Category Archives: Heraldic Mistakes

Bishop Thanh Thai Nguyen

On December 19 the Most Rev. Thanh Thai Nguyen, 64, a priest of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida will be ordained the Titular Bishop of Acalissus and Auxiliary Bishop of Orange, California.

His coat of arms, designed by J.C. Noonan is:

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This is a pretty typical design from what we have come to see from Mr. Noonan. As usual, he insists on personalizing the external ornaments by added symbols to the episcopal cross which, strictly speaking, should not and may not be done. The blazon of a coat of arms (its written description which describes the elements unique to that coat of arms and so, contains the essence of that particular coat of arms) concerns only that which appears on the shield. The external ornaments are enumerated in Roman Catholic heraldic custom but they are generic, not specific. In addition, for some reason the ribbon for the neck badge of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre has been depicted here as brown. It should be black.

The wavy lines, lambs and lily in chief are a reference to the importance of waters in the bishop-elect’s personal journey, the 23rd Psalm and St. Joseph. The pelican in her piety is symbolic of the Eucharist and the arch of stars a reference to Our Lady under the title of Our Lady of La Vang.

 

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+Rt. Rev. Paul Maher, OSB: RIP

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Archabbot Paul R. Maher, O.S.B., the tenth Archabbot of Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania died Thursday, June 29, 2017, the Solemnity of Ss. Peter & Paul. He was 91 years old. A native of Latrobe, Pennsylvania, he served as Archabbot from 1983 until 1990.

Archabbot Paul received his early schooling in Latrobe, where he attended Holy Family School and was an altar server in Holy Family Parish. Having completed elementary school, he went to Saint Vincent Preparatory School for his secondary education. He graduated from Saint Vincent Prep in 1943, in the middle of the Second World War. Just turned 18 years old, he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps. For the next two years he served in the European Theater as tail gunner on a B-24 bomber. He flew 21 combat missions over southern Germany and Austria and was honorably discharged at the end of the war.

The influence of his older brother William, who had become a diocesan priest, and his older sister Rita, who became a Religious Sister of Mercy nun, helped him reach the decision to study for the Benedictine priesthood. In 1945 he returned to Saint Vincent and began his studies at Saint Vincent College as a candidate for the Benedictine Order. In 1947 he was admitted to the Order as a novice and made his simple profession of monastic vows on July 2, 1948. He professed solemn vows three years later, on July 11, 1951.

Archabbot Paul received his A.B. Degree from Saint Vincent College in 1950 and immediately began his studies of theology in Saint Vincent Seminary. In 1951 Archabbot Denis Strittmatter, O.S.B. sent the young Benedictine brother to Rome to complete his theological studies at the Pontifical Atheneum of Sant’ Anselmo. Two years later, he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Placido Nicolini, O.S.B., at the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi on June 21, 1953. After ordination, he continued graduate studies at Sant’ Anselmo for another four years, earning a Ph.D. in philosophy in 1957.

Upon completion of his doctorate, Father Paul returned to Saint Vincent, where he taught philosophy in the College and Seminary from 1957 to 1966, serving as chairman of the College’s Department of Philosophy from 1961 to 1966. During his years of teaching at Saint Vincent, he also served as moderator of one of the College’s residence halls (1958 to 1960), socius (superior) of the monastery’s junior monks (1960 to 1963), and vice rector of Saint Vincent Seminary (1963 to 1966).

In 1966, Archabbot Paul was named prior (superior) of Saint Vincent’s mission to China and a member of the faculty of Fu Jen Catholic University, Taiwan. He remained in Taiwan as monastic superior and university professor for seventeen years.

He was elected Archabbot on June 7, 1983, and on June 30, 1983, received the abbatial blessing in the Archabbey Basilica from Bishop William G. Connare of Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Among those present at his blessing were Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee; Bishop Norbert Gaughan, auxiliary bishop of Greensburg; Bishop Rene Gracida of Corpus Christi, Texas; and the two retired Archabbots of Saint Vincent, Archabbot Egbert Donovan and Archabbot Leopold Krul.

Mark W. McGinnis, author of the book The Wisdom of the Benedictine Elders, described Archabbot Paul as a “very intelligent, highly experienced abbot who has the demeanor, gentleness, and openness of an ideal priest.” His brother monks would agree with this and add that he was an ideal monk: humble, generous, thoughtful of others, and devoted to the Benedictine life of prayer and work.

