Category Archives: Work of Other Artists

Benedictine Abbot Primate

Polan copy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Auxiliaries of Milwaukee

On March 17 last The Most Rev. Jeffrey Haines and The Most Rev. James Schuerman were ordained to the episcopate to serve as Auxiliary Bishops of Milwaukee. Their newly assumed coats of arms (by Deacon Paul Sullivan) display, for a refreshing change, choices on the part of new bishops that result in clear, simple and distinctive coats of arms. Those of Bp. Schuerman appear to have been inspired by those of St. Francis de Sales but contain enough heraldic differencing to make them his own. These are both good examples of nice coats of arms.

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Bishop Haines’ Coat of Arms

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Bishop Schuerman’s Coat of Arms

Bishop Solis

On March 7 the Most Rev. Oscar A. Solis, formerly Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, was installed as the 10th Bishop of Salt Lake City, Utah. The first Filipino-American to head a diocese is now the shepherd of a diocese covering the entire state of Utah, famous for being “Mormon country”. His handsome coat of arms which refers to both the Filipino flag and to his surname, Solis, meaning “of the sun”, is now in place over the cathedra in the very beautiful cathedral of the Madeleine. This has the distinction of being one of the loveliest cathedrals in the United States.

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Bishop of London To Retire (UPDATED)

The Right Reverend and Right Honorable Richard Chartres, KCVO, ChStJ, PC, FSA will be stepping down this month after twenty-two years as Bishop of London, the third most senior position in the hierarchy of the Church of England.

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His coat of arms (above) depicts the arms of the See of London with its two crossed swords as an allusion to its patron, St. Paul impaled with his personal arms which depict a charge of a labyrinth. This, in my opinion, is a clever way to do a kind of canting arms the medieval labyrinth being a famous feature on the floor of Chartres cathedral.

Thanks to one of my regular correspondents for this fine image of the Bishop’s coat of arms.

Archbishop Stack of Cardiff

From the most recent College of Arms Newsletter: A grant of Arms was made by Letters Patent of Garter and Clarenceux Kings of Arms dated 14 October 2016 to George STACK, Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cardiff.

College reference: Grants 179/343. The blazon reads:

“Arms (illustrated below): Vert a Pall parted and fretted each piece Argent voided Azure between in chief a Fleur-de-lys Argent in the dexter a Garb and in the sinister a Stag’s Head caboshed a Crescent between the attires Or.”

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Abbot of Conception, Missouri

On January 15 the Most Rev. James Johnston of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri bestowed the abbatial blessing on the Rt. Rev. Benedict Neenan, OSB, the tenth abbot of Conception Abbey who was elected by the members of his community in November, 2016 to succeed Abbot Gregory Polan who had been elected as the Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Confederation.

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Abbot Benedict’s coat of arms, assumed upon election, are blazoned and explained as:

“Blazon: A field azure, a Canadian pale argent dovetailed, in chief ten goutte de sang (gules) (palewise two, three, three, two), in base a fountain (a roundle barry wavy argent and azure).”

The main charges of the shield (escutcheon) have particular significance for Abbot Benedict and his ministry to the monastic community. The circle with blue and white waves is called a fountain, and symbolizes the abbot’s hometown, Kansas City, the City of Fountains. The 10 blood droplets (goutte de sang) above it represent the self-sacrificial office of the abbot for the community. Ten droplets signify that he is the tenth abbot of Conception Abbey, which was founded in 1873. Abbot Benedict holds a doctorate in Church history and the two main charges —the fountain and the blood droplets — taken together evoke the Paschal Mystery that birthed the Church and which is the center of all human history, for “This is the one who came through water and blood, Jesus Christ, not by water alone, but by water and blood.” (1 John 5:6) Again, both the fountain and blood drops suggest baptism; the monastic life is often called a “second baptism” due to its deepening of the commitment to baptismal vows.

The white (argent or silver) division of the shield vertically is bordered in a dovetail pattern, calling to mind furniture joints. This alludes to the abbot’s training as a woodworker in Bavaria. The blue (azure) on either side of the central white composition represents the Blessed Virgin Mary. A traditional devotional image of the Virgin is the Madonna of Mercy, in which she spreads her mantle as protection over a group of the faithful. This symbolizes the patroness of the abbey’s protection over its monks.

-from the website of “The Catholic Key“.

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.