently completed for a very patient priest in the USA who was ordained in May of 2015. The blazon is:

Gules, an ancient harp below an ancient crown all Or; on a chief Azure fimbriated Or between two thuribles Or with two wisps of smoke rising on either side Argent, the Sacred Heart of Jesus Or, enflamed Or wounded and enfiled by a crown of thorns Sable. The shield is displayed on the cross of the EOHS and suspended below the shield is a badge of a Chaplain of Magistral Grace of the SMOM. Ensigning the shield is a priest’s galero with cords and two tassels pendant on either side all Sable. On a scroll below the shield is the motto, “Surge Domine“.

The field is composed of two colors: a red field with a blue chief so the chief is separated from the field by a gold (yellow) fimbriation to avoid violating the tincture “rule” (which, as Heim proved in his book, Or and Argent isn’t so much a rule as a custom).

The principal charge, a crowned ancient harp, alludes to the patron of the bearer, David, the King who by tradition is considered the composer of many of the Psalms. The charges on the chief allude to the bearer’s devotion to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and the sacred liturgy. The two thuribles with smoke rising from them represent the liturgy itself. There are references in both Scripture and Tradition of the rising incense being like our prayers in worship ascending to the Lord. In addition, incense represents a sacrificial offering such as one finds in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The shield is ensigned with a black priest’s galero. In addition, the shield is placed on the cross of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher in which the bearer received the rank of Knight Grand Cross prior to his ordination. The badge of the Sovereign Military and Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta is suspended below the shield as the bearer was a Knight in that order prior to ordination as well. Upon being ordained a priest the armiger was “translated” from being a lay knight to being a Chaplain of Magistral Grace.

On a scroll below the shield is the motto, “Surge Domine”.

Coat of Arms for a Priest

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The arms (above) were recently designed and emblazoned by me for an American priest who is also a member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre.

The priest has a devotion to St. Anthony, his baptismal patron, and is a Third Order Dominican. The gyronny of eight that makes up the field is taken from the arms of the Order of Preachers. In addition, the black and white recalls the arms of the city of Lisbon where St. Anthony was born. The plate charged with a red cross at the center alludes to the arms of the city of Padua, where St. Anthony died and is buried. In addition, this charge represents the sacred Host used at Mass because the armiger has advanced studies in the sacred liturgy. Finally, the counterchanged wavy bar in base alludes to three things: the lake at Mundelein where the liturgical studies were undertaken at the Liturgical Institute there; his home state, Michigan, which is situated in the Great Lakes; a charge in the arms of the diocese in which he serves.

The shield is ensigned with the motto meaning “In Spirit and in Truth”, the priest’s galero and the cross of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre.

John Cardinal Ribat, MSC, KBE

(Sir) John Ribat, MSC, KBE currently the Archbishop of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, will be elevated to the Sacred Purple and created Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church on November 19, 2016. We’re not concerned with his coat of arms as they would have appeared upon his ordination to the episcopacy as Auxiliary Bishop of Bereina, PNG in 2001. Rather, since 2008 when he succeeded as Archbishop of Port Moresby he has born the arms:

Quartered; 1) Argent, the Sacred Heart of Jesus enflamed superimposed on the Greek letters Chi and Rho all Gules, 2) Azure, the monogram of Our Lady Or, 3) Azure an open book Or the pages charged with the Greek letters Alpha and Omega Gules, 4) Argent, a branch of betel nut Proper.

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These arms had been rendered for him by Renato Poletti, a Roman lawyer who, like many amateur heraldic enthusiasts, dabbles in heraldic design and produces his artwork on computer. He took it upon himself, unsolicited, to produce a new rendering of the Cardinal-designate’s coat of arms with the external ornaments of a Cardinal (above). However, Archbishop Ribat had already been contacted by Mr. Richard d’Apice of the Australian Heraldry Society to discuss a re-working of the emblazonment of his arms to reflect his new honor. Such projects have frequently been undertaken by Mr. d’Apice before as well as the designs of new coats of arms for many prelates and laypeople in his own Australia. Mr. d’Apice, as he often does, consulted with me to seek some advice and input.

While I do not particularly like the design of the arms I advised that it would be best at this point for a man who has been a bishop for fifteen years and an archbishop for eight to retain the arms he has been using. The deplorable habit so many bishops have today of completely redesigning their coats of arms every time they move or are promoted is to be avoided at all costs, even at the cost of maintaining a coat of arms of an inferior design. Simply to change one’s personal arms because there has been a change in office or rank goes against the whole point of heraldry as a mark of personal identification. While external ornaments correctly change to indicate a change in rank and personal arms may be marshaled with other coats of arms simply deciding after several years that one would like to adopt a different coat of arms is, in a word, wrong.

However, it is often the case that a different artist can emblazon a coat of arms in a manner that will make it both aesthetically more pleasing as well as heraldically more bearable (pun intended). This is the case with the arms of Cardinal Ribat. Mr. d’Apice and I agreed that perhaps the best thing we could do was to advise His soon-to-be Eminence to have the arms rendered by the artist with whom we usually work, Mr. Sandy Turnbull, also a member of the Australian Heraldry Society who also works in computer generated artwork. The result of Mr. Turnbull’s efforts may be seen below.

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The overall shape of the achievement and the rendering of the charges, in particular the fact that they fill the field in each quarter better, as well as the depiction of the branch of betel nut are definitely an improvement. The placement of the pallium (which, for the record, I oppose in any heraldic achievement) is also better. In addition, the color palette and vibrancy of the colors is, in my opinion, also superior. The Cardinal-designate was so pleased that he communicated to Mr. d’Apice through his Vicar General that Mr. Turnbull’s rendering will be used, in particular, on his letterhead and official documents. It is indeed difficult to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear but, on occasion, the solution to what to do about a less than happy heraldic design is simply to emblazon the arms in a better fashion.