Following his retirement in 1990, Archabbot Paul became a parish assistant at Saint Benedict Church, Carrolltown, Pennsylvania, where he resided until 1996. He returned to the Archabbey that year to serve as guestmaster and archivist until 2009. Archabbot Paul was the son of the late William A. Maher and Edna G. (Hunt) Maher. He was one of twelve children, two of whom are currently residing in Latrobe.

He was a very humble man eschewing the use of pontificalia as he was entitled by his office. He only grudgingly agreed to have a coat of arms at the behest of the archivist of the community, the late Fr. Omer U. Kline, OSB. His coat of arms was designed in consultation with the late Br. Nathan Cochran, OSB of St. Vincent and alludes to the traditional Irish arms associated with the name Maher; his baptismal and monastic patron, St. Paul (the sword) and his missionary work via the double-barred Scheyern cross being used at St. Vincent as the “mission cross” given to those monks sent out into the mission fields. From a lack of correct heraldic custom the crozier (veiled or otherwise) was omitted from the achievement and the extra knots and loop of cords below the galero was a bit of license by the artist who wished to fill the space left by the lack of a crozier. The motto, “Resonare Christum” (Echo Christ) was also used by the late John Cardinal Wright of Pittsburgh.

May he rest in peace.

 

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.

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.

 

Bishop Barres

Here is the version of the coat of arms of Bp. John O. Barres of Rockville Centre, NY published by the diocese.

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Hmmmmm…as one correspondent has already pointed out the blazon says that the bishop’s personal arms have a field that is “barry of six” yet seven are depicted here. In addition, the arms of the See are blazoned as having a bordure wavy but that is barely discernible.

Bishop Parkes of St. Petersburg

On Wednesday, January 4, 2017 the Most Rev. Gregory Parkes a 52-year-old Long Island native who has, since 2012 served as Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida will be installed as the fifth bishop of St. Petersburg, Florida.

At the time he was ordained a bishop and installed as the fifth bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee he assumed a coat of arms (below) designed for him by the well-known Italian heraldic artist, Marco Foppoli:

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Since the arms of the See of Pensacola-Tallahassee, a dual diocese with co-cathedrals, is divided per fess with each of the See’s two cities occupying, as it were, a quartering of the shield the bishop assumed personal arms that were similarly divided per fess so that when impaled on the same shield the overall effect suggests a quartered shield with a rather pleasing effect.

Upon his translation to the See of St. Petersburg the bishop had his arms rendered by a different artist and, according to the usual North American custom, impaled his arms with those of the very nicely designed and handsome arms of the See:

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However, we can now see that the bishop has decided to change his personal arms. Firstly, he has decided to add the charge of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in base as an allusion to the coat of arms of his former diocese, Pensacola-Tallahassee. This is not wholly a horrible idea. Rather, it serves almost as a kind of augmentation. However, having said that it also feeds into a very bad habit also present among many of the American bishops today who end up serving in more than one diocese over the course of their episcopal ministry. That is, deciding to add a charge from each place where they have served as though collecting charms for a charm bracelet throughout their lives. This, too, also gets back to the poor idea of having one’s coat of arms serve as a pictorial CV…which it decidedly is not.

I don’t know for certain but the desire to include the Sacred Heart charge which is usually emblazoned as “Proper” (shown in its natural color of red) could perhaps explain the otherwise inexplicable decision to change the tinctures of the section of the bishop’s personal arms in base from “Gules a chi-rho Or” to “Or a chi-rho Gules and the Sacred Heart Proper in bend“.

I think the bishop would have ended up with something better if he had augmented his arms by placing the Sacred Heart on an escutcheon or a bezant or plate imposed over the crossing of the chi-rho or possibly by simply placing it on a canton as a genuine augmentation. In that way he could have left the original tinctures intact and avoided what he essentially has now: an entirely new coat of arms!

Again, the translation to a new diocese is not sufficient justification for redesigning and changing a coat of arms in use for four years.

It’s sad that the age of the internet has created all sorts of new opportunities for the heraldic enthusiast as well as contributed to the proliferation of newly proclaimed heraldic “experts” and yet has, ironically and somewhat paradoxically, also led to the degradation of the quality of heraldic knowledge that is prevalent among those assisting with the preparation of coats of arms, in particular in ecclesiastical circles.

