Posts tagged ‘patriarch’

Some Byzantine misconceptions

The reason for this article is to address some of the gross inaccuracies I’ve seen online, not the least of which are the dozens of claimants to the Byzantine throne that are running around parading the Palaiologos name.

Let’s get it clear: there are no proven, documented male line descendants of of the Palaiologos House alive today. Therefore, anybody claiming to be that is at best a fantasist and at worst a fraud. If one has the documentation, it would be a boon to historians and genealogists worldwide to examine it. Heck, they would probably become very wealthy by publishing a book (with documentation) on their family history from the Fall to the present.

As it is well known, the last Emperor of the Roman Empire of the East, better known as the Byzantine Empire, was Constantine XI Dragases (Κωνσταντίνος ΙΑ’ Δραγάσης) of the Imperial House of the Palaiologos (Παλαιολόγος). Emperor Constantine died valiantly with his troops defending his capital from the hordes of the Turk that were headed by Mehmet II. After the conquest of of Constantinople, Mehmet II was known as “The Conqueror”.

The fateful day that seat of Christianity in East found itself enslaved by the Muslim Turk was May 29, 1453 and the day the Emperor died.

After his death, the only Palaiologos left were:

  • His younger brother Demetrius, Despot of Morea, who died a monk in Constantinople
    • Demetrius had a single child, a daughter, named Helena who was taken along with her mother into the Sultan’s harem
  • His other younger brother Thomas who was the last ruler of Morea and as the last remaining male Palaiologos, the claimant to the Imperial throne. It is Thomas’ line that is of interest to us.

After Mehmet conquered the Despotate of Morea, Thomas fled to Rome for safety along with his children in 1461. Along with him, he brought the head of St. Andrew, the First Called, as a gift to the Bishop of Rome, Pope Pius II. However, he died in 1465 and his children (2 boys and a girl) were brought up by Cardinal Bessarion (a Greek Orthodox bishop who was a unionist and was made a Cardinal by the Pope after being persecuted by the anti-union forces of the Eastern Church).

The eldest of them was Andrew and was the legitimate heir to the Christian throne of the East. He styled himself in the European Courts as “Imperator Constantinopolitanus” and squandered both his inherited treasures as well as the salary he was paid by the Pope. He went so far as to sell his claims to the Byzantine throne to Their Most Catholic Majesties King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain! There are rumors that he sold the claims several times over, including to King Charles VIII of France. He did not have any children from his wife and died penniless in 1502.

The younger son, Manuel, who became the titular Emperor on the death of his older brother (and if we discount the sale of the titles), moved to Constantinople and sold his own claims to the throne to the same person who caused the destruction of his Imperial House, Sultan Mehmed II! In return, Manuel received a comfortable pension and a life of luxury. While in the City, he married and had two children: John and Andrew of whom no offspring are found in the historical record. It is also said that Manuel and his children converted to Islam, even serving in the Sultan’s navy. A slap in the face to the legacy of their Imperial House!

Thomas’ youngest child was a girl named Zoe. She married the Grand Prince Ivan III of Muscovy (Moscow) in 1472 and brought as part of her dowry the double-headed eagle. This is the basis for the claim of Moscow to be the “Third Rome”. As a side note, Zoe was the grandmother of Ivan the Terrible.

This is the end of the Imperial House of the Palaiologos. However, there is a cadet branch of the Palaiologos House created by Theodore, the first Marquess of Montferrrat. Theodore was born Theodore Komnenos Doukas Angelos Palaiologos in 1270, a son of Emperor Andronikos II. The last of this line was John George and died in 1533.

There were other Palaiologos, younger children from prior generations that presumably survived the conquest but, after a while, the record goes silent and many of the “bin Palaiologos” that can be found in the various Ottoman tax records are not necessarily related to the dynasty.

Another of the major inaccuracies I’ve seen online and also swept under the rug in Greece is related to the religious dogma of the late Emperor. Growing up in Greece, Emperor Constantine is hailed as the consummate Greek hero (and that part is 100% true) and also the “Defender of the Orthodox Faith” (this part is 100% untrue).

What apparently nobody wants to have known is that the Emperor died in communion with the Pope, as did his Patriarch, since they both had accepted the Councils of Ferrara and Florence. If it had not been for the Turkish conquest, the Eastern Orthodox Church would be in communion with the West today.

According to the historical record and what the noted Byzantine scholar John Julius Norwich, after the death of the Emperor, the Sultan wanted to control the Christians of his new empire by selecting a Patriarch that would not cause problems for him. Naturally, he would not choose someone who supported the union with the West and therefore selected the fiercely anti-unionist Gennadius.

Over the centuries, the almost apocryphal story of  the anti-unionists of the Eastern Empire being so anti-Papal that they supported the Turks. This is patently false!

The most “popular” quote is the one attributed to the Grand Duke Lucas Notaras (Λουκάς Νοταράς), a famous anti-unionist, where he allegedly said

κρειττότερον έστιν ειδέναι εν μέσῃ τη Πόλει φακιόλιον βασιλεύον Τούρκων ή καλύπτραν Λατινικήν

or, in English

better to see in the midst of the City the Turkish turban to reign than the Latin mitre

The Grand Duke remained true to his beliefs in that the Eastern Church could not re-unite with the West as per the two Councils but, he was 100% loyal to his Emperor and a hero to his Empire. He tried to protect the Empire to the utmost of his abilities and was an ardent supporter of the Emperor to solicit help from the Western Powers. He took on the defense of the City and, though the Turk was victorious, his organizational skills and rallying of the troops was exemplary.

Let’s not forget that it was the Grand Duke, his son and his son-in-law that were the three first “neo-martyrs” or martyrs under the Ottoman yoke. The were all beheaded for confronting the Sultan.

Not exactly the actions of a turcophile, is it?


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)