Category Archives: Heraldic Mistakes

Three New Ones That Don’t Quite Hit the Mark

Recently, there have been several new bishops ordained and/or installed in the U.S. and in each case their new coats of arms are very disappointing. One of the most valuable sections of the famous book on ecclesiastical heraldry by the late (great) Bruno B. Heim entitled, Heraldry in the Catholic Church concerns the design and adoption of new coats of arms by clergy. In that section, among other pieces of advice, Heim cautions that the new armiger should seek out the advice of someone competent in heraldry and, in particular, ecclesiastical heraldry if they can. That person to be consulted may not be the one who actually does the artwork but they can advise on what is and, more importantly, isn’t appropriate in a coat of arms.

Sadly, none of these new bishops seems to have done that.

I would also add a piece of advice which I have found myself repeating so often over the years to clergy who wish to adopt a coat of arms that it has become, perhaps, the most important piece of advice I can offer. Your coat of arms is not your CV in pictures! A coat of arms is a unique mark of identification. It isn’t a pictorial mission statement, a review of every aspect of your life, a personal history in symbols, a catalogue of all your likes and dislikes or a statement on your ideas of ecclesiology and ministry.

Too many clergy, especially new bishops, don’t seem to understand this. As a result they do too much or they include things that are inappropriate. Let’s take a look.

First, is the armorial bearings of Bishop Francis I. Malone (69) who was ordained and installed as the Third Bishop of Shreveport, Louisiana on January 28. The arms of the See of Shreveport are in the dexter impalement and they are not of any interest. However, the personal arms…oh boy! The chalice overall at the center is inappropriately placed and is also an almost photographic depiction of the bishop’s own personal chalice. Heraldry makes use of symbols, not portraits or photographs. An appropriate charge would be “a chalice” not a particular chalice.

The bishop has also quartered the field in such a way that he has marshaled arms that do not belong to him and appropriated them as his own. In the upper left and right of his arms he has, whole and entire, depicted the arms of the See of Philadelphia and the arms of the See of Little Rock; one because he was born there and the other because he served there as a priest. However, by including them entirely in his own arms it appears he is claiming jurisdiction over both! The better way to handle this would have been to borrow a single charge from each and incorporate them into the design of his own coat of arms rather than illicitly stealing the arms of two dioceses.

The charge on the lower left, the fleur-de-lis is fine and on the lower right the cross and crown is a logo used by his former parish which in and of itself is fine and even makes a nice heraldic charge but the overall arrangement is sloppy, and an attempt at a heraldic CV against which I warn people all the time.

Finally, the smaller Celtic cross superimposed over the episcopal cross which is an external ornament behind the shield is heraldically unsupportable. Whoever designed this coat of arms had the clear (and quite good intention) of including as many things from the bishop’s life and ministry as possible but arranged them in a way that suggests he really wasn’t that well versed in heraldic design to pull it off. Everything included in the coat of arms could have been correctly included in a more aesthetically pleasing manner if only someone who knew about heraldic design had been involved.

Second, is Bishop John McClory (56) a Detroit priest who was ordained and installed as the Fifth Bishop of Gary, Indiana on February 11. Again, the arms of the See are of no concern and, actually, are one of the better diocesan coat of arms in use in the USA with a nice reference to the Guardian Angels (titular patrons of the cathedral church).

This coat of arms is really rather nice. There is a good choice of the symbols to be used as charges. There are no tincture violations or indiscretions and, I would say the overall appearance of the coat of arms is aesthetically pleasing and harmonizes well with the arms of the See.

My criticism concerns the arrangement of the charges on the field which is rather like what has come to be known as the “lucky charms” style of heraldry. Namely, a bunch of charges scattered on the field and slapped onto a shield and called heraldry. In addition, trying to “personalize” the episcopal cross which is an external ornament which indicates the rank of the bearer and not a charge on the field which communicate the identity of the bearer is a mistake. It is in the form of a Jerusalem cross to indicate membership in the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre. This is not the way to depict such membership. Either a charge on the field would have been appropriate, or placing the Jerusalem cross near but outside the shield is also acceptable. In addition, the actual insignia of the Order can be depicted suspended below the shield by a black ribbon or, as a bishop, he could have placed the shield on the Jerusalem cross. But, shaping the episcopal cross to a personal preference is not an option.

