Category Archives: Heraldic Mistakes

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!

 

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!