A Complete Guide to Heraldry/Chapter 38

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Ecclesiastical heraldry has nothing like the importance in British armory that it possesses elsewhere. It may be said to consist in this country exclusively of the official arms assigned to and recorded for the archiepiscopal and episcopal sees, and the mitres and crosiers which are added to the shields, and a certain number of ecclesiastical symbols which occur as charges. In Pre-Reformation days there were, of course, the many religious houses which used armorial emblems, but with the suppression of the monasteries these vanished. The cardinal's hat was recognised in former days, and would still be officially certified in England as admittedly correctly displayed above the arms of a Roman cardinal. But the curious and intricate development of other varieties of the ecclesiastical hat which will be found in use in all other European countries is not known to British armory. Nor has the English College of Arms recognised the impersonal arms of the Catholic communities. Those arms, with and without the ecclesiastical hats, play a conspicuous part in Continental heraldry.

It is difficult to assign a proper value or a definite status to the arms of the abbeys and other religious houses in this country in Pre-Reformation times. The principal, in fact the only important sources of information concerning them are the impressions of seals which have come down to us. Many of these seals show the effigies of saints or patrons, some show the impersonal arms of the religious order to whose rule the community conformed, some the personal arms of the official of the moment, others the personal arms of the founder. In other cases arms presumably those of the particular foundation or community occur, but in such cases the variations in design are so marked, and so often we find that two, three, or more devices are used indifferently and indiscriminately, that one is forced to arrive at the conclusion that a large proportion of the devices in use, though armorial in character, had no greater status than a temporary existence as seal designs. They distinctly lack the unchanging continuity one associates with armorial bearings. But whatever their status may once have been, they have now completely passed out of being and may well be allowed to rest in the uncertainty which exists concerning them. The interest attaching to them can never be more than academic in character and limited in extent. The larger abbeys, the abbots of which were anciently summoned to Parliament as Lords of Parliament, appear to have adhered rather more consistently to a fixed device in each case, though the variations of design are very noticeable even in these instances. A list of them will be found in the Genealogical Magazine (vol. ii. p. 3).

The suppression of the monasteries in this country was so thorough and so ruthless, that the contemporary instances of abbatical arms remaining to us from which deduction as to armorial rules and precedents can be made are singularly few in number, but it would appear that the abbot impaled the arms of his abbey on the dexter side of his personal arms, and placed his mitre above the shield.

The mitre of an abbot differed from that of a bishop, inasmuch as it had no labels—or infulæ—depending from within it. The Abbot used a crosier, which doubtless was correctly added to his armorial bearings, but it is found in pale behind the shield, in bend, and also two in saltire, and it is difficult to assert which was the most correct form.

The crosier of an abbot was also represented with the crook at its head curved inwards, the terminal point of the crook being entirely contained within the hook. The point of a bishop's, on the other hand, was turned outwards at the bottom of the crook. The difference is said to typify the distinction between the confined jurisdiction of the abbot—which was limited to the abbey and the community under his charge—and the more open and wider jurisdiction of the bishop. Although this distinction has been much disputed as regards its recognition for the actual crosiers employed, there can be no doubt that it is very generally adhered to in heraldic representations, though one hesitates to assert it as an absolute rule. The official arms for the archiepiscopal and episcopal sees are of some interest. With the single exception of York, the archiepiscopal coats of arms all have, in some form or another, the pallium which forms part of an archbishop's vestments or insignia of rank, but it is now very generally recognised and conceded that the pallium is not merely a charge in the official coat for any specified jurisdiction, but is itself the sign of the rank of an archbishop of the same character and status as is the mitre, the pallium being displayed upon a shield as a matter of convenience for artistic representation. This view of the case has been much strengthened by the discovery that in ancient instances of the archiepiscopal arms of York the pallium is found, and not the more modern coat of the crown and keys; but whether the pallium is to be still so considered, or whether under English armorial law it must now be merely ranked as a charge in an ordinary coat of arms, in general practice it is accepted as the latter; but it nevertheless remains a point of very considerable interest (which has not yet been elucidated) why the pallium should have been discarded for York, and another coat of arms substituted.

The various coats used by the archbishops of England and Ireland are as follows:—

Canterbury.—Azure, an episcopal staff in pale or, and ensigned with a cross patée argent surmounted of a pall of the last, charged with four crosses formée fitchée sable, edged and fringed or.

York.—Gules, two keys in saltire argent, in chief a Royal crown or.

Armagh.—Azure, an episcopal staff argent, ensigned with a cross patée or, surmounted by a pallium of the second, edged and fringed or, charged with four crosses formée fitchée sable.

