Category Archives: Heraldic Mistakes

Bishop Knestout

Knestout

The coat of arms (above) of the Most Rev. Barry C. Knestout, since 2008 Titular Bishop of Leavenworth and Auxiliary Bishop of Washington, D.C., his native diocese, appointed as the 13th Bishop of Richmond, Virginia last December. He will be installed in Richmond on January 12.

His coat of arms, expertly rendered by Marco Foppoli, impale the arms of the See of Richmond with the personal arms of the bishop assumed finally, after two other previous iterations, shortly after he was ordained a bishop.

While Bishop Knestout was always rather clear on what charges (individual elements) he wished to employ on his coat of arms the composition of the design went through various changes until he finally settled on the arms he bears today. He always intended to pay homage to the Ordinary he would serve under as Auxiliary Bishop, HE Donald Cardinal Wuerl, by using the single charge in the cardinal’s own arms; a tower. In addition, Bishop Knestout wanted very much to honor the previous Archbishops of Washington whom he served for many years as private secretary, HE James Cardinal Hickey, and HE Theodore Cardinal McCarrick. From their respective arms he borrowed a lion. In addition, the bishop wished to include symbols alluding to his ancestry and his native state of Maryland. This was accomplished with the other charges and the choice of tinctures and metals to be employed.

At first the arms were to look like this:

Snapshot 2008-11-24 17-20-52

However, on further reflection it was decided to try and incorporate the charges symbolic of the Archbishops together on the field and to bring greater uniformity to the other charges and keep them separated on the chief. In addition, he decided to render the motto in english rather than latin. The design then looked like this:

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In fairness, it was probably not in the bishop’s mind that he would be made a diocesan bishop himself one day so he probably wasn’t thinking along the lines of how his coat of arms would look if impaled with the arms of a diocese. If he had he might have stopped here because this design would, indeed, have more easily impaled with another coat of arms and not suffered too much from being squeezed into one half of a shield. Finally, another decision was made to surround the field with a bordure (border) rather than use a chief and we arrived at the arms Bp. Knestout has used for almost ten years:

KnestoutCoat copy

While it is not mandatory but merely customary for in North America for bishops to impale their arms with those of their See (i.e. depict their own personal coat of arms marshaled together side by side with the arms of their diocese on the same shield in the manner of two coats of arms of people married to each other) the decision to do just that has been made. It is the usual custom in the USA but it presents a problem.

The usual practice in heraldry when arms with a bordure are impaled is not to continue the bordure all the way around the field. Rather, along the line of impalement the bordure is not depicted. This is known as dimidiation. It applies not only to bordures but also to any kind of orle or tressure. If it were a plain bordure this wouldn’t matter so much. But, in the case of Bishop Knestout’s arms the bordure contains charges. Dimidiating the bordure leaves those charges out and/or cuts them in half.

Dimidiation would be most correct not only for the bordure around the field of the bishop’s personal arms but also the red tressure on the arms of the See of Richmond. As you can see in the coat of arms of the last bishop, the late Francis X. DiLorenzo:

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Plainly one can see that the red orle, or tressure, that surrounds the silver field is not entirely depicted. This has been the custom for previous bishops of Richmond as well. However, as I have already noted, this doesn’t have as big an impact as the dimidiation of the bordure in Bishop Knestout’s personal arms which would, of necessity, require one of the fish to be omitted and two of the crosses to be cut in half.

In addition, the space required to (incorrectly) depict the entire bordure forces the lion to be shown as “spilling over” the field and onto the bordure as well in order to be clearly seen and not reduced to the point of being difficult to discern. Again, this is problematic. I will simply quote the great Bruno Heim, “In heraldry the charges should never overlap.” The bordure is an ordinary charge that should entirely surround the field and contain those charges depicted thereon.

These criticisms I offer hesitantly because of the well deserved reputation of Marco Foppoli, the artist who depicted this rendering of the bishop’s impaled arms. Marco is an internationally known and respected heraldic artist of the highest calibre. However, he did not design the armorial bearings of Bishop Knestout or of the See of Richmond. Perhaps he was simply complying with the wish of his client to have his arms both impaled with the See of Richmond and depicted fully without the dimidiation?

So, what is the better, more “heraldically correct” solution to the problem? There are two options. The first is to respect the usual conventions of heraldic marshaling and dimidiate both the bordure in the bishop’s personal arms as well as the orle in the arms of the See. It is sometimes the case when two or more coats of arms are marshaled together on the same shield that such circumstances occur. Again, I will remind the reader that an individual does not assume a coat of arms by designing them to harmonize well with some yet unforeseen coat of arms with which they may be impaled or quartered. Anyone who does that would be, to put it mildly, slightly presumptuous! The second solution is the easier, albeit less conventional. Namely, in this instance the bishop could have chosen simply to bear his own arms and not impale them with the See of Richmond. As I indicated above impaling the arms is customary not mandatory. In addition, it just so happens there is adequate precedent for such a course of action in the history of the Diocese of Richmond. Bishop Knestout’s predecessor, Bishop DiLorenzo was himself preceded by Bishop Walter Sullivan who served from 1974-2003 and was also an Auxiliary Bishop of Washington prior to that from 1970-1974. Bishop Sullivan for all of his twenty-nine years as Bishop of Richmond bore his personal arms alone, the arms he assumed on becoming a bishop, and did not impale them with the arms of the See of Richmond.

