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September 3, 2006 SCROLL DOWN FOR INFO

Ecclesiastical Heraldry

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shot out of the saddle of my 2002 Bike Friday Pocket Rocket

Green galero (hat): bishop (the tassles hang from the hat)
Scarlet galero (hat): cardinal (the tassles hang from the hat)
Crosier (crook): Shepherd protecting his flock

Ecclesiastical heraldry naturally divides itself into various branches, principally: the arms of religious corporations, and other bodies; the insignia of ecclesiastical dignity, rank, or office; the charges, terms, and forms of general heraldry having a religious or ecclesiastical origin, usage, or character; the emblems or devices attributed to or typifying particular saints or other beings venerated by the Church. Intermingled with all these categories is their symbolism, real, suggested, or imaginary; and deeply interwoven, more especially in relation to the insignia of ecclesiastical rank, lies the consideration of ecclesiastical vestments.

In general

The origin of heraldry itself is still shrouded in much mystery. It is really a development and conjunction of three ideas, none of which alone can be regarded as heraldry.

First came the mere personal device or emblem indicative of the individual, an idea traceable through the standards of the children of Israel, through the devices of the Romans, the Greeks, and the Egyptians, attributed both to real and mythical personages, and through the totems of the savage.
Next came the decorative idea of the indication of ownership evolving itself in one direction into the authentication of the seal by its device.
Lastly came the military necessity of proclaiming identity when armour rendered ready recognition difficult; and imposed upon the combination of these ideas was evolved the heredity or continuity of these emblems, by which time heraldry was a perfected and (for the necessities of the period) a completed science, used everywhere upon seals, banners, shields, and surcoats.
It is universally admitted that armory, as we now understand the term, did not exist at the time of the Norman conquest of England. By the end of the twelfth century it had become general throughout England, France, Italy, and Germany, and no doubt it was due to the common meeting-ground of the Christian nations at and during the Crusades that the fundamental principles of the science of heraldry are and have always been cosmopolitan.
Ecclesiastical heraldry

There is no hard and fast dividing line between heraldry in general and ecclesiastical heraldry -- each has the same origin, the same lines of coeval development -- but the application of heraldry to ecclesiastical purposes first occurs in the appearance of armorial bearings of a personal and family nature on ecclesiastical seals, and of sacred or saintly devices upon vestments and ecclesiastical banners. The latter influence is of less importance because it was more ephemeral and more in the nature of pure symbolism than of armory.

The earliest ecclesiastical seals -- nearly all, in early times, vesica-shaped, as they have continued to the present day -- bore the bust, half-length or full effigy of the owner of the seal. So, at that period, did the seals of non-ecclesiastics upon which are the mounted effigies of knight and noble with (as they developed) the armorial shield and bardings fully displayed. Then we get, from about 1300, the seal showing no more than the shield of arms, and concurrently the ecclesiastical seal progressed through the canopied effigy with the shield of arms in the base to the later form with heraldic achievement and legend alone. Ecclesiastical heraldry simply progressed coevally and upon the same lines as heraldry in general.

The earliest ecclesiastical seals were unquestionably purely personal, bearing the effigy, arms, or device of bishop or abbot respectively, as the case might be, but, in England at any rate, the "Statutum de apportis religiosorum" of 1307 (35 Edward I) enacted that every religious house should have a common seal, and that all grants made to which this common seal was not affixed should be null and void. With the common seal of a community came the idea of an impersonal coat of arms for that community, but as there is no definite date at which such common seals became armorial so there is no common origin from which the devices were drawn.

It has been a matter of keen controversy in England at what date control was effectively exercised by the sovereign authority in matters armorial. It can be definitely carried back to the beginning of the fourteenth century; but in matters of religion the appeal was to Rome and not to the temporal sovereign, and there is little, if indeed any, evidence of a regularized control of ecclesiastical heraldry before the date of the Reformation. For this reason the arms of abbeys and priories have little of the exactitude that characterizes other heraldry of the period, and we find that in England, as in all other countries, the personal arms of donors, benefactors, or predecessors in office were constantly impressed into service for the purpose of impersonal arms of a community. In some cases (e.g., in the case of the arms of the See of Hereford) even these personal arms became stereotyped by repetition of usage into the impersonal arms of the office or community, though of course many, perhaps the majority, from the character of the charges and devices which make up the coat of arms, are obviously designed for, and indicative of, the purpose they serve and the community for which they may stand.

