Page 5, 8th December 1978

8th December 1978
Page 5
Page 5, 8th December 1978 — Heraldry in the Church

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People: Heim, Van Duren, John
Locations: Lisbon


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Heraldry in the Church

ARCHBISHOP HEIM has been Apostolic Delegate in Great Britain since 1973 and as such is widely known in Catholic circles and beyond as an outstanding diplomat and a man with a sensitive awareness of the problems facing the Catholic Church in our country.

What is less extensively appreciated is that in the present Apostolic Delegate we have the leading authority on heraldry within the Church, one who established his claim to preeminence in this field more than 30 years ago with the publication of the magisterial Coutumes et Droit Heraldiques de L'Eglise.

He has advised successive Popes since the election of Pope John on their correct armorial bearings, and now raises his standing in the heraldic world even higher with the publication of a further authoritative work, -Ileraldry in the Catholic Church: Its Origin, Customs and Laws", published by Van Duren at £22.

heraldry at first sight seems a dry subject but not the leastof the gifts which Archbishop Heim brings to his chosen field is the ability to bring it to life, to present it for what it is --a science which throws interesting and intriguing light on both history and art.

Furthermore, Archbishop Heim is an artist in his own right and has filled this book with drawings, sketches and colour plates which make it a joy to look at and light and attractive to read.

Typography, lay-out and reproduction have all been skilfully handled, and the book can be read solemnly as a treatise or just dipped into here and there to gain a little recondite information on the herald's art.

Ecclesiastical heraldry grew out of the secular variety, and the roots of the whole subject can be found in medieval military organisation where it was vital for knights to be identified in such a way that they could be recognised by their friends but not by their foes.

Hence the custom grew up of painting e-iblems on helmets

which gradually became more elaborate and spread to shields and other military impedimenta. From these valorous beginnings sprang the whole lore of heraldry as we know it today with its laws and regulations, its complications and its subtleties, its pride and its prejudice.

One of the points made most strongly and effectively by the author is that the simple origins of heraldry still exert influence today, and that everyone has a right to arms just as everyone has a right to a name.

"It is only,he writes, "with the disappearance of living heraldry that certain legal theorists tried to propagate the idea that the right to bear arms was exclusively reserved to the nobility, and such burghers as had attained the privilege through a concession of the sovereign.

"Yet it is the birthright of any human being to bear names and signs which distinguish him from another person. The right is limited by the corresponding right of the others, and it is clearly inadmissible for someone to appropriate the emblems of rank, office or dignity to whi,:h he is

not entitled."

There, in a few splendidly economical sentences, is set out the essential basis of heraldry.

But where does the Church come in? At times through military prelates, but much more importantly and legitimately through seals which were engraved with emblems and passed from this to decorations in churches and personal arms.

There are some fascinating chapters on this development showing how churches became infested with heraldic ornaments which were placed on ceilings, doors, gratings, walls, plinths, choir-stalls, lamps, candlesticks, banners, chalices and even liturgical vestments. From here they spread out to coins and stamps.

With the sacred and secular so closely intertwined for many centuries it was not difficult for arms to spread from laity to clergy, but strictly speaking the Church has not concerned itself with what goes on inside a shield but with the ecclesiastical ornaments that go outside and dignify it. On this subject the book is a mine of useful and intriguing information.

We learn that the tiara did not take its final form until the 14th century, when the third circlet was added. We are told that its use has not historically been confined to the papacy and that the Patriarch of Lisbon, for one, filched it for his arms.

The mitre is pre-eminently the symbol of episcopal dignity, but abbots, protonotaries apolstolic, and even abbesses have got their hands on them. The Church of England maintains the precious mitre to identify its bishops, but the Roman Church has gone in for a variety of hats and tassels to mark out its hierarchy of cardinals, archbishops and bishops.

And so I could go on --but the reader should get the book and see for himself what a treasure-house Archbishop Heim has provided. He has done more than that and brought home the fact that heraldry is not an esoteric preserve for the antiquarian-minded but a great and humane contribution to culture and civilisation.

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