The alphabet is one set of arbitrary symbols. The figures of heraldry are another set of arbitrary symbols. In the fourteenth century every gentleman knew one: in the twentieth century every gentleman knows the other. The first gentleman was just precisely as ignorant for not knowing that c-a-t spells "cat," as the second gentleman is for not knowing that a St. Andrew's Cross is called a cross saltire, or that vert on gules is bad heraldry. -- G.K. Chesterson
I'm an Academic Herald. I'm not a "real" herald; I don't register people's coats of arms (though I can certainly suggest designs for those who might be interested). What I do is study, research, teach, and write about heraldry. And I like to share what I have learned about heraldry, hence this blog. I hope that you'll find it informative, interesting at least occasionally, and worth your time to come back. Got a question? Comments? Feel free to let me know. I'd love to hear from you. You can find my contact information in my Profile.
So, having finished up my research at the library in Charlotte, Michigan, we had some time to drive around a bit and see how much the town had (or hadn't) changed in the half century since I lived there. And in keeping with what I've found in other places while looking for heraldry, there were some blank shields.
This one comes from one of the buildings in the two-block long downtown part of the city. It's a really great architectural feature but, as with so many other blank shields/cartouches/ovals/etc. that I run across in my travels, I wish that they had added a coat of arms to the shield or, in this case, the oval.
And then we drove by a house that had two of these babies sitting outside, one on either side of the sidewalk leading up to the house. I have no idea where the owner got them, but I'd sure love one (or two) to place at the front of my house! And let me tell you, the shield hanging from the chain around its neck would have my coat of arms on it, too, instead of the horizontal (and sadly, blank) plaque here.
Still, for all that it's bearing an empty shield, what a great thing to have "guarding" the path to one's house.
In the two and a half days we spent in Charlotte, Michigan, a lot of our time was at the local library, looking through bound copies of old newspapers (1960-1963). And in keeping with my often-stated belief that "you can find heraldry everywhere," sure enough, we ran across the following on a license plate of a vehicle parked in the library's parking lot.
It's not "real" heraldry, as I see it, but it's certainly an attempt at an heraldic-like logo. And it celebrates American automobiles, which some of us (especially those who, like me, were brought up during what I think of as the golden age of American muscle cars) think is kind of cool. (The fact that this particular plate was mounted on a minivan took away a bit from that coolness.)
Still and all, though, it's a try for something heraldic. And while it may have fallen a bit short, I think the attempt was made ought to be given some consideration here.
So after the conference in Fort Wayne, Indiana, finished up, we drove to the small town in southern Michigan of Charlotte, almost exactly 50 years after my family had moved away from there. And while I have often said that "you can find heraldry everywhere," I was not certain that I'd be able to do so there. Happily for my theorem, there was heraldry to be found in this town of some 9,000 people, both real and not.
The real heraldry was found, not so surprisingly, at what used to be the county courthouse, a large red brick building now occupied by the Charlotte Historical Society and a museum.
The first coat of arms was to be found in the pediments over the doors to the building. These are, of course, the arms of the United States of America, Paly of thirteen argent and gules, a chief azure. And this is the correct version of those arms: thirteen stripes (the number often varies from that), and no stars on the chief (as is often found, the artists confusing the flag with has stars with the arms, which does not).
That said, I am not at all certain why the arms of the United States appear on the courthouse. It is not a U.S. courthouse, but a county courthouse, an arm of the State of Michigan and not of the United States proper.
Inside, in what used to be the courtroom was the "arms" of the State of Michigan. It is, as you can easily see, "landscape" heraldry, with not one, not two, but three mottoes. E pluribus unum, above the eagle crest, used to be (until the 1950s) the motto of the United States, "out of many, one." The second, on the chief of the shield, Tuebor ("I will defend"). And finally, Si quaeris peninsulam amoenam circumspice (If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you). This last totally ignores that fact that the State of Michigan consists of two large peninsulas, along with a couple of smaller ones (the "thumb" of the hand of the lower peninsula and the "tail" of the dog of the upper peninsula), and the argument could be made that there are even more (the "little finger" of the hand, for one).
Still, it's official "heraldry," however much it may be a landscape placed on a shield, and there it was, painted on the wall of the court on the upper floor of the county courthouse.
Finally, we ran across this sign (my fault, I'd made a wrong turn driving back to our hotel from the conference; a happy, I supposed, mistake) that is certainly trying to be heraldic.
It isn't, exactly, though. While it is certainly placed on a shield shape, the most heraldic part of it is a variation of the Royal crest of Great Britain (and Canada, for that matter, and New Zealand, and so on) (atop an arched crown a lion passant guardant wearing an arched crown), placed in the chief part of the shield instead of atop or above the shield (in the usual place for a crest). The fact that the arched crown and lion appear to be divided per pale is certainly a difference from the Royal crest, but the overall impression of the Royal crest is hard to avoid, and that impression may very well be exactly what they were trying to mimic.
Is there even more heraldry and heraldry-like items that I may have missed in Fort Wayne? I fully expect it, but the fact is that I was there attending a conference and didn't have a lot of time to cruise the streets looking for coats of arms, real and otherwise. Still, I think the last several posts here adequately demonstrate once more my belief that "you can find heraldry everywhere!"
Next door to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Fort Wayne, Indiana, is the MacDougal Memorial Chapel. It's a large round building, that in a way rather reminded me of the baptistery near the Duomo in Florence, Italy.
However, other than that initial impression, the two buildings are entirely different in style and decoration. And the decoration here that caught my eye were the armorial panels over the windows. There were two sets of eight shields, which were repeated as they went around the building. Here are close ups of the two sets.
The first panel is done on heater shield shapes; the second on roundels.