A large number of ecclesiastical, as of other public, coats of arms, are based upon the figures and effigies of patron saints originally used and represented as such and without heraldic intention. The natural consequence is that in many cases of religious communities there are two or more entirely different coats of arms doing duty indifferently. Impersonal arms of this character were borne for the sees, episcopal and archiepiscopal, and for the abbeys and priories, and for the religious orders. These arms, regarded merely as coats of arms in all matters of heraldic rule and blazon, conform to the ordinary rules and laws of general armoury so far as these may concern them; nor in character do they in any way differ therefrom, save in matters of external ornament.

One point, however, may he alluded to here. The shield is the ordinary vehicle of a coat of arms. It is obviously and essentially a military instrument, and the supposedly peace-loving ecclesiastic has often preferred to substitute for the shield the oval cartouche (Figure 1). In some countries, notably Italy, Spain, and France, the use of the cartouche for ecclesiastical purposes has been very general, but with the recognition of this ecclesiastical preference for the cartouche, it should not be overlooked that the laity have also made occasional use of it for purely personal armory and that the usage of the shield for ecclesiastics is too universally general at all periods for any suggestion of impropriety to follow its use in preference to the cartouche.


Although England is a Protestant country, and her post-Reformation ecclesiastical heraldry is devoid of any subsequent Roman developments, nevertheless the official control of armory in that country has been and has remained more efficient and effective than the control in any other country, and when in England the temporal power assumed the headship of the Anglican Church, and in consequence the control of her heraldry, the armorial practice existing at that date was stereotyped and has since remained unaltered. For that reason the English law concerning episcopal arms may well be considered as indicative of the reality at a period when heraldry was of greater importance than at present.

The official arms of a bishop appertain neither to him personally nor to his rank. They attach to his jurisdiction as a part of the State and the State-established religion. For that reason a suffragan bishop (corresponding to what is known among Catholics as a bishop auxiliary), though possessing a local titular description, has no official coat of arms. For the same reason, on the disestablishment of the Scottish and Irish Episcopalian Churches the arms of the sees in law became extinct and are officially no longer recognized, although a number of prelates of those churches continue to use them. (Woodward, by the way, states that all the Irish Episcopalian arms are post-Reformation.)

For this same technical reason the English Crown declines to grant arms of office for any of the sees established in the United Kingdom by the Holy See, although request therefor with a tender of the proper fees has been made on several occasions. The result is that Catholic bishops in England, as in some other countries, use only personal arms with their exterior insignia of rank. In the case of the archiepiscopal See of Westminster arms were granted by papal Brief, but this is a solitary instance, and no official recognition of them has been made by the temporal authorities. In the registration of the personal arms of His Eminence the late Cardinal Vaughan, in the College of Arms in London, and in the matriculation of the personal arms of the Rt. Rev. Æneas Chisholm, Bishop of Aberdeen, no objection was made to the registration of the red hat of the cardinal and the green hat of the bishop.

As examples of official ecclesiastical arms, Figure 2 represents the arms of the Anglican See of Hereford; (Plate I, Figure B), the arms of the Archbishopric of Cologne, and Figure 3 the arms of the Abbey of Melk. These official arms, in the earliest cases borne upon a separate shield from the personal arms, are now at the pleasure of the individual borne alone or marshalled with his personal arms upon a single shield. In England it has always been customary when marshalling official with personal arms to do so by impalement and in no other manner, the official arms taking the precedence on the dexter side (Figure 4).

A curious consequence of the English Reformation with its abolition of the necessity of celibacy is to be found in the marshalling of the arms of a married (Anglican) bishop. This is never done upon a single shield. Two are used placed accollé. On the dexter shield the official arms of the see are impaled with the personal arms of the bishop and on the sinister shield these personal arms are impaled with those of the wife (Figure 5).


In Italy most of the sees have official arms, but these are not often made use of, but when they are used they frequently occupy the upper, or "chief", portion of a shield divided per fesse.


In Germany the official and personal arms, though sometimes marshalled by impalement, are usually quartered, the official coat being placed in the first and fourth quarters. Where several sees are united in one person the various official arms are quartered, and the personal arms are placed en surtout; but on the contrary, where the personal arms consist of a quartered coat the official arms will sometimes be found en surtout, which illustrates a diversity of practice to which the English rigid exactitude of rule would seem preferable.


In France the ecclesiastical peers (the Archbishop-Duke of Reims, the Bishop-Dukes of Laon and Langres, and the Bishop-Counts of Beauvais, Chalons, and Noyons) all had official arms which they sometimes quartered and sometimes impaled with their personal arms.