Archbishop Etienne’s Mistake

On November 9, 2016 the Most Reverend Paul D. Etienne was installed as the fourth Metropolitan Archbishop of Anchorage, Alaska. Since December of 2009, the 57-year-old Indiana native had been serving as the Bishop of Cheyenne, Wyoming. At the time of his election as a bishop he assumed a coat of arms which he bore during his tenure as Bishop of Cheyenne:

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The design was, in my opinion, a bit crowded and fell victim to the usual problem with most of the heraldry of the American hierarchy. Namely, he tried to include too much. Time and time again I warn on this blog and elsewhere against the practice of trying to have a coat of arms be a “CV in pictures”. Sadly, that advice seems to frequently go unheeded.

I noticed that when His Excellency was translated and promoted to Anchorage that he has assumed a new personal coat of arms:

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I must say that the overall design is surely more simple and more clear. In addition, it seems apparent that upon further reflection he realized that he had included too many charges and decided that there were, indeed, some he could live without. I think its unfortunate that he decided to discard the green field because just as it contrasted so nicely with the red-dominated arms of the See of Cheyenne, similarly, the contrast with the predominantly blue arms of the See of Anchorage would have been more striking.

The overall appearance of the coat of arms as it is now is most definitely better. However, the “mistake” I believe the archbishop has made is in entirely changing the original design. He has, in fact, assumed a second new coat of arms. Many prelates feel that when they change assignments that this is a perfectly acceptable practice. It’s as if “a new coat of arms for the new job” is their thought. In addition, after having assumed arms originally, often hastily because of the unfortunate expectation that a bishop in the USA will have his coat of arms prepared and ready to be displayed at the time of his ordination and/or installation, which is an unreasonable and unnecessary expectation, the armiger has had a chance for second thoughts and wishes to make modifications. But there is a problem.

You CANNOT.

That is to say, you really REALLY shouldn’t. A coat of arms isn’t a “logo” which companies often feel free to update, modify or even discard in favor of a new one. A coat of arms is a personal mark of identification and it becomes identified with the particular armiger to whom it belongs. In places like the USA where arms are not granted by a heraldic authority but are legally and quite appropriately assumed (i.e. adopted) great care must be taken to design a coat of arms with which the armiger is happy at the time they are assumed and made public.

In the case of a bishop the personal arms should not be designed to harmonize with the arms of the See with which they will be impaled for the simple reason that bishops sometimes move and re-designing the personal arms to “go better” with the arms of the See is ill-advised. (see the three different versions of the personal arms borne by Cardinal Cupich of Chicago or Bishop Libasci of Manchester, NH. Cardinal O’Brien, the Grandmaster of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher has changed his coat of arms no less than four times!). Part of the problem is the truncated timeline with which so many bishops have to contend when the design process begins. It is not unheard of for there to be as little as six weeks in between the announcement of his appointment and the ordination/installation. The poor heraldic designer must then contend with constant pressure from diocesan officials and committee members demanding the finished artwork for use on things like invitations, programs and in press packets.

But, designing a good coat of arms takes time. Frequently the designer and the armiger will go through three or four sketches (or more) before settling on a proper design. More frequently because of the time constraint (and occasionally because of a complete lack of interest in the subject on the part of the new bishop) something deemed to be “good enough” is cobbled together in a slap-dash manner and the result is, at best, a less-than-perfect design and, at worst, downright ugly and/or ridiculous!

When designing a coat of arms for someone who is not on a three week deadline I often encourage them to use what is jokingly referred to as “the refrigerator test”. That is, they are asked to take a sketch of the coat of arms and put it somewhere, like their refrigerator, where they will see it everyday. The idea is to live with it for a time and keep seeing it over and over to see if the initial ideas have staying power. In the case of Archbishop Etienne such a test might have enabled him to see that the original design was cluttered and that those things he wanted to represent in his coat of arms could have been done with a simpler design. Part of the solution here is to abandon the idea that a new bishop’s coat of arms must be available immediately, in a manner of weeks, and in time for his ordination/installation. I can assure you that in places where arms are granted by a heraldic authority such an authority feels no obligation to do their work with such a ridiculous deadline. There is absolutely nothing that requires a bishop’s coat of arms to be finished and ready by the day of his ordination/installation. A few more weeks to get it right won’t kill anybody.

