Archive for June 2009

Roman Catholic Heraldry

Heraldry in the Catholic Church made its first appearance in the form of seals some time in the 1200’s for the purpose of identification.

Much like general heraldry, Church heraldry began with the free assumption of arms with uniqueness being the guiding factor. The tradition of free assumption by the clergy remains to this day; though, every now and then, the discussion to establish a centralized heraldic authority arises.

The heraldic traditions of the Roman Catholic Church are for the most part identical to that of any other tradition. Typically, the shield will follow the traditions of the particular country of origin of the armiger-clergyman. Many times, the person comes from an armigerous family and will use his ancient family coat of arms.

However, where the distinction arises is with the external elements.

You will not find supporters, helms, crests, compartments, etc. Even such items as decorations from various Orders of Chivalry and mantles are expressly forbidden from use. The only exceptions are for the decorations of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta. Also, the heads of these Orders have some additional heraldic privileges such as the pavillion but, these cases are the exception that prove the rule.

The only external elements allowed to be displayed with the heraldic achievement of a member of the Church are the mitre, the crozier and the ecclesiastical hat. On rare occasions, one may see the biretta being used.

All these elements serve a very basic purpose: to clearly denote the rank and position of the armiger within the Church.


Emblem of the Papacy

Popes have been using arms since at least the 13th century with Pope Boniface VIII being the first one for which there is definitive contemporary evidence. It is reasonable to assume the previous Popes bore arms but, since none used the the tiara and keys, it is not easy to be sure.

Papal arms have been displayed surmounted by the keys of St. Peter and in saltire and above a tiara with three crowns throughout the heraldic history of the Roman Church. However, in 2005 with the ascension of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to Papal throne as Benedict XVI, this tradition changed. Pope Benedict XVI’s arms now have replaced the tiara with a mitre decorated with three horizontal stripes and one vertical stripe and are also surrounded by the pallium.

Pope Benedict XVI

A note should be made here that there is only one other member of the Roman Catholic Church that has the right to use the tiara over his arms: the Patriarch of Lisbon. This is an honorary title created in 1714 and currently held (since 1740) by the Archbishop of Lisbon.



The basic indication of rank in the Church used in an armorial achievement is the ecclesiastical hat or galero. The tiara, and now “special” mitre, were discussed in the section above.

The galero, with its various colors and number of tassels, denotes the rank of the armiger more clearly than anything else.

red hat


  • The scarlet hat is that used by cardinals (princes of the Church) and has on either side fifteen tassels arranged in five rows with each adding a tassel a time.
  • Metropolitan cardinals also display the pallium with their shields.

Green hat


Green hat

  • The green hat is used by patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, and archabbots.
  • Patriarchs use fifteen tassels but, the cords and tassels of a patriarch’s hat are interwoven with gold.
  • Archbishops have ten tassels arranged in four rows with incrementing tassels.
  • Bishops have six tassels on each side arranged in three rows of one, two, and three respectively.
  • As archabbots possess episcopal rank they use the same hat as a bishop.
  • Chinese bishops often avoid using green hat in their arms since “wearing a green hat” is the Chinese idiom for cuckold. Rather than green, these bishops use a variety of colors from violet and black to blue, or scarlet if a cardinal. A cross behind the shield denotes a bishop.

violet hat

Violet hat

  • Prelates of the papal chamber use a violet hat with ten red tassels on either side.
  • Apostolic prothonotaries are entitled to a violet hat with six red tassels at each side.
  • Domestic prelates, privy chamberlains, and privy chaplains of the Pope have a violet hat with six violet tassels.
  • Honorary chamberlains and chaplains have the violet hat, but only three violet tassels.

white hat

White hat
The Abbot General of the Order of the Premonstratensians (White Canons) uses a white hat with six white tassels.

black hat


Black hat

  • Generals of orders are assigned six tassels.
  • Three tassels are assigned to provosts, abbots, and provincial superiors of orders.
  • Two tassels are assigned to local superiors (prior guardian, and rector).
  • Simple priests have on either side a single tassel of the same color.
  • The Pope’s Chaplain, uses the black galero with three violet tassels

Other elements

Other elements, such as the crozier, cross, pallium etc. are also used by armigers in various ranks or roles within the church and the general rule of thumb is that if any of these items are actually used in real life, then they may also be used as external ornaments to the heraldic achievement.


