Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Episcopal Heraldry

One of the challenges of those named to episcopal office is to arrange in rather short order for a coat of arms with motto to express something of themselves and the spirit of their ministry. This is done with the help of specialists, in my case Gordon Macpherson of Burlington, ON.

The current version of my coat of arms (originally crafted for myself as an auxiliary bishop in Toronto and modified when I was transferred to Halifax in 1998 and to Ottawa in 2007 may be seen at the right top of this blogsite; an explanation is on the website of the Archdiocese of Ottawa.

The external symbols of a processional cross and a green ecclesiastical hat with two green cords each ending in six green tassels are the insignia appropriate to a Roman Catholic Bishop as assigned by Pope Paul VI in his special Instruction of 31 March 1969.

Here from the website of the Archdiocese of Toronto are the coats of arms and explanations of Bishop William McGrattan and Bishop Vincent Nguyen, ordained last week:

The field of the shield is divided into sections by a heraldic division called a saltire enhanced. This reflects the form of the traditional arms of the name McGrattan. In the “X” one also sees the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter in the Greek for Christ.

The gold (yellow) and red from the shield represents those used by St. Peter’s Seminary, London, Ont., while the red and blue from the shield represent the City of London. The charges on the shield symbolize the following:


Keys are found in the coats of arms of the Bishop's home diocese of London and in the shield used by St Peter's Seminary where he ministered as an educator and served as rector for many years. A key opens a lock and so is a fitting symbol for education and here celebrates the Bishop's role in the training of priests at St Peter's Seminary. Keys are also an attribute of St Peter (Matthew 16.19) and so may be taken to represent the papacy and the Roman Catholic Church. In this instance the wards and the bows have been embellished with the traditional emblem of Ireland, the trefoil or shamrock, and indicates the Bishop's ancestry and heritage. The trefoil is also a symbol for the Holy Trinity.


The lower section is in blue a colour associated with theology and bears a shell. The shell is significant in that it is an emblem of Holy Baptism the sacrament which incorporates one into Christ and his Church and which is the basis of all ministry. As a baptismal symbol it represents the Church's mission. Here it is also a reference to the Bishop's mother as shells are found in many arms associated with the name Power in Ireland. A shell is the main feature of the shield of Pope Benedict XVI who appointed the Bishop to the episcopate. The shell is also the badge of pilgrims and here speaks of the Christian's life journey in faith.

Basket with Loaves

The basket filled with loaves speaks of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, the Church's highest offering. Bread has ever been a symbol of the means of sustaining life and in the Old Testament it was a symbol of God's providence, care and nurture of his people.(Exodus 16.15) Jesus gave new meaning to this symbolism when he said, “I am the bread of life.” (John 6.35) and again at the Last Supper as a reference to his sacrifice.(Luke 22.19). It is also used here as a reflection of the feeding of the great throng of people (Matthew 14.15-21) and so represents the call to compassion, hospitality, outreach, caring, and to what Pope John Paul II spoke of in terms of what the significance of Jesus' action in this instance should mean to bishops and their ministry.


The upper section is coloured red, the colour of the Holy Spirit, of love and zeal. Upon this is set a pattern formed of seven heraldic charges called mascules [ a diamond shape with the centre omitted ]. This symbol is the emblem attributed to a medieval bishop of York, England, Saint William of York (William Fitzherbert) and hence is a reference to the Bishop's baptismal name. The seven mascules may represent the seven gifts of the Spirit.

The Motto

The motto HABE FIDUCIAM IN DOMINO placed below the shield is from Proverbs 3.5: “Habe fiduciam in Domino ex toto corde tuo et ne innitaris prudentiae tuae.” (Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own insight).

* * * * * *

The shield of Bishop Vincent Nguyen’s coat of arms is on a standard bearing a cross with the five wounds of Christ.

The shield is divided into two main sections. The top section is based on the Book of Revelation 7:9, where the multitude of martyrs, with palm branches in their hands, stand before the throne of the Lamb. The drop of blood flanked by two palm branches has special family significance for Nguyen as his great-great-grandfather is one of the Vietnamese Martyrs.

The bottom half symbolizes not only the mandate given to the Apostles to be fishers of men, but also recognizes the bishop as one of the boat people who came to Canada from Vietnam.

His motto “Ego Vobiscum Sum” (I am with you) are the words of Jesus at the end of Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 28:20). It is a reminder to the bishop that the Triune God is with him as he responds to his episcopal call to be present and involved with the People of God as they together bear witness to Christ.

1 comment:

  1. The current version of my coat of arms (originally crafted for myself as an auxiliary bishop in Toronto and modified when I was transferred to Halifax in 1998 and to Ottawa in 2007 may be seen at the right top of this blogsite; an explanation is on the website of the Archdiocese of Ottawa. большой герб российской империи