The top row in the first panel is, from left to right, the Holy Spirit descending the form of a dove, the crossed keys of St. Peter, the chalice and host of Communion, and three stalks of wheat bound by a ribbon. The second row is a cross couped (sometimes called a Greek cross), a grapevine fructed, three escallops (the escallop shell being a symbol of pilgrimage, particularly in reference to a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. James at Compostela, Spain), and a sword inverted entwined by a snake.
The top row in the second is another grapevine fructed, the Chi Rho, three stalks of wheat bound by a ribbon, and a chalice with a cross issuant from its bowl. The bottom row of the second panel is two fishes in saltire (heads downwards), the chalice and host again, a Latin cross surmounted by a monogram of the Greek letters alpha and omega, and a pomegranate.
As you can easily see, these are all religious symbols, many with Biblical referents. Are they "real" heraldry? I do not believe so, but they are certainly appropriate architectural elements appended to a chapel.
Lest you think that the only "heraldry" that I found in our trip to Fort Wayne, Indiana was not really heraldry at all, just across the street and around the corner from the Embassy Hotel with the heraldry-like decorative elements was the following, on the Chancery Office attached to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, a part now of the Diocese of Fort Wayne - South Bend.
What a great, clean coat of arms! Simple, easily identifiable, everything that you could want in heraldry. Of course, it got more complex when the diocese was combined with that of South Bend.
It is an unusual form of marshaling two coats of arms onto a single shield, basically Per fess in chief Fort Wayne and in base South Bend. Still, I'm not sure how else they could have done it (short of just taking some elements from each coat and combining them into a single coat of arms) given the Church's practice of using the arms of a diocese marshaled with the personal arms of the bishop as arms of office.
Still, I prefer the simpler coat of the Diocese of Fort Wayne over the marshaled coat of the Diocese of Fort Wayne - South Bend.
The big achievements of "arms" with the blank oval shields on them that I discussed in my last post were not the only "heraldry" to be found on the facade of the Embassy Hotel in Fort Wayne. Also to be found were several shields identical to this one.
While not a blank shield, I do not believe this to be real heraldry either. Were the markings on the field hatching, the blazon would be something like Per pall gules, purpure, and vert, a pall [with the upper arms oddly bowed] argent. I do not recall ever seeing a real coat of arms with a design like this. Still, at least it's not a blank shield (of any shape). (The pattern done in the brickwork is visually interesting, too.)
We recently took a little trip to Fort Wayne, Indiana followed by a drive up to the little town of Charlotte, Michigan, where my family lived fifty years ago. We were attending the Federation of Genealogy Societies annual conference in Fort Wayne, and then went to Charlotte to do some family history research. (My father used to write a column in the local weekly newspaper, but he didn't keep copies of them. Admittedly, his columns were written on a manual typewriter, and carbon paper would have been the only option to do so. I learned a while back that the local library kept bound copies of the paper and would allow me access to them as well as permit me to photograph and/or scan them. Having done that now, I've got a huge digitization project facing me.)
Anyway, this trip was a great opportunity to once again confirm my long-standing belief that you can find heraldry everywhere, even in towns the size of Charlotte, which in the most recent census had just barely over 9,000 people. ("Salute!")*
Admittedly, not all of the heraldry we found was real coats of arms. But still, even the faux heraldry serves to illustrate that the use of coat armor is alive and well.
So let me share what I ran across in our travels, good, bad, and indifferent.
First up is the first piece of faux heraldry I saw, directly across the street from the Fort Wayne convention center, on the facade of the Embassy Hotel.
As you can see, the "shield" is blank, but it is otherwise organized very much like a complete achievement of arms, with a human face taking the place of helm and crest and a foliate design with flowers serving as mantling. The shield is being supported by two bird-winged wyverns resting atop a "gas bracket" compartment. There are also two pelicans atop a pair of columns vulning themselves in the upper corners of the rectangle containing the achievement.
It's a wonderful bit of carving (several identical panels ran across two sides of the hotel) and architectural decoration, but I find it a real shame that the shields are blank when it would have been so easy to carve a real coat of arms there.
* For my foreign readers, that's a line from the old TV show "Hee Haw," which would name some usually small town in America, give its population size, and then everyone in the cornfield would salute while saying "Salute!"
In my last post I discussed the humorous "arms" made for the Senate Park Commission back in 1902. And it must be admitted that the history of attributing arms to historical persons is a long, if not necessarily venerable, one. For example, the Boke of St. Albans, the first heraldic treatise published in English back in 1486 tells us that Japheth, the son of Noah, "made first the target [shield] and therein he made a ball in token of all the world." Other authors tell us that Adam and Eve each had a coat of arms: Adam, Argent plain, or white, and Eve, Gules plain, or red. Still others portray the arms of the three Magi who visited the infant Jesus, and others still, the heraldic emblems of Jesus and even God Himself.
And so it is that, having run across this achievement of arms a little while back, I offer it to you here as being in keeping with that long tradition of attributed arms, in this particular case, from "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away."
They are, of course, the arms of Darth Vader, Lord of the Sith, with the appropriate "barred helm affronty" indicative of his rank.
Whatever the intentions of the artist, Skeeter Skye, I see the arms as quartered, with the arms of the Empire (Sable plain, or black) as an augmentation in the same way as the arms of France were quartered with the plain Gules of Charles d'Albret (d. 25 October 1415), Constable of France 1402-1411 and 1413-1415, shown here from his page on Wikipedia.
Do I take attributed arms like those of Darth Vader above seriously? No, not really, no more than I do the arms attributed to people who lived centuries before heraldry came into being. But I do think it's fun to see what ideas people come up with for arms they think might be appropriate to the characters, don't you?