Ecclesiastical Heraldry

Ecclesiastical heraldry is the tradition of heraldry developed by Christian clergy. Initially used to mark documents, ecclesiastical heraldry evolved as a system for identifying people and dioceses. It is most formalized within the Catholic Church, where most bishops, including the Pope, have a personal coat of arms. Clergy in Anglican, Lutheran, Eastern Catholic, and Orthodox churches follow similar customs, as do institutions such as schools and dioceses.

Ecclesiastical heraldry differs notably from other heraldry in the use of special insignia around the shield to indicate rank in a church or denomination. The most prominent of these insignia is the low crowned, wide brimmed ecclesiastical hat, commonly the Roman galero. The color and ornamentation of this hat indicate rank. Cardinals are famous for the "red hat", but other offices and other churches have distinctive hat colors, such as black for ordinary clergy and green for bishops, customarily with a number of tassels increasing with rank.

Other insignia include the processional cross, the mitre and the crosier. Eastern traditions favor the use of their own style of head gear and crosier, and the use of the mantle or cloak rather than the ecclesiastical hat. The motto and certain shapes of shields are more common in ecclesiastical heraldry, while supporters and crests are less common. The papal coat of arms has its own heraldic customs, primarily the Papal Tiara (or mitre), the keys of Saint Peter, and the ombrellino (umbrella). The current Pope Benedict XVI has had his tiara drawn more to resemble a mitre on his coat of arms. The arms of institutions have slightly different traditions, using the mitre and crozier more often than is found in personal arms, though there is a wide variation in uses by different churches. The arms used by organizations are called impersonal or corporate arms.

Read more about Ecclesiastical HeraldryHistory, Shield, Around The Shield, Papal Insignia, Chivalric Insignia

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