Reflecting on 21 Centuries of Faith

Ecclesial Heraldry: Archbishops and Bishops

Heraldry also demonstrates the rank of a prelate.  The following is a summary of the heraldry for Archbishops and Bishops from the Web Site Heraldica:

Archbishops and Bishops

The first marks of their rank was the crosier, and later the mitre. Bishops began using the hat in the late 16th c., and the use quickly spread, the number of tassels increasing over time. The current use, defined by the Congregation of the Ceremonial in 1832, is as follows:

  • Patriarchs. Primates, Archbishops: green hat with 4 rows, patriarchal cross in pale behind the shield.
  • Fiochetti Prelates (4 Officers of the Apostolic Chamber: Vice-Camerlingo, General Auditor, General Treasurer, Majordomo of His Holiness): purple hat with 4 rows of red tassels
  • Bishops: green hat with 3 rows, simple cross.
  • Apostolic Proto-notaries, various prelates of the Papal household, vicars-general: purple hat with 3 rows of various colors.
  • Apostolic prefects, canons of basilicas, major cathedrals: black hat with 3 rows of various colors.

In Italy, the hat completely replaced the mitre but in France, bishops often added on top of the shield (and below the hat) a mitre in dexter and a crosier in sinister. In the 18th c., archbishops often used 5 rows and bishops 4 rows.

Bishops with temporal powers usually indicated them in some fashion. In Germany, a crosier and a sword were placed in saltire behind the shield, and helmets bearing crests were placed on it. In France, the 6 (later 7) ecclesiastical peers placed the coronet of their title under the hat, and a peer’s mantle behind the achievement. But other bishops held titles as well, such as count or baron, and used the appropriate coronet. The bishop of Le Puy was count of Velay and traditionally placed a sword in pale behind the shield. Otherwise, coronets indicating personal or family titles were prohibited in 1915.

Arms of the bishop of Rimini (Italy)

In Napoleonic heraldry prelates added the toque of their ranks (archbishops were counts, bishops were barons).

A decision of Dec 19, 1644 prohibited cardinals from exhibiting any secular dignities in the exterior ornaments of their arms. A decree of Jan 15, 1915 extended this decision and prohibited bishops from displaying any marks of personal nobility. A decree of May 12, 1951 prohibits all insignia of secular dignities, even those attached to the see or the function. The insignia of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and the Order of the Holy Sepulcher are exempt.

An instruction of April 13, 1969 abolished the use of the crozier and mitre.

One Response to Ecclesial Heraldry: Archbishops and Bishops

  1. Joe says:

    So the two higher ranks of Monsignor can use the hat with tassels? Interesting

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