(Note: Images from Wikipedia)

New Garter King of Arms in 2010

COA Garter King of ArmsArms of the Garter Principle King of Arms
Argent St George’s Cross upon a chief Gules a coronet or open crown within the Garter of the order between a Lion of England and a Fleur de lis Or

I just found out that a new Garter Principle King of Arms will be introduced next year in 2010 to replace the current one, Peter Llewellyn Gwynn-Jones.

COA Gwynn-Jones

Arms of Peter Gwynn-Jones:
Argent goutté Gules a fret engrailed and molined at the mascle point Azure

Peter Gwynn-Jones has had a long and distinguished service at the College of Arms, first joining in 1970 as an assistant to the then Garter, Sir Anthony Richard Wagner. Gwynn-Jones became Garter King of Arms in 1995.

COA_Norroy_Ulster_King_of_ArmsArms of the Norroy & Ulster King of Arms
Quarterly Argent and Or a Cross Gules on a Chief per pale Azure and Gules a Lion passant guardant Or crowned with an open Crown between a Fleur-de-lis and a Harp Or

The person that will be replacing Gwynn-Jones is the current Norroy & Ulster King of Arms, Thomas Woodcock.

COA Woodcock

Arms of Thomas Woodcock:
Or on a bend cotised Gules three cross crosslets fitchy of the field

Woodcock joined the College of Arms in 1975 as an assistant to Sir Athony, like Gwynn-Jones. By 1978, he rose to Rouge Croix Pursuivant, and in 1982 he became Somerset Herald. It was only in 1997 that Woodcock rose to current position of Norroy & Ulster King of Arms.

It is still not known when the transition will occur

(Note: Some images from Wikipedia)

Heraldic dictionary – Tinctures

In this post in the “Heraldic dictionary” series providing interlanguage help on heraldry, we’ll focus on the heraldic tinctures.

I am only looking at the basic ones and ignoring the stains (tenne, mulberry, sanguine, etc.) and other country specific tinctures (such as rose, blue celeste, etc.).


Those above marked as “?” simply mean that I don’t know and couldn’t find the appropriate term. If anyone knows them, please feel free to post a comment or send me an email.

Heraldic dictionary – External elements

For those of us that deal with heraldry in more than one language, it sometimes becomes a problem to figure out the proper heraldic terms in each language. Many times, I resort to using the English language terms when speaking of heraldry in another language because I forget or just don’t know the correct term.

In this new series of posts, I’ll try to present a table listing the heraldic terms in the languages that I typically look at. An interlanguage heraldic dictionary of sorts.

The first post in the series will focus on the external elements of a Coat of Arms















Note: base image courtesy of Wikipedia

Heraldry of Rome – Part II


In this second part in the series on the heraldry I ran into during my recent brief visit to Rome (and for the next few), I’ll focus on ecclesiastical arms.

As the capital of the Papal States and the location of the Holy See (in the Vatican), Rome is full of churches. Naturally, they are almost all of them Roman Catholic.

As is customary, the churches display coats of arms that are significant to them. In the case of the Catholic churches, they display the arms of the current Pontiff and those of the bishop of the parish. Interestingly, in Rome, every church acts as its own seat and the arms displayed outside are those of the Pope and of a Cardinal.


The picture above is of the entrance to the impressive Santissima Trinità al Monte Pincio (a.k.a Trinità dei Monti), the church above the Spanish Steps.


As you can see, the church is displaying two coats of arms in the entrance. The one on the left is that of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.


The one on the right is that of Cardinal Philippe Xavier Christian Ignace Marie Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyon in France and Cardinal Priest of this church.

This church is most impressive and dominates the scene of the Spanish Steps or Piazza di Spagne.


Although the steps and plaza are “Spanish”, the church was built with French funds when in 1502 King Louis XII wanted to celebrate his successful campaign against Naples and chose this site, right next to a pre-existing monastery built the previous decade. The “Spanish” name comes from the fact that the Spanish embassy was and still is located there.


Continuing the French tradition the church was entrusted in 1828 to the French religious order “Religieuses du Sacré-Coeur de Jésus”. In 2006, another French order took over and made the church its headquarters, the “Fraternités Monastiques de Jérusalem”.

Unfortunately, I have been unable to identify the arms in the windows posted above.  If anyone recognizes them, please contact me and I will make the appropriate edit and give the proper recognition.