Posts tagged ‘Controversial heraldry’

Controversial arms: Moors in heraldry

San Millán de la Cogolla, La Rioja

San Millán de la Cogolla, La Rioja


Alozaina, Málaga

Alozaina, Málaga


Continuing in the series of “Controversial arms”, in this entry we’ll look at the various arms created over the years depicting Moors or disembodied Moor heads.

Once again, let’s look at the history of the subject first. The name “Moor” was used to identify those of north African descent and also covered Arabs. It used to apply to primarily Muslims of Berber, Arab and also Iberian descent. However, over the years it has become a synonym to black Africans and that is how the term “Moor” is blazoned. It may be due to the relation of the Spanish word for Moor being “Moro” and the Spanish word for a black person being “moreno”; both words having as it’s root the Greek word for black “μαύρο”.

The Moors, as it is well known, occupied the Iberian peninsula from the 8th through the 15th centuries and left behind innumerable works of spectacular art. Perhaps their most famous legacy in Spain are the Alhambra palace in Granada and the Great Mosque of Cordoba.

However, their legacy also has left a number of wars with their Christian neighbors in Europe and in particular the Spanish. Perhaps the most known series of wars between Christians and Moors was what is called the “Reconquista”, where the Christian Spaniards reclaimed the peninsula from the Muslims. During these centuries of warfare, it was common for the Christian nobles to flaunt their victories on their coats of arms. This is why we see so many shields with the heads of nameless Moors in Europe.


Aragon, Spain


On a more pacifist side, depictions of Moors many times have deeply religious meanings and their blazoning is used to represent that. Perhaps the most famous coat of arms today depicting a Moor’s head is that of His Holiness the Pope Benedict XVI. His arms as Pope use some of the same charges as those arms he used when he was Archibishop of Munich & Freising and the Moor on this sheild is the “Freising Moor”. Though it is not certain who exactly it’s supposed to be, it is believed it is one of the following: Balthazar, St. Maurice, St. Zeno, St. Sigismund or St. Crobinian; all of which were (or thought to have been) Moors.









Controversial arms: The swastika in heraldry

Boreyko coat of arms

Boreyko coat of arms

Arms of Leonard Chamberlayne

Arms of Leonard Chamberlayne


We all know that heraldry started sometime during the Middle Ages, possibly around the 12th century and thus it predates all of the modern sensitivities. Sensitivities developed because of events that occurred over the centuries or because our society has changed and what was normal and accepted before, today is considered wrong, deplorable and even criminal.

Much of the heraldry of the world was created before any of these norms developed and therefore many would be considered controversial today and very few, if any, prospective armigers of today would adopt such arms.

Perhaps one of the most controversial images in the world today is that of the swastika, the hated symbol of the Nazi regime. A symbol used by the Nazi 3rd Reich responsible for the destruction of Europe during World War 2, the death of millions, countless atrocities and the Holocaust. A truly dark and disgraceful period of human history that should never again be repeated.

However, what may surprise many westerners, is that the symbol of the swastika has a more benign manifestation as well. In the historical record, we find it in areas such as Greece, Iran and the Indus valley. It appears to have been a very common pattern, due to its simplicity. Moreover, the symbol used to be called by it’s Greek name of gammadion or tetragammadion (named thus due to the similarity to the Greek letter “gamma” Γ) until the 19th century.

In eastern religions, the swastika is a symbol of the creator god Brahma (in Hinduism) and of Dharma or universal harmony (in Buddhism). Most surprising to today’s society is the use of the swastika pattern in Judaism! It has appeared in Kabbalistic work by Rabbi Eliezer Fischl and even on the floor of the synagogue at Ein Gedi in present day Israel, built 3rd century AD.

Even in the Americas, the symbol was widely used among the native tribes and displayed it with pride on their clothing and elsewhere.

Coming back to Europe, we find the swastika shape in various ornaments in Germany (pre-Nazism), Slavic countries, Finland and the Basque country of the Iberian peninsula. Other names given to the swastika or similar patterns in Europe is the “fylfot”, “kolovrat”, “swarzyca” and “labauro”.

Knowing this history of the symbol, tarnished by Nazism, we can then understand how it ended up on the coats of arms of various families, towns and regions. However, when blazoning a coat of arms, the term for this symbol is usually “fylfot” or even “cross cramponned” or “cramponnée” or “cramponny”; in other words, a cross potent with one arm of each “T” ending being broken off.

Finland has a special history with this symbol as it is evidenced by its continued use by official organizations of the government and military.

Standard of the Finnish Air Force Academy

Standard of the Finnish Air Force Academy

Presidential standard of Finland

Presidential standard of Finland


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