My compliments to Marco Foppoli for another very nice artistic rendering. However, to whomever made the decision to impale the arms without the necessary dimidiations I would suggest that was an ill-conceived idea that flies in the face of accepted heraldic practices and was, furthermore, completely unnecessary given the precedents.

Heraldry has rules and you can’t just do whatever you wish!

 

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Archbishop Vigneron’s Arms

As promised when the Archdiocese of Detroit unveiled its disastrously and comically redesigned coat of arms the Archbishop has had his own coat of arms redesigned both to impale his personal arms with the new coat of arms of the See and to have a rendering in the same artistic style.

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BLECH!

Bishop Weisenburger of Tucson

On November 29 the Most Rev. Edward Weisenburger (56), since 2012 the Bishop of Salina, Kansas, was installed as the Eighth Bishop of Tuscon, Arizona. When he was ordained a bishop in 2012 he assumed a coat of arms that was designed by J.C. Noonan and marshaled to the See of Salina. Once again Mr. Noonan has worked on Bishop Weisenburger’s current coat of arms:

coat-of-arms-for-web

Overall, a very pleasing design and nicely rendered by the artist who is Mr. Noonan’s regular collaborator.

However, the bishop, whether on his own or advised by Mr. Noonan has made the classic mistake of thinking that he is free simply to change the design of his arms on a whim simply because he is taking up a new position. Worse, the changes in the design are justified as harmonizing better with the arms of the See. That is a very poor justification for large scale changes to the design of personal arms, especially when one considers that while it is a long standing custom in the Church in the United States for diocesan bishops to impale their personal arms with those of the See it is not, by any means, a requirement. A good heraldic designer would know that if a man’s personal arms do not harmonize well with the arms of a See then it is, perhaps, a better design decision and a better heraldic decision for the bishop to refrain from marshaling his own arms with the diocesan arms.

As I said in my previous post about the arms of Bishop Siegel of Evansville, this is why it is important to settle on a good design at the time arms are assumed. You CANNOT change them later on a whim! Your coat of arms identifies you. Moving to a new assignment doesn’t change your identity.

The coat of arms originally assumed by Bishop Weisenburger was:

weisenburger_arms_color_400

The charge of the Lamb of God is still prominent but has been moved from the main charge to being in a secondary position on the chief. For some reason the garbs have been eliminated. In the description provided of the arms in 2012 it said they represented the Eucharist and also, “Kansas wheat”. I suppose the thinking was to eliminate them since he no longer would be living in Kansas. But, as symbols of the Eucharist they are still justified in the design. Not to mention that as a part of his coat of arms for five years already they are part of his personal identifying mark.

Now the arrowhead has become the main charge and a star has been introduced. This effectively makes this an entirely new coat of arms.

The new description justifies all this in the following manner:

“The base of the bishop’s personal shield is worked entirely in gold—the color in Catholic heraldry representing the purity of the Triune God, Divinity and truth.  Upon this gold field appears a large stone arrowhead, depicted here as those that may be found in archeological dig sites within the Tucson diocese’s borders. An arrowhead presented in the downward position is a heraldic sign of peace. Moreover, the arrowhead is worked in red, borrowing this color from the Tucson diocesan arms as a particular tribute to his new see. Red also represents the blood of the pierced heart of Saint Augustine, an homage to the patron saint of Tucson’s Cathedral.  The arrowhead serves as a secondary homage to Oklahoma, the bishop’s home state and home archdiocese. Upon the arrowhead sits the six-pointed star of the Blessed Virgin Mary in her title of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, a secondary homage to the Diocese of Salina, which honors the Blessed Mother as their patron saint under this particular title.”

Now, all that sounds very nice and is probably appealing to many people. The problem is that it expresses very well everything that is wrong with this bishop’s new coat of arms. It falls right into the trap of thinking that his arms is his pictorial CV with it’s introduction of a new charge as an homage to his former diocese and the references to tincture changes to allude to the diocese of Tucson. Instead, the bishop’s original arms (with the blue field) “says” Edward Weisenburger. That gets “married” to Tucson since he is its new bishop and the arms are impaled to represent that “marriage”. That’s it; full stop. There is nothing more to be said, or done or, worse yet, re-done.

It is genuinely a shame that, with all of the best of intentions as well as what is, I’m sure, a real desire to create something unique, so many bishops get it so very, very WRONG!

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.

 

+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).

Detroit

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.