Part of this problem could be solved by bishops seeking the advice of those competent and well-versed in the principles, customs and traditions of good heraldic practice. More often than not they don’t. They need to stop turning to the myriad of lawyers, engineers, seminarians and other enthusiasts who have read “a whole book” on heraldry and have declared themselves to be “expert” in heraldic design. In addition, the computer age has also led to the advent of a plethora of the heraldic equivalent of the singer/songwriter: those people who are competent artists but who don’t really know the first thing about heraldry or its rules. They can create really nice artistic renderings but should be collaborating with a competent designer instead of trying to do it all. Expertise in DESIGNING a coat of arms and in DEPICTING that design are two very different things.

Finally, it has to be said that, in the Church anyway, it is unfortunate that those who make the most use of heraldry, prelates, are frequently the ones who both know the least about it and also frequently have little interest in learning about its proper use and application. (You know, once they make you a bishop they take the bone out of your head that allows you to remember you can occasionally still be taught something). As mentioned above, a coat of arms can’t simply be changed after several years because one feels like it. Despite the fact that it belongs to the armiger and, in many cases, was devised by him as well as adopted by him he is not free capriciously to change the design on a whim especially not after having borne a particular coat of arms for years. It is akin to deciding to use an alias after years of being known as something else. While there is no “heraldry police” in the Church to stop you it is, nevertheless, wrong to change the design of a personal coat of arms even when such changes result in the general improvement of the design.

Rather, the task is to have a well-designed and pleasing coat of arms the first time around and to use that same coat of arms no matter how often a bishop might be transferred to a new diocese. It is important to remember that impaling the personal arms with the arms of the See is a custom, not a requirement, and not even a universal one at that. It predominates in N. America but it is far from the usual custom throughout the world. When impalement is employed bishops need to remember that the dexter impalement (the arms of the See) does not become part of their coat of arms. Instead, by impaling there are two distinct coats of arms being displayed on one shield. It is a form of marshaling two or more coats of arms and even at that it lasts only for their tenure in that office. A bishop-emeritus of a given diocese has no right whatsoever to continue impaling his personal arms with the arms of the See once he has resigned that See.

The best process to use is the same one which circumstance forces onto those bishops who first become Auxiliary Bishops. Namely, they design and assume a personal coat of arms alone which fills the entire shield. Later, if they are promoted to be a Diocesan Bishop then they may choose to impale their personal arms with the arms of their diocese. If, by chance, such an impalement makes for an aesthetically unpleasing combination then the solution is NOT to change their personal arms (or the diocesan one for that matter). The better option would be for the bishop in question simply to bear his personal arms alone and not impale them at all. It is important, however, for the armiger to maintain that coat of arms which he first assumed and which has become identified with him as much as his signature or the appearance of his face. As already stated above even when the temptation is strong to re-design the coat of arms for the purpose of improving the design after further reflection such an impulse must be stifled and ignored. Once the arms have been assumed it is, frankly, too late. That’s why its better to be sure of what is being assumed in the first place; it cannot, and should not be changed later.

I have written in these pages extensively about the idea of employing various versions of a coat of arms to suit the occasion and/or office held. Sometimes, coats of arms receive legitimate augmentations to reflect some event or change in status. Frequently, the external ornaments in a heraldic achievement, even of a bishop, change or are added to in order to reflect an honor received. All of these are legitimate modifications. However, for a bishop who has assumed a coat of arms and several years later is then moved to a different diocese or some other such position within the Church simply to say to himself, “You know, I’ve had second thoughts about including thus-and-such in my coat of arms. If I had to do it over again I’d use something different. Let me take advantage of this change and the fact that new artwork has to be prepared to redesign the whole thing” is egregiously wrong and is, realistically, a gigantic abuse of his authority. After all, in the Church what a bishop wants is rarely questioned and even more rarely denied.

Nevertheless, it is of utmost importance to get it right the first time, that is, at the time of assuming the coat of arms. Changing it later ISN’T an option and bishops who ignore that are making a mistake.

(The artwork for Archbishop Etienne’s coats of arms is by Deacon Paul Sullivan)