15 April 2008

The Pope's Coat of Arms

This explanation of the Holy Father's Coat of Arms comes from the official website of the Papal visit:

Pope Benedict revealed who he is in designing his papal coat of arms. He dispensed with the image of the three-tiered tiara that traditionally appeared at the top of each pope's coat of arms and replaced it with the pointed miter. He also added the pallium, the woolen stole symbolizing a bishop's authority, to the elements surrounding the shield. “Benedict XVI has chosen a coat of arms that is rich in symbolism and meaning, so as to put his personality and his papacy in the hands of history," said Italian Archbishop Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, an expert on heraldry and creator of Benedict XVI's new insignia.

"For at least the past eight centuries, popes have had their own personal coats of arms in addition to the symbols of the Apostolic See," the archbishop said in the Vatican newspaper. While each papal shield is unique, the elements surrounding it had more or less remained the same for centuries -- until now. Gone is the beehive-shaped crown whose actual use in important ceremonies was abandoned during the papacy of Paul VI.

For Pope Benedict's ensign, the more modest and recognizable miter has taken its place. But the silver miter has three gold stripes to mirror the symbolism of the papal tiara's three tiers: "order, jurisdiction and magisterium," said Archbishop Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo. A vertical gold band connects the three stripes in the middle "to indicate their unity in the same person," he said. The white pallium with black crosses draped below the shield “indicates the (bishop's) role of being pastor of the flock entrusted to him by Christ," wrote Archbishop Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo.

What has not changed and has been part of papal emblems for centuries is the Holy See's insignia of two crossed keys, which symbolize the powers Christ gave to the apostle Peter and his successors. The gold key on the right represents the power in heaven and the silver key on the left indicates the spiritual authority of the papacy on earth. The cord that unites the two keys alludes to the bond between the two powers. Nestled on top of the keys lies the unique shield of Pope Benedict, which is based on his coat of arms as archbishop of Munich and Freising, Germany, and is particularly rich in personal and spiritual symbolism, wrote Archbishop Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo.

The shield is divided into three sections -- each of which has its own symbol. The central element on a red background is a large gold shell that has theological and spiritual significance for the pope, the archbishop said. The shell recalls a legend in which St. Augustine came across a boy on the seashore who was scooping water from the sea and pouring it into a small hole he had dug in the sand. When the saint pondered this seemingly futile activity, it struck him as analogous to limited human minds trying to understand the infinite mystery of the divine.

"The shell reminds me of my great master Augustine, of my theological work and of the vastness of the mystery which surpasses all our learning," wrote then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in his 1997 memoirs Milestones. Archbishop Cordero di Montezemolo wrote that the shell has long symbolized the pilgrim, "a symbolism Benedict XVI wants to keep alive" after Pope John Paul II, "the great pilgrim." The shell is also present in the coat of arms of the Schotten monastery in Regensburg, Germany, to which the pope "feels very spiritually close," the archbishop said.

The upper left-hand section of the shield depicts a brown-faced Moor with red lips, crown and collar; it is a symbol of the former Diocese of Freising dating back to the eighth century. Though it is not known why the Moor came to represent Freising, in Milestones, the pope said for him "it is an expression of the universality of the church which knows no distinctions of race or class since all are one in Christ."

Finally, a brown bear loaded with a pack on his back lumbers up the upper right-hand section of the shield. The bear is tied to an old Bavarian legend about the first bishop and patron saint of the Diocese of Freising, St. Corbinian. According to the legend, when the saint was on his way to Rome, a bear attacked and killed his horse. St. Corbinian punished the bear by making him carry the saint's belongings the rest of the way to Rome. Archbishop Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo said the bear symbolizes the beast "tamed by the grace of God," and the pack he is carrying symbolizes "the weight of the episcopate."

The pope said in his memoir, “I have carried my pack to Rome and wander for some time now through the streets of the Eternal City. When release will come I cannot know. What I do know is that I am God's pack animal, and, as such, close to him."