Dublin.—The arms of this archbishopric are the same as those of Armagh, only with five crosses charged on the pallium instead of four.

The arms of the episcopal sees have no attribute at all similar to the charge of the pallium in the coat of an archbishop, and are merely so many different coats of arms. The shield of every bishop and archbishop is surmounted by his mitre, and it is now customary to admit the use of the mitre by all persons holding the title of bishop who are recognised as bishops by the English law.

This, of course, includes Colonial and Suffragan bishops, retired bishops, and bishops of the Episcopal Churches in Scotland and in Ireland. It is a moot point whether the bishops of the Episcopal Churches in Ireland and in Scotland are entitled to make use of the official arms formerly assigned to their sees at a period when those Churches were State-established; but, looking at the matter from a strictly official point of view, it would not appear that they are any longer entitled to make use of them.

The mitres of an archbishop and of a bishop—in spite of many statements to the contrary—are exactly identical, and the mistaken idea which has of late years (the practice is really quite a modern one) encircled the rim of an archbishop's mitre with the circlet of a coronet is absolutely incorrect.

There are several forms of mitre which, when looked upon as an ecclesiastical ornament, can be said to exist; but from the heraldic point of view only one mitre is recognised, and that is of gold, the labels being of the same colour. The jewelled variety is incorrect in armorial representations, though the science of armory does not appear to have enforced any particular shape of mitre.

The "several forms" of the mitre—to which allusion has just been made—refer to the use in actual practice which prevailed in Pre-Reformation England, and still holds amongst Roman Catholic bishops at the present day. These are three in number, i.e. the "precious" (pretiosa), the gold (auriferata), and the simple (simplex). The two former are both employed at a Pontifical Mass (being alternately assumed at different parts of the service); the second only is worn at such rites as Confirmation, &c.; while the third (which is purely of white linen) is confined to Services for the Dead, and on Good Friday. As its name implies, the first of these is of cloth of gold, ornamented to a greater or less degree with jewels, while the second—though likewise of cloth of gold—is without any design or ornament. The short Gothic mitre of Norman days has now given place to the modern Roman one, an alteration which, with its great height and arched sides, can hardly perhaps be considered an artistic improvement. Some individual Roman Catholic bishops at the present day, however (in England at any rate), wear mitres more allied to the Norman and Gothic shape.

The past fifteen or so years have seen a revival—though in a purely eclectic and unofficial manner—of the wearing of the mitre by Church of England bishops. Where this has been (and is being) done, the older form of mitre has been adhered to, though from the informal and unofficial nature of the revival no rules as to its use have been followed, but only individual choice.

At the recent Coronation, mitres were not worn; which they undoubtedly would have been had this revival now alluded to been made authoritatively.

All bishops and archbishops are entitled to place two crosiers in saltire behind their shields. Archbishops of the Roman Catholic Church have continuously placed in pale behind their shields what is known as the archbishop's cross. In actual practice, the cross carried before an archbishop is an ordinary one with one transverse piece, but the heraldic archiepiscopal cross is always represented as a double cross, i.e. having two transverse pieces one above the other. In the Established Church of England the archiepiscopal cross—as in the Roman Catholic Church—is the plain two-armed variety, and though the cross is never officially recognised as an armorial attribute and is not very frequently met with in heraldic representations, there can be no doubt that if this cross is used to typify archiepiscopal rank, it should be heraldically represented with the double arms. The actual cross borne before archbishops is termed the provincial cross, and it may be of interest to here state that the Bishops of Rochester are the official cross-bearers to the Archbishops of Canterbury.

To the foregoing rules there is one notable exception, i.e. the Bishop of Durham. The Bishopric of Durham, until the earlier part of the nineteenth century, was a Palatinate, and in earlier times the Bishops of Durham, who had their own parliament and Barons of the Palatinate, exercised a jurisdiction and regality, limited in extent certainly, but little short in fact or effect of the power of the Crown. If ever any ecclesiastic can be correctly said to have enjoyed temporal power, the Bishops of Durham can be so described. The Prince-Bishops of the Continent had no such attributes of regality vested in themselves as were enjoyed by the Bishops of Durham. These were in truth kings within their bishoprics, and even to the present day—though modern geographies and modern social legislation have divided the bishopric into other divisions—one still hears the term employed of "within" or "without" the bishopric.

The result of this temporal power enjoyed by the Bishops of Durham is seen in their heraldic achievement. In place of the two crosiers in saltire behind the shield, as used by the other bishops, the Bishops of Durham place a sword and a crosier in saltire behind their shield to signify both their temporal and spiritual jurisdiction.

