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Symbols adjusted on papal coat of arms

By on Thursday, 28 March 2013

The modified papal coat of arms

The modified papal coat of arms

The papal coat of arms has undergone some major adjustments to more clearly reflect the importance of Mary and St Joseph.

The five-pointed star has been replaced with an eight-pointed star, while the spikenard flower has now been made to look more like a flower rather than a bunch of grapes, as it did in its original form. The Vatican published the new coat of arms on its website on March 27.

Italian Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, an expert on heraldry said that changing the star was “better” because the five-pointed star often carries with it “military significance,” while the eight-pointed star “has always symbolised Mary” in Catholic Church tradition.

The new papal blazon contains the same symbols that Pope Francis had on his episcopal coat of arms. The dark blue shield is divided into three sections, each with its own symbol. On the top is the official seal of the Society of Jesus, representing Jesus and the religious order in which the Pope was ordained as a priest in 1969. The symbol shows a blazing yellow sun with inside the red letters, IHS, the sign for the name of Jesus. A red cross rises up from the letter H and three black nails rest below.

The bottom part of the shield depicts a gold star and a gold spikenard flower, which represent respectively Mary and St Joseph, demonstrating the Pope’s “particular devotion to the Holy Virgin and St. Joseph,” the Vatican said.

The shield is surrounded by the papal insignia, a miter and the keys of St. Peter. The miter was something Pope Benedict XVI established in 2005, putting an end to the beehive-shaped three-tiered tiara that, for centuries, had appeared at the top of each Pope’s coat of arms.

The silver miter has three gold stripes to mirror order, jurisdiction and magisterium, and a vertical gold band connects the three stripes in the middle to indicate their unity in the same person. The two crossed keys have been part of papal emblems for centuries and symbolise the powers Christ gave to the apostle Peter and his successors.

The papal emblem uses a gold key to represent the power in heaven and a silver key to indicate the spiritual authority of the papacy on earth. The red cord that unites the two keys alludes to the bond between the two powers.

One detail Pope Francis changed in the papal insignia is removing the pallium from the elements surrounding the shield. The pallium, the woolen stole symbolising a bishop’s authority, was added to Pope Benedict’s coat of arms in 2005.

Another change made to Pope Francis’ insignia is that his motto is now inscribed on a white, red-edged banner underneath the shield; earlier, the motto was just a line of text running under the shield.

Pope Francis’ motto, which is the same as his episcopal motto, is based on the Gospel account of The Call of St. Matthew, the tax collector, in a homily given by the English eighth-century Christian writer and doctor of the church, St Bede the Venerable.

The homily “pays homage to divine mercy” and marks a significant moment in the pope’s spiritual discernment toward religious life, the Vatican said in a press release.

It was after confession on the feast of St Matthew in 1953 that a 17-year-old Jorge Mario Bergoglio strongly felt “the loving presence of God in his life,” the Vatican explained. It was that experience of God’s mercy and his “gaze of tender love” that called the young man to religious life, following the example of St. Ignatius of Loyola, it said.

The motto is the Latin phrase “Miserando atque eligendo,” which means “having mercy, he called him.” The phrase refers to a line in St Bede’s homily: “Because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him.”

St. Bede’s homily looks at Mt 9:9-13 in which Jesus saw the tax collector, Matthew, sitting at a customs post and said to him, “Follow me.” St. Bede explained in his homily, “Jesus saw Matthew, not merely in the usual sense, but more significantly with his merciful understanding of men.”

“He saw the tax collector and, because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him, he said to him: ‘Follow me.’ This following meant imitating the pattern of his life, not just walking after him. St. John tells us: ‘Whoever says he abides in Christ ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.’”

St Bede continued: “This conversion of one tax collector gave many men, those from his own profession and other sinners, an example of repentance and pardon. Notice also the happy and true anticipation of his future status as apostle and teacher of the nations. No sooner was he converted than Matthew drew after him a whole crowd of sinners along the same road to salvation.”

  • LocutusOP

    I like it!

    It not only looks good but it’s rich in symbolism.

  • Sparrow Hawk

    Why the American spelling of mitre?

