Tuesday, February 14


Because I Have Strange Bedtime Reading Habits

From Bruno Bernard Heim's grand (if somewhat persnickety) magnum opus Heraldry in the Catholic Church: Its Origins, Customs and Laws:
In days of old, as we know, the princes of the Church often made use of the honorific emblems and insignia of secular heraldry. Thus their arms could not readily be distinguished from those of the nobility. [...] Among the secular emblems at one time allowed to adorn ecclesiastical arms was the temporal sword. It was by no means rare for bishops, abbots and even abbesses [Ecclesiastical girl power!] to bear a sword, placed in saltire with the crozier, or alone in pale behind the shield. This was the so-called temporal sword, which indicated the power of [...] high justice granted to prelates in their territories by temporal sovereigns.
It seems some of these swords survived well past their theoretical expiration date; the Abbots Nullius of Einsiedeln, Princes of the Holy Roman Empire, and by no means present-day temporal sovereigns, used one in their coat of arms well into the twentieth century.
The sword behind their shields was the symbol of this power. Since the secularisation of ecclesiastical principalities this custom has ceased entirely and the sword has disappeared from ecclesiastical arms; no regret need be felt at its passing.
Well, maybe a little regret. Like mitred abbesses, speaking of girl power: likely to confuse folks, somewhat peripheral, but fun while they lasted.

Heim later appends an extraordinary achievement of arms which perch a mitre on one corner of the shield and a crested helm on the other. Though this is not so bizarre (and, may I say, starkly POD) as the churchman who, instead of an ill-placed knightly helmet and mantling beneath his galero with a memento mori skull surrounded by writhing snakes!

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