The mitre of the Bishop of Durham is heraldically represented with the rim encircled by a ducal coronet, and it has thereby become usual to speak of the coronetted mitre of the Bishop of Durham; but it should be clearly borne in mind that the coronet formed no part of the actual mitre, and probably no mitre has ever existed in which the rim has been encircled by a coronet. But the Bishops of Durham, by virtue of their temporal status, used a coronet, and by virtue of their ecclesiastical status used a mitre, and the representation of both of these at one and the same time has resulted in the coronet being placed to encircle the rim of the mitre. The result has been that, heraldically, they are now always represented as one and the same article.

It is, of course, from this coronetted mitre of Durham that the wholly inaccurate idea of the existence of coronet on the mitre of an archbishop has originated. Apparently the humility of these Princes of the Church has not been sufficient to prevent their appropriating the peculiar privileges of their ecclesiastical brother of lesser rank.

A crest is never used with a mitre or ecclesiastical hat. Many writers deny the right of any ecclesiastic to a crest. Some deny the right also to use a motto, but this restriction has no general acceptance.

Therefore ecclesiastical heraldry in Britain is summed up in (1) its recognition of the cardinal's hat, (2) the official coat of arms for ecclesiastical purposes, (3) the ensigns of ecclesiastical rank above alluded to, viz. mitre, cross, and crosier. Ecclesiastical heraldry—notably in connection with the Roman Church—in other countries has, on the contrary, a very important place in armorial matters. In addition to the emblems officially recognised for English heraldry, the ecclesiastical hat is in constant use.

The use of the ecclesiastical hat is very general outside Great Britain, and affords one of the few instances where the rules governing heraldic usages are identical throughout the Continent.

This curious unanimity is the more remarkable because it was not until the seventeenth century that the rather intricate rules concerning the colours of the hats used for different ranks and the number of tassels came into vogue.

Other than the occasional recognition of the cardinal's hat in former days, the only British official instance of the use of the ecclesiastical hat is met with in the case of the very recent matriculation of arms in Lyon Register to Right Rev. Æneas Chisholm, the present Roman Catholic Bishop of Aberdeen. I frankly admit I am unaware why the ecclesiastical hat assigned to the bishop in the official matriculation of his arms has ten tassels on either side. The Continental usage would assign him but six, and English armory has no rules of its own which can be quoted in opposition thereto. Save as an acceptance of Roman regulations (Roman Holy Orders, it should not be forgotten, are recognised by the English Common Law to the extent that a Roman Catholic priest is not reordained if he becomes an Anglican clergyman), the heraldic ecclesiastical hat of a bishop has no existence with us, and the Roman regulations would give him but six tassels.

The mitre is to be met with as a charge and as a crest, for instance, in the case of Barclay and Berkeley ["A mitre gules, labelled and garnished or, charged with a chevron between ten crosses patée, six and four argent. Motto: 'Dieu avec nous'"]; and also in the case of Sir Edmund Hardinge, Bart., whose crests are curious ["1. of honourable augmentation, a hand fesswise couped above the wrist habited in naval uniform, holding a sword erect surmounting a Dutch and a French flag in saltire, on the former inscribed "Atalanta," on the latter "Piedmontaise," the blade of the sword passing through a wreath of laurel near the point and a little below through another of cypress, with the motto, 'Postera laude recens;' 2. a mitre gules charged with a chevron argent, fimbriated or, thereon three escallops sable."]

The cross can hardly be termed exclusively ecclesiastical, but a curious figure of this nature is to be met with in the arms recently granted to the Borough of Southwark. It was undoubtedly taken from the device used in Southwark before its incorporation, though as there were many bodies who adopted it in that neighbourhood, it is difficult to assign it to a specific origin.

Pastoral staves and passion-nails are elsewhere referred to, and the figures of saints and ecclesiastics are mentioned in the chapter on "The Human Figure."

The emblems of the saints, which appear to have received a certain amount of official recognition—both ecclesiastical and heraldic—supply the origin of many other charges not in themselves heraldic. An instance of this kind will be found in the sword of St. Paul, which figures on the shield of London. The cross of St. Cuthbert, which has been adopted in the unauthorised coat for the See of Newcastle-on-Tyne, and the keys of St. Peter, which figure in many ecclesiastical coats, are other examples. The lilies of the Virgin are, of course, constantly to be met with in the form of fleurs-de-lis and natural flowers; the Wheel of St. Catharine is familiar, and the list might be extended indefinitely.