  • paulpriest

    The spikenard is very hispanic

    and has a highly unusual origin…

    There are two gnostic legends about St Joseph’s staff.
    a] that God chose him as the spouse of Our Lady when among a group of candidates a dove flew out from his staff
    b] that the Devil taunted St Joseph with the temptation that Our Lady was lying about her virginity and that the Virgin Birth was as likely as his staff starting to flower – and it did!! Origen refers to almond blossoms for further symbolism, the artistic depiction was usually Lily-like

    Now this was fine for centuries – white doves or white flowers emerging from a staff were used in art to depict St Joseph – until the renaissance adopted graeco-roman classical symbology for their military and mythical paintings…which in turn influenced religious art.

    A staff which had been a symbol of authority and protection – now became confused with a pagan symbol of virility – and white flowers shooting from it was simply unacceptable for the most chaste spouse….

    So the staff and flowers had to go – especially in a Church of Leo X’s obsession with pagan revival – and was replaced with a single long stemmed flowering plant…while most of the rest of the Church chose Lilies the spanish used the similar spikenard…

  • Gordis85

    Much better than the previous one! I really like it. I hope soon Papa Francisco will wear his coat of arms on his papal sash. He would make for a fine caballero! One needs a sense of humor too in these trying times! Viva il Papa!

  • James M

    The Pope can choose any heraldic charges [the objects depicted on the shield], as long as there is no silliness about making up the rules as he goes along – as seems to have happened here. There are no “symbols” in heraldry – if a journalist is going to talk of heraldry, he or she needs to learn its language. Is this is an unreasonable requirement ? Are mitres to be called “pointy hats”, or altars “worship tables” ?

    The infulae or lappets that hang from the mitre are objectionable – they are the wrong colours for the bearer. The arms shown, are in actuality borne by a bishop who is Pope – therefore, the infulae and the mitre should be those proper in heraldry to the Pope. If one did not know better, one would think from the heraldry that the bearer was a mere bishop at the bottom of the hierarchy. The whole point of heraldry is to make clear, at a glance, who the bearer is – which includes his rank in society. That the triple crown is no longer worn in no way lessens its importance as an indication in heraldry of the status of the bishop whose shield appears beneath it. The Queen’s coat of arms includes a royal crown because of her position. She is not (say) a mere duke, so she does not use a ducal coronet in her coat of arms. The Duke of Norfolk, OTOH, like others, does. For either to use an imperial crown, or a mitre, would be ridiculous and confusing.

    The Pope is trying to behave (according to the language of the coat of arms) as Bishop Mario Bergoglio, but Mario Bergoglio is not the bearer of the Petrine office – Pope Francis is. And as Pope, he is not entitled to change the laws of the science of heraldry, but has to conform to them. If he invented his own language, that might be a means of his sanctification – but it would be meaningless to anyone else. He cannot unilaterally change a language of which he is not the only speaker. If the meaning of visible signs is to be subject to interior attitudes, then chaos is in store.

    It seems that at Rome accurate heraldry has gone down the sink with sound liturgy. Since both rely on traditions expressed by visible signs, this is no surprise.

    “The phrase refers to a line in St Bede’s homily: “Because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him.””

    ## There at least forty of them – which is meant ?

  • LocutusOP

    Thanks for the info….There is so much to learn about and appreciate in the Christian faith.

  • $40858710


  • Aaron de Giorgio

    The mitre, Parasum, is not the ordinary mitre of a bishop. The Papal mitre shown in his arms, to recall the symbolism of the tiara, is silver and bears three bands of gold (the three powers: Orders, Jurisdiction and Magisterium), joined at the centre to show their unity in the same person.

    This is not the case with other clerical and ecclesiastical arms, also because contemporary Catholic ecclesiastical heraldry does not feature mitres for prelates but galeros (the wide brimmed hat).