Nevertheless, this is the best of the three.

Finally, we have the armorial bearings of Bishop Donald DeGrood (54) a priest of St. Paul-Minneapolis who is being ordained a bishop and installed as the Ninth Bishop of Sioux Falls, South Dakota today, in fact, even as I write this post.

Ugh!

For the third time I take no issue with the arms of the See and also think it is one of the better designed diocesan coats of arms in the USA.

As for the personal arms he has, once again, tried to do too much. The tincture combinations are unfortunate and, actually, rather sad looking. The purple priest’s stole on a green field violates the so-called tincture “rule” which dictates that a metal on a metal and a color on another color should be avoided. The sheaf of wheat looks rather anemic (but, in fairness, that may simply be an issue involving this particular depiction of the arms). The charge of the gold letter “M” in the upper right is borrowed from the arms of St. John Paul II. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se. Many warn against using letters as charges but it is well known that John Paul II argued with Bruno Heim for maintaining the “M” in his arms which he has used as a bishop and cardinal. Certainly, that charge became widely known as John Paul’s coat of arms was used extensively during his historic 27-year-long pontificate.

However, in the official version of John Paul’s arms, painted by Bruno Heim himself, the letter “M” was depicted, correctly, as filling the whole space of the field on which it was depicted. So, the charge followed the contours of the shield shape upon which it appeared. This explains why one side of the “M” is longer than the other. However, depicting it this way, floating in the middle of the field, it is completely unnecessary, and also quite ridiculous to depict the “M” with one side shorter than the other. The “M” was not blazoned to be depicted that way, Rather, that was merely an artistic convention. There seems to be the erroneous and utterly stupid notion floating around out there that the “M” must be unevenly drawn to make it the “John Paul II M“. WRONG!

The black cross on a field that is blue and green is a bad choice of tinctures. Once again, it appears as though the new bishop consulted someone who was not very well acquainted with proper heraldic design.

These three represent a situation that is all too common in the Church in general and in the United States in particular. With all the competent assistance available, especially since the advent of the internet, it’s really rather sad that such amateurish and, in some cases, frankly ugly coats of arms continue to be created.

O’Brien: Grand Master Emeritus (UPDATED)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bishop Austin Vetter of Helena

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

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

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

Yeah…blah.

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

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

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

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

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

Most Rev. John M. Smith, RIP

 

bishopsmith_emeritus_crest

On Jan. 22, 2019 of the Most Rev. John Mortimer Smith, Bishop Emeritus (2010-2019) and Ninth Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton (1997-2010), former Coadjutor Bishop of Trenton (1995-1997), former Bishop of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee in Florida (1991-1995) and former Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Newark (1988-1991) passed into eternal life.  Bishop Smith died in Morris Hall Meadows, Lawrenceville, after a long illness. He was 83 years old.

His coat of arms (above) was assumed at the time he was ordained an Auxiliary Bishop in 1988. It is, in my opinion, a little too “busy” insofar as he tried to do too much. All those various charges represent different events/aspects of his priestly life and ministry, a kind of pictorial CV, which is precisely the type of thing I encourage new armigers to avoid all the time. It was particularly problematic and a little bit unattractive when it was marshaled to the arms of a See, such as Trenton, because all this was then squeezed into a narrow impalement (below). Perhaps, it would have been better to marshal the arms differently or to have simply borne his personal arms alone (something of which most American bishops cannot conceive because they think it isn’t permitted!)

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Aside from his less-than-wonderful coat of arms I met Bishop Smith on several occasions and found him to be a warm, outgoing and very kind man. He was very down-to-earth and easy to talk with. In the days when he was bishop of Trenton I hosted a 30-minute weekly radio program for my diocese and he told me on more than once occasion how he enjoyed listening to it in the car while driving to some event at which he was to preside. He was one of our biggest fans. May he rest in peace and receive the reward of his labors in the Lord’s vineyard.

(Artwork for both images by Deacon Paul Sullivan)

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:

Coat_of_arms_of_Francis_Xavier_DiLorenzo.svg

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!