I have a right to bear arms! First off let me clarify that I’m not speaking about firearms but rather my right to have a personal coat of arms blazoned by which I might be known and which can be inherited by my children. I have learned a great many things about heraldry in having become an armiger or armor-bearer, namely a person entitled to bear a coat of arms, but by far the most important is that bearing arms is not, as you might think, a privilege reserved for the noblesse but is rather a right of every person—at least for those of us living in a republic. Were it not for the specific mention of a militia one might even be tempted to think that such a right to possess a personal achievement—as a full coat of arms with all its accouterment is known—is the meaning of the right to bear arms that has been enshrined in the second amendment of the US Constitution given that the rest of the so-called
Bill of Rights deals with the protection of individual (or State) rights.
All that aside, for the past month or more I have become rather obsessed with heraldry or, more precisely, ecclesiastical heraldry, that is heraldry which pertains to both the clerical hierarchy as well as as lay orders in the Church. Of course I have been most concerned with heraldry in the Roman Catholic Church, which has the most extensive use of arms, but I have also learned a great deal about ecclesiastical heraldry as maintained in the Church of England (Anglican, known as the Episcopal Church in the US) and in various Lutheran churches (especially that of Sweden).
Parted per fess argent and sable. Fig tree overall eradicated and fructed, vert and argent.
If I’ve understood the art of blazoning correctly (and any more knowledgeable than I are welcome to correct my errors), the depiction at right (and additional ones below) represent my blazon which can be translated as being a shield divided in half horizontally, with a silver background on the top and a black field below. Centered over the whole shield is the charge, a green fig tree (ficus sycomorus) with its roots exposed (depicted in silver). I have tinctured (or colored) the visible portion of the trunk of the tree tenné (tawny) and added twelve purple figs in the depiction above, although I am not aware of any way to add that to my blazon without it becoming cluttered. I also ended the eight roots in cruciform heads which is another artistic detail which is not proper to the blazon itself.
I have chosen this representation for myself primarily on the grounds of having a recognizable, simple, and heraldically accurate depiction. My choosing a fig tree, however, was not without reason. Outside the front door of our home is a fig tree (ficus carica ‘Celeste’) which I planted not only because I like figs (though the ‘Mission’ cultivar may have been more appropriate) but also because of the use of the fig tree in the Old Testament as a depiction of the coming of the day of the Lord when
every man shall sit under his own vine or under his own fig tree, undisturbed (Micah 4:4, see also 1 Kings 5:5, 1 Maccabees 14:12). This image of the fig tree as a sign of prosperity or favor before the Lord is realized or manifested when, in John’s Gospel, Jesus calls Nathaniel—a true Israelite in whom there is no duplicity—out from beneath a fig tree in order to reveal to him and the other apostles that Jesus is in himself the fulfillment of God’s benefaction (John 1:47-51). In some places in both the Old and New Testament the sycamore tree is used synonymously with the fig tree. For example, Amos states,
I was no prophet, nor have I belonged to a company of prophets; I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores. The Lord took me from following the flock, and said to me, Go, prophesy to my people Israel. Now hear the word of the Lord! (Amos 7:14-16). Such a gatherer or dresser of ficus sycomorus trees is one who tends or cultivates sycamore (or fig) trees or does the gathering of figs (Strong’s Concordance, sub H1103). In the New Testament this reappears when Zacchaeus, who
was seeking to see who Jesus was…ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus (Luke 19:1ff.) and so experiences the secure salvation foreshadowed in the Old Testament imagery of figs.
Although I have imbued my choice of a fig tree with personal meaning or Biblical significance there is no universal index of meanings or code for reading what appears upon the shield of an achievement (or coat of arms). There is, however, a set of rules by which a shield may be blazoned if not an index of what such mean. For a helpful introduction to heraldry see The Heraldic Dictionary or the excellent Oxford Guide to Heraldry (Oxford USA, 1990).
In both ecclesiastic and secular heraldry, however, there are precise meanings ascribed to and rules governing the adornments outside the shield. The most significant marker in ecclesiastic heraldry as a sign of ordination is the galero (pontifical hat or pilgrim’s hat) and the number of fiocchi (or tassels) that hang therefrom; one can know immediately by the number and color of tassels as to whether the bearer is a cardinal, archbishop, bishop, abbot, monsignor, and so forth. Additional frequently employed adornments include processional cross (for bishops and archbishops), pallium (for residential archbishops), mitre (for dioceses), and pastoral staff or crozier (turned inward with a sudarium or veil for abbots and abbesses). For a more complete study see Bruno Bernard Heim‘s Heraldry in the Catholic Church (Van Duren, 1978), John Abel Nainfa’s Costume of Prelates of the Catholic Church, according to Roman etiquette (John Murphy, 1926), and Father Guy Selvester’s website and article
Aspects of Church Heraldry. While the Holy See no longer maintains an official registry of ecclesial arms, the now private Collegio Araldico is still an invaluable resource and the Saint Peter Codex houses a gallery of coats of arms in the Vatican. For those just casually interested a brief introduction is given in James-Charles Noonan, Jr.’s The Church Visible: the ceremonial life and protocol of the Roman Catholic Church (Viking, 1996).
Returning to heraldry more generally, I mentioned that the right to bear arms is universal except where governed by law, such as is the case with Scotland’s Court of the Lord Lyon. Yet even in those republics which do not have governmental regulation of the heraldic art, such as the US and Russia, colleges such as the American College of Heraldry and the Russian College of Heraldry exist as private entities in order to assist armigers in designing, registering, and properly displaying their arms. Now all I need to do is come up with the funds to register my arms, commission a beautiful library painting of them, and hire someone to engrave them with a yet-to-be-determined supporter for use as an Ex Libris bookplate and to label my brews.