Category Archives: Work of Other Artists

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.

Bishop Mackinlay of Sandhurst

On October 16 the Most Rev. Shane Mackinlay (54), a priest of the diocese of Ballarat, was ordained a bishop and installed as the Eighth Bishop of Sandhurst, Australia.

His coat of arms is blazoned: Gules, two pickaxes in saltire, blades upwards Or; in chief an open book Argent bound Or with the Greek letter Α on the dexter page and the Greek letter Ω on the sinister page both Sable; impaling Per saltire or and azure on the former in fess two roses gules, in chief an estoile (eight-pointed star) and in base a representation of the Paderborn Cross argent.

The crossed pickaxes are the tools of goldmining, which was integral to the founding of both Ballarat and Bendigo. The bible comes from the arms of Catholic Theological College and reflects its motto, Tolle lege, the admonition that prompted St Augustine to take up and read the bible, which led to his baptism. In the arms of the see the gold of the field represents the goldfields, which are located within the diocese. The blue and the roses represent the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, who, under the title Our Lady of Good Counsel, is Patroness of the Diocese. The Paderborn Cross at the base is an ancient Christian symbol discovered in an eighth-century grave beneath the Cathedral at Paderborn, Germany, which was the home city of Dr Henry Backhaus, the pioneer priest of the Bendigo Goldfields.

The diocesan arms were designed by myself and Bishop Shane’s personal arms were designed by Richard d’Apice AM KCSG and myself and both are illustrated by Sandy Turnbull.

9/11 Remembered

The Most Reverend Josu Iriondo, (80) formerly a Canon Regular of the Most Holy Savior of the Lateran, later incarnated as a priest of the Archdiocese of New York and retired Auxiliary Bishop of New York was appointed to be a bishop on October 30, 2001 and ordained the Titular Bishop of Alton and Auxiliary of NY on December 12, 2001 while the city was still reeling from the horrible terrorist attacks of 9/11. In his assumed coat of arms Bishop Iriondo decided to commemorate those horrible events and the faith that helped many cope with them by incorporating an image from Ground Zero into his coat of arms. There was a cross made of the remnant I-beams of one of the fallen towers that rescue workers erected over the site. That cross of steel I-beams was used as the image of the cross making up the principal charge of the bishop’s coat of arms.

artwork by Deacon Paul Sullivan

Archbishop Etienne Succeeds

The Most Reverend Paul D. Etienne (60) who had been translated from Archbishop of Anchorage to Coadjutor of Seattle last April has now succeeded to the See of Seattle as of September 3, 2019. On that date Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Archbishop Peter Sartain for health reasons and Etienne becomes the 10th Metropolitan Archbishop of Seattle.

His coat of arms (above) combines the arms of the See of Seattle with his personal arms. It’s nice to see he didn’t once again change them as he did when going from Cheyenne (where he originally served as a bishop) to Anchorage. At that time I was very outspoken in my criticism of that decision. There is no such criticism this time around.

Bishop Brennan Translated to Wheeling-Charleston

On Wednesday, August 21, the feast of St. Pius X, the Most Rev. Mark E. Brennan (72) until recently Auxiliary Bishop of Baltimore and Titular Bishop of Rusibisir, was installed as the 9th Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia. He succeeds the scandal ridden Bishop Michael Bransfield.

His coat of arms (above) is clearly a redesign of the coat of arms he assumed at the time he became a bishop. Normally, I am very critical of the practice of a bishop changing his coat of arms when transferring to a different assignment. A coat of arms is not “changeable” as it is a mark of personal identification.

However, Bishop Brennan’s originally assumed arms (below) were rather busy and it would have been difficult to impale them well with the diocesan coat of arms. Of course, it is well worth pointing out that while impalement, symbolizing that the bishop is “married” to his diocese, is the norm for diocesan bishops in the United States but it is not mandatory by any means. I would hazard a guess that when Bishop Brennan assumed his coat of arms he did not think that he would ever be called upon to serve as a diocesan bishop and thought his episcopal ministry would be lived out as an Auxiliary of Baltimore. That’s not an unusual assumption when you consider he was already 69 years old when he was appointed a bishop and the mandatory age at which bishops must submit a resignation is 75!

Nevertheless, his personal coat of arms has been redesigned to better harmonize and more easily be impaled with the coat of arms of the See of Wheeling-Charleston. In my opinion, my misgivings about redesigning arms aside, I think it is an improvement over the original coat of arms. The change of the motto, also not an absolutely necessary part of a coat of arms although erroneously thought to be so by many, is less problematic.