Archive for December 2008

Marian symbology

Today, December 26, the Eastern Orthodox church celebrates the Synaxis of the Most Holy Theotokos. Theotokos (or in Greek Θεοτόκος) means “the one who gives birth to God” or, in other words, “the mother of God”. To Christians, this would be the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ.

In honor of this celebration, we’ll review the various symbols used in heraldry to denote a special relationship with Mary or the veneration of her.

The two most common heraldic charges to symbolize Mary are the fleur-de-lys (or lilly) and the Marian cross. The former is most known for its use in French heraldry and the latter in the arms of the late Pope John Paul II.

fleur de lys

marian-crossCOA Pope Joh Paul II


Attributed arms of Jesus

As this is the 2008 Christmas post, I decided to make this about the attributed arms of Jesus Christ. Let’s not forget, Christmas is the celebration of Jesus’ birth in Christian faith.

We’ve already discussed attributed arms in a previous post. The oldest attributed arms to the Christ are from the early 13th century and they are all based on the instruments of the Passion. Below are the attributed arms of Jesus from the Hyghalmen Roll created in the 15th century.

COA JesusCOA Jesus


As you can see the crest in the one image is Jesus’ seamless tunic (also used in the arms of the Bagration dynasty).

The arms in the other image are quarterly the five wounds, three jars of ointment, two rods in saltire and the head of Judas Iscariot with the bag of silver around his neck. The banner is quarterly a Jew’s head spitting, three dice (used by the Roman soldiers to gamble for Jesus’ clothes, a hand grasping a lock of hair and Herod’s head. The crest is the pillar of flagellation upon which is St. Peter’s rooster.

Also in the 15th century we find another book from Lorraine that depicts another shield attributed to Jesus azure the Passion. A crown of thorns is used as a crest coronet with a royal helm. The crest is the Lion of Judah.

Attributed coats of arms

We’ve talked about arms of of countries and of individuals. We’ve talked about unique arms and duplicate arms. We’ve even covered how to obtain a new coat of arms. This time we’ll talk about arms that were never used by their supposed owners, usually because heraldry didn’t exist yet when they were alive.

These arms are called attributed arms. Almost all popular personages have been attributed arms, from Jesus to Alexander the Great to the legendary King Arthur, even Satan!

Sometimes, arms were given to kings and heroes of foreign and exotic lands that didn’t themselves have a heraldic tradition.

It appears that these phenomenon first began in literature of the 12th century, coinciding with the general introduction of heraldry in Europe. Over the centuries, these arms even found themselves into rolls of arms compiled in the continent.

Sometimes, new coats of arms were created but used attributed arms in quarterings to support their claim of descent from a legendary figure.

COA JesusCOA Archangel MichaelCOA Satan

Obtaining a new coat of arms

We’ve discussed the uniqueness of arms and what to do about dealing with duplication or usurpation of arms. Now, it’s time to address the question of how to get arms in the first place.

The assumption is that if you’re interested in this topic, you haven’t inherited arms through some ancestor (typically father). If you have, then perhaps you’ll be interested in a previous post on cadency.

If you’re still reading then you don’t currently have arms and would like to become armigerous. Let me start by saying that you don’t have to be a member of nobility to have arms. However, depending on where you live, you may have to jump through a few hoops to get them and it may cost you.

In countries where heraldry is tightly controlled, such as England, Scotland, Canada, Ireland and South Africa, one may apply to the local heraldic authority for a grant of arms. The beauty of this approach is that the obtained coat of arms is granted by a government authority, registered, guaranteed to be unique (in the jurisdiction) and finally come with Letters Patent. On the other hand, the downside is that these cost a substantial amount of time and may take up to 2 or 3 years from application to receipt of the Letters Patent. It should be noted that in some cases one can petition for arms at the heraldic authority of choice provided the appropriate criteria are met (usually descent from the country in question).

In the other countries, such as the United States, free assumption of arms is the norm. It can be as simple as putting together a shield and using it all the way to consulting with heraldic artists (amateur or professional) to come up with it. After creating the arms, it is highly recommended that they get registered with one or more of the many registries that exist.

Another service these registries offer is the creation of arms and part of the package is to register them as well as design them.

Heraldic authorities where one can petition for arms:

Online locations where one can request assistance for a new coat of arms:


Bucket shops

It has been mentioned before on this blog that, usually, the arms follow the surname. Most people already know this and is of no surprise.

As a result of this knowledge, many come to the conclusion that if they are named, for example, “Andrews” and they find a coat of arms somewhere attributed to the “Andrews” family, then they can use those arms themselves. However, that is not entirely accurate. Some would even say that it is entirely wrong!

Unless one can prove descent (patrilineal in most heraldic traditions) from the person who bore a specific coat of arms, those arms cannot be used. If one can prove the appropriate descent, then one should use the correct mark of cadency. Finally, if one can prove descent but there aren’t any marks of cadency to show the relationship with this early armigerous ancestor, the new coat of arms must be altered enough so that there is no confusion between the two.

But, just like with everything else, there are people out there that take advantage of this lack of knowledge. You may have run into them at the mall or online after searching for “coat of arms” with your favorite search engine. These enterprises are called “bucket shops” and sell unsuspecting customers a coat of arms belonging to others with the tacit understanding (if not the explicit statement) that the customer is entitled to them.

Though, I should say I’m not condemning all of those selling these coats of arms as they may not know any better themselves.

If you have fallen victim to the erroneous belief that everyone with the same surname are entitled to the same coat of arms, it may make you feel better to know that even Ronald Reagan (before he became President) made the same mistake. This is mentioned in the excellent article on President Reagan’s arms by Joseph McMillan on the American Heraldry Society’s web site.

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