The Holy See

Strictly speaking there are no official arms for the papal sovereignty. Although the crossed keys of St. Peter displayed upon an azure field, have occasionally been used for that purpose, and with such intention, they are more properly a device in the nature of external ornaments to the shield, and as such will be again referred to later.

In relation to the use of personal arms, although in England the ordinary rule and practice were usually observed, elsewhere an ecclesiastic seldom made use of any marks of cadency. Even marks of bastardy are found to have been discarded. The reason is simply that, ecclesiastics being celibate, there would be no descendants to claim pedigree whom it would be necessary to place correctly in a family, whilst for the individual concerned his ecclesiastical ornaments of rank were sufficient distinction. But the omission of cadency marks does not appear to have been a matter of universally accepted rule.

The chief distinction in the bearing of personal arms by an ecclesiastic is found in the use of the mitre, the crosier, and the ecclesiastical hat. Though there are a few examples which might be mentioned of the use of the biretta, both scarlet and black, these may be regarded as merely freaks based upon personal inclination.

The ecclesiastical hat

The heraldic use of the ecclesiastical hat undoubtedly originates in the red hat of the cardinal, which, as a vestment, dates from 1245. The sending of the actual hat was of course a matter of ceremony and of importance, and for that reason the armorial use of the hat as indicative of the rank was a foregone conclusion.

Its heraldic use dates from the early part of the fourteenth century. There is abundant evidence in England of this heraldic use before the Reformation, but the writer is unaware of a single instance in which any other ecclesiastical hat than that of a cardinal was ever employed heraldically. This would seem to show, as was indeed the fact, that the extended use of the ecclesiastical hat was a subsequent development even in Italy and France, though it must be admitted that in Spain the green hat of bishops and archbishops had had some usage since 1400, a practice which grew in that country, where it was an alternative, and preferred to the use elsewhere of the cross and mitre.

In the seventeenth century the use of the ecclesiastical hat for the lower ranks of the Church became, as it has since remained, fairly universal. The ecclesiastical hat is low, flat, wide-brimmed and depending from either side are cords and tassels. Though usually referred to as tassels, they are sometimes termed houppes or fiocci. Originally the number of tassels was indeterminate, the natural consequence of the exclusive use of the hat by cardinals; there are even examples to be found in which no tassels are shown, the strings of the hat being simply knotted. But in early representations six tassels on either side are most usually to be found, these being arranged in three rows containing one, two, and three tassels respectively. In later times, with the extension of the use of the ecclesiastical hat, differentiation was made both in the colour and in the number of the tassels, but in attempting to make use of such differentiation it should be remembered that even after an established rule and usage had come into being adhesion thereto was far from being universal.

In the Catholic clergy and in the Anglican as well (where many of the archbishops have preferred and assumed the coroneted mitre of the Bishop of Durham) there seems to have been a constant desire to appropriate more than belonged to them of right. In the armorial display made by ecclesiastics there is a far greater amount of bogus and incorrect heraldry than is to be met with elsewhere.

The assumption of personal arms by those of plebeian birth and the invention of arms of office where none have been assigned by any competent authority, bring armory into grave disrepute, and its study into hopeless confusion. Some excuse may be urged in mitigation in America and other republican countries which do not officially countenance the granting and creation of arms, which is admittedly an attribute of sovereignty, but there is no such excuse as to personal arms in monarchical countries, as the religious sovereignty of the papacy is universal and surely sufficient to apply what may be lacking in matters which are purely ecclesiastical. But to this unfortunate habit of the ecclesiastical mind is due the fact that in a very large number of cases it will be found that, whatever the rank, one more row of tassels has been added than should be the case.

The rules which follow are those which are recognized in Rome, and in recent years there has been a healthy reversion in many cases to the proper procedure in matters heraldic.

Scarlet hat
The cardinal's hat is scarlet and has on either side fifteen tassels arranged in five rows of one, two, three, four, and five tassels respectively (Plate I, Figure C and Plate II, Figure C).
The green hat is employed by patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, and archabbots.
The patriarch has fifteen tassels, as a cardinal, but the cords and tassels of a patriarch's hat are interwoven with gold (S. Congr. Cærem., 3 Nov., 1826).
An archbishop has ten tassels arranged in four rows of one, two, three, and four respectively (Plate I, Figure B).
A bishop (Plate II, Figure D) has six tassels on each side arranged in three rows of one, two, and three respectively. But as far back as the seventeenth century bishops were using ten tassels, and a hat with that number appears in the matriculation of the arms of the Bishop of Aberdeen previously referred to.
Archabbots possess episcopal rank and use the same hat as a bishop.

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