  • James M

    “The mitre…is not the ordinary mitre of a bishop.” Good – & neither is the triple crown. What does this mitre show, that the triple tiara does not ? If someone with at least some knowledge of heraldry can draw wrong conclusions, as I did; what is someone with even less understanding of these things going to think ? The Pope is still the Pope. Changing the heraldic language to something that looks humbler, is liable to be taken as a sign that the Pope is “unsaying” the claims of his office. For the media – which is not staffed by Catholic theologians – to draw the wrong conclusions, is entirely understandable: a change of signs usually means a change of message. This failure to use the triple tiara even in the heraldry of the Papal coat of arms is asking for trouble, and is liable to sow confusion. The Pope ought to use the heraldic conventions that make unambiguously clear that he is Pope, just as his predecessors did. What theological reason can there be to make a change ? And what change has there been since Benedict XVI (whose coat of arms used the triple tiara) to justify dispensing with the triple tiara ? The doctrinal precisions of V2 can hardly be the reason – because Benedict XVI accepted those precisions. If the triple tiara was good enough for Pius V, Pius IX, Pius XII, John XXXIII, Paul VI, & Benedict XVI – why is it not good enough for their successor Pope Francis ?

    The triple tiara does not be “recalled” – it was already in heraldic use. The authority it signifies is not a relic or a fossil, but a living and permanent power; all of it. The Pope would still be Pope, even if he dressed in Levis – but the heraldry of his office makes clear what he is, regardless of his personal foibles. This heraldry of the Papacy has developed organically, ever since Popes wore mitres w/o the crowns; then added one; then two; then three. The current heraldry breaks this organic development. It’s the equivalent of playing draughts then changing the rules in mid-game and following the rules of chess. The fullness of jurisdiction proper to the Petrine function of the Pope is not given for that purpose, but for the governance of the whole flock of Christ to Whom all Popes must render an account of their stewardship.

    So while I’m grateful for your info, the substantive point is not touched. Tradition matters in heraldry, regardless of personal attitudes – innovation of the kind seen here causes confusion. What reason is there to innovate ? So, not altogether convinced. But TY anyway.

  • Pope Zicola

    As a heraldist (albeit, hobby standard) myself, I so agree with you.

    We must understand something about those who know nuff-all about the rudiments of heraldry, yet feel qualified to air their view: they focus more on which colour scheme suited their fickle taste and whether the designs ‘look good’ or not (behaving like those ”articles” who dump their pet cats into their nearest cat sanctuary because the poor moggy’s colour no longer goes with their new carpet or three piece suite).

    It’s good to see the ecclesiastical Vatican heraldists putting their collective feet down with firm hands with Pope Francis in making those crucial ‘tweaks’ in the devices on his arms. I, too, felt that the five-pointed single star on his original shield sent out the wrong message (although three of them were on the arms of Pope John Paul I – see further down my post).

    The single star reminds me of the flags of Cuba, Texas state, Myanmar (Burma) … hopefully, you follow me in what I’m trying to express here…

    Also, I read the latest (Easter) issue of the Catholic Herald to see that another symbol on the arms was stated as … as a bunch of grapes!

    I hit the proverbial ceiling prematurely – because, once I landed back down on the carpeted living room floor and brushed the plaster off my shoulders, I realised that the error is understandable because INDEED it looked to all the world, from a considerable distance, like an upturned bunch of grapes!

    We know now it is a spikenard plant (which represents St Joseph, as well as the origin of the ointment with which the penitent woman anointed Jesus at Simon’s house) and, again, good on the Vatican heraldists for fine-tuning the emblems on the shield so that there will be no more confusion for posterity… needless to say or include: lost pub quiz team titles, Trivial Pursuit games and unjustly lost bets as in:

    ‘I’m telling you, Bert! It is a bunch of grapes! … no, Eric! It’s a spikenard! … you wot!?! Never ‘eard of such a thing! It’s a bunch of grapes! … No, Eric! It IS a spikenard! … I’m willing to bet my house, my car and my cat, my old mucker, that it’s a bunch of grapes and I’ll WIN! No danger! … Now, Eric, THAT’s crazy! … Crazy? It’s you who needs to go to that top High Street opticians, Bert, not me. Spikenard, my giddy aunt! …’

    Thank you, Vatican heraldists, for preventing needless poverty, demotion of self-confidence, promotion of clever-trouseredness and homelessness for man and feline kind!

    As far as the Papal Tiara is concerned, it’s the only niggle I have about Pope Benedict XVI’s coat of arms – the absence of the Papal Tiara for the the adjusted mitre to symbolise … just the same! However, I liked the addition of the palium!

    May I impart, most strongly, that heraldry has always been around in some shape or other in civilisation… but the heraldry we have grown accustomed to (in England, it was King Richard III who was the founder of the Royal College of Arms for England) as in, what was originally prescribed for was the identification between friend or foe on a battlefield.

    You could say it was an early version of copyright/patents registration.

    With organic development, women’s arms were ‘lozenge’ shaped (diamond) to indicate that they were unmarried. That’s the basics.

    Very few priests are aware that they – like their bishops, archbishops and cardinals – that they are entitled to coat-of-arms!

    Italian popes had shields shaped rather like the face of a horse (I can’t remember the official name for the shield at the moment… I’m certain someone will enlighten me at some stage).

    Most European crowned heads may no longer wear a crown but the crown on their respective coat of arms signify that they are the kings/queens/dukes of their realm.

    I also notice that Pope Francis’ shield (just the shield) is more conventional a shield for a bishop, archbishop, cardinal – similar to what is typical for a gentleman, knight etc. for use on a battlefield – a bit like JPII’s was!

    We could safely say that never has that design been used more appropriately for a pontiff – what with the evils that are bashing at the Rock that is the Roman Catholic Church!

    As for the blazon of a coat of arms – anyone’s coat of arms, for that matter, for the sake of argument – talk to anyone in marketing or advertising worth their salt and they will tell you that ‘it’s all about the product and what it offers to their need.’

    The modern equivalent to illustrate the practical use for blazoned shields for the battlefield would be derby day soccer matches. Wear the wrong shield or colour and you might either end up in a police cell or hospital!

    However, whilst BXVI’s actual shield on his achievement of arms is one of the best examples of ecclesiastical heraldry I’ve come across – there are some representations of his shield bearing the mitre (it was fairly common in print) and rarely (for me, at least) the triple papal tiara.

    I remember well the criticism aimed at Blessed John Paul II back in 1978 when he added the letter ‘M’ in order to base it on his arms as Archbishop of Krakow as Pope. The criticism was that it looked more like a logo for a fast food outlet than for Sovereign Pontiff. We were told, for our information, that the ‘M’ was for Mary, Our Blessed Mother, to whom JPII dedicated his pontificate.

    Also, Blessed JXXIII wasn’t keen on the fierceness on the face of his lion passant guardant at the chief of his pontifical arms. The lion passant guardant holding an open bible (alluding to St Mark the Evangelist) is on the Arms of Venice, of which Giovanni Battista Roncalli was patriarch/cardinal before he became John XXIII. He said to the Vatican heraldist that he would like a ‘smiling’ lion instead.

    His wish was their command! It was tastefully done, IMHO.

    Hopping past Pope Paul VI for a wee bit, the short reign of Cardinal Albino Luciani who eventually took the first two-handed papal name of Pope John Paul I – saw another fine example of Vatican Heraldry.

    Please bear with me whilst I attempt to simplify my explanation… though my computer has lots of stuff on it with room for a pony (bought in a sale, I might add), I can’t yet whip onto Wiki to look up the following shields on another site simultaneously…

    Cardinal Albino Luciani was also Patriarch of Venice, like John XIII. What, do you imagine, would be the first act of emblazoning his new coat-of-arms? He also chose the lion passant guardant with open bible of St Mark the Evangelist, patron of Venice! Who else adopted this device for his blazon? John XIII…

    …and Paul VI (Cardinal Montini of Milan) had hills/mountains on his (I think it was either what we call ‘canting’ arms viz a viz in blazons which echo one’s name i.e. Montini = little mountain/s or the interpretation being a representation of the 7 hills of Rome, of which Vatican was one of them) and three fleur-de-lis.

    With Albino Luciani choosing both JOHN and PAUL, he combined his namesakes’ arms – with the Lion of Venice on the chief, replacing the red of John XXIII with dark blue and the fleur-de-lis with three gold stars (‘mullet’ is the heraldic name – not to be confused with horrendous 1890′s hairstyles or fish) positioned in place of them.

    For so brief a pontificate, Pope John Paul I’s arms were briefly on show.
    That is why, dear friends, Vatican press releases of the new pontiff’s coat-of-arms is ‘really rather important, actually, old thing!’ in predicting the new pontificate setting out its stall for the Petrine Ministry.

  • Pope Zicola

    Apologies for typo: Ref: The paragraph which commences: ‘Cardinal Albino Luciani…
    It should read John XXIII and NOT John XIII… one ‘X’ missing from the Roman numerals for ’23rd’.
    Hope this clarifies!

  • Pope Zicola

    Not only will Pope Francis wear his papal coat of arms on his papal sash but also on his dinner cutlery, his drinking glasses, his encyclicals, his T-shirts, socks, jim-jams…
    … er, scrub the T-shirt, socks and jim-jams!

  • Julian Lord

    I’m still not 100% satisfied with the Papal Arms, but at least they have been much improved from their original presentation.

    Thank you for your rather detailed analyses :-)

  • Pope Zicola

    Wow! Thanks for the post, paulpriest!
    You’ve answered a lot of questions about St Joseph that I’ve been asking for a few years. My late father was named for him.

  • Pope Zicola

    Another heraldist on board! I salute you, Parasum!

    You are so right about the visible symbols of the papacy on their coats of arms… the blazons themselves – fair play!
    The exterior parts of their achievement of arms is a huge honour for anyone, ecclesiastical, noble and royal. It makes a statement – that’s what they are there for!
    … well, one can overdo it with this humility stuff, which can be as bad as not doing it at all whatsoever!

    Going back to the arms, Blessed Pope John Paul II followed JPI’s example and went for an inauguration as opposed to a coronation… but it did not stop him from adding the Papal Triple Crown to his arms (see my post below).

    Now, I don’t see our bishops, archbishops and cardinals wear their respective galeros in public (I don’t know about private)but, when it comes to their coats of arms, there they are! We know whether it is a bishop, an archbishop or a cardinal who is in charge of the diocese.

    The Bishop of Portsmouth, Philip Egan, has a well-thought-out coat-of-arms. He has set out his stall for the diocese.

    Shrewsbury has had the same blazon of arms for years (I haven’t always been in the Shrewsbury Diocese, so I must go back and do my homework re coat of arms) but – frustratingly for me and a silent few – nothing to differentiate which bishop is which… apart from a change of motto, which, from a fair distance, is hard to see.
    What’s to bet that Mark Davies, if he was respectfully so inclined, would – given half a chance – come out with something equally as punchy as Bishop Egan or the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI?

  • Pope Zicola

    Even parish priests have galeros – black ones!

    Green galeros are a common, nowadays heraldic, headgear.

    Whilst reading about Chinese cardinals in the running for the Petrine Office, one of the cardinals explained why his bishop’s galero was given the ecclesiastical purple of his office as opposed to green.

    The answer made me giggle: In Chinese culture, a green-coloured hat is a sign of someone of – shall we say? – loose morals!

    Even though the decision to change the colour was to preserve the dignity of the Chinese bishop’s office, it looked very classy indeed!

  • Pope Zicola

    I know the feeling, JabbaPapa! Pope Francis’ arms are much improved, for sure.
    They looked weird before, to be honest.
    As for sharing these papal nuggets, the pleasure is all mine! :-)
    I shrieked when I realised I missed off an extra ‘X’ when typing the number for Pope John XXIII but the post was written pretty late at night…
    … that’s my excuse, friend, and I’m sticking with it!

  • Aaron de Giorgio

    I much prefer the tiara to the mitre, but I suspect, feel and defend the decision of the Holy Father Benedict XVI to use the mitre, to symbolise the spiritual nature of the papacy, rather tahn the temporal nature of the tiara. The Bishopric of Rome, rathervtahn the Supreme Pontificate.

    As a die hard monarchist, traditional catholic and qualified heraldist and genealogist I much prefer the tiara, but in obedience to His Holiness’s spiritual wises, I respect, accept and embrace the decisions of Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.