Coat of arms of Pope Benedict XVI

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Coat of arms of Pope Benedict XVI
Coat of Arms of Benedictus XVI.svg
ArmigerBenedict XVI

The personal papal coat of arms of Pope Benedict XVI was designed by Archbishop Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo (who was later created a Cardinal) soon after the papal election in 2005.


The shape of the shield varies from artist to artist. In the official rendering of the coat of arms of Pope Benedict XVI the shape chosen is that of a chalice.


The blazon (the written description, in terminology peculiar to heraldry, of the contents of the coat of arms) given on the Vatican website is as follows:

Gules, chape ployé Or, with the scallop shell Or; the dexter chape with a moor's head Proper, crowned and collared Gules, the sinister chape a bear trippant (*passant) Proper, carrying a pack Gules belted Sable.'

This means, in non-technical English:

A red shield mantled in gold and with a gold scallop shell; the right (for the bearer of the shield, the left for the viewer) part of the mantle has the head of a moor in her natural colour (brown) wearing a red crown and red collar; the left part of the mantle has a walking bear in its natural colour (brown) carrying a red pack tied with black bands.

Note 1. A mantle outside the shield does not normally contain charges (an heraldic term for objects). Within the shield, as here, it is a religious symbol, and indicates ideals inspired in monastic spirituality.[citation needed] It is also a reference to the Order of Saint Benedict.


Coat of Arms of Joseph Ratzinger, as cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church

The charges of the arms — the Moor's head, Corbinian's bear, and scallop — appeared on Ratzinger's previous coat of arms, used when he was Archbishop of Munich and Freising. However, they relate not only to his origins, but also to his trust in God, as well his calling to spread this faith to others.

Scallop shell[edit]

The symbolism of the scallop shell is multiple. Saint Augustine is said to have been walking along the seashore, meditating on the unfathomable mystery of the Holy Trinity. A boy was using a shell to pour sea water into a little hole. When Augustine asked him what he was doing, he replied, "I am emptying the sea into this hole." Thus did Augustine understand that man would never penetrate to the depths of the mystery of God. While a doctoral candidate in 1953, Fr. Joseph Ratzinger wrote his dissertation on The People of God and the House of God in Augustine's Teaching is always about the Church, and the shell therefore has a personal connection with the thought of this great Doctor of the Church.

The scallop shell is also an allusion to the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. In the Roman Catholic Church, a sea shell is often used to pour water over the head of the child being baptized. Thus, a sea shell is used to evoke the imagery of this rite which is fundamental to the Christian life.

The shell also stands for pilgrimage. When topped with a scallop shell a pilgrim's staff, or "Jacob's staff", is the sign of a pilgrim. In Church art it is a symbol of the apostle Saint James the Great, and his sanctuary at Santiago de Compostela in Spain, perhaps the principal place of pilgrimage during the Middle Ages. This symbol also alludes to "the pilgrim people of God", a title for the Church which Joseph Ratzinger championed at the Second Vatican Council as peritus (theological adviser) to Cardinals Josef Frings of Cologne and Julius Döpfner of Munich-Freising (his episcopal predecessor). When he became Archbishop he took the shell in his coat of arms. It is also found in the insignia of the Schottenkloster in Regensburg, where the major seminary of that diocese is located, a place where Benedict taught as a professor of theology.

Finally, the pilgrimage symbolism of the shell may also refer both to the reconfigured role of the pope as not only ruler, but also pilgrim among the peoples and nations of the world. Pope Paul VI—who created Joseph Ratzinger as a cardinal in 1977—was often called the "Pilgrim Pope" for his ground-breaking travels to the Holy Land, India, the United States, Colombia, the Philippines, and elsewhere. This precedent was greatly elaborated upon by Pope John Paul II with his historic trips, numbering over a hundred. As a result, Benedict may be paying homage to these men and the new role for the papacy.

Moor of Freising[edit]

Moor's head of Freising, from the coat of arms of the Prince-Bishopric of Freising.

The Moor's head is a heraldic charge associated with Wörth, Upper Bavaria, Germany. The origin of the Moor's head in Freising is not entirely known. Typically facing to the heraldic right, the viewer's left (dexter in heraldic terms) and depicted in natural brown colour caput Aethiopum (literally "Ethiopian head") with red lips, crown and collar. This is the ancient emblem of the Diocese of Freising, founded in the 8th century, which became a Metropolitan Archdiocese with the name of München und Freising in 1818, subsequent to the Concordat between Pius VII and King Maximilian Joseph of Bavaria (5 June 1817).

The Moor's head is fairly common in European heraldry. It still appears today in the arms of Sardinia and Corsica, as well as in the blazons of various noble families. Italian heraldry, however, usually depicts the Moor wearing a white band around his head instead of a crown, indicating a slave who has been freed; whereas in German heraldry the Moor is shown wearing a crown. The Moor's head is common in the Bavarian tradition and is known as the caput Ethiopicum or the Moor of Freising.[1]

Corbinian's bear[edit]

A legend states that while traveling to Rome, Saint Corbinian's pack horse was killed by a bear. He commanded the bear to carry the load. Once he arrived, he released it from his service, and it returned to Bavaria. The implication is that "Christianity tamed and domesticated the ferocity of paganism and thus laid the foundations for a great civilization in the Duchy of Bavaria."[2] At the same time, Corbinian's bear, as God's beast of burden, symbolizes the weight of office that Benedict carried.

External ornaments[edit]

The coat of arms of the Holy See.
Banner of the Swiss Guard, with the coat-of-arms of Pope Benedict XVI modified to include the papal tiara.

Traditionally, a pope's coat of arms was externally adorned only by the three-tiered papal tiara with lappets and the crossed keys of Saint Peter with a cord. No other objects nor a motto was added. The tiara represented the roles of authority of the pope, while the keys represent the power to loose and bind on heaven and earth (Matt 16:19). Pope Benedict's arms maintain the keys, but replace the tiara with a mitre and add a pallium. However, the tiara and keys remain the symbol of the papacy, and appear on the coat of arms of the Holy See and (reversed) on the flag of Vatican City.


In Pope Benedict's arms, the tiara is replaced with a silver mitre with three gold stripes.[3] These stripes recall the three crowns of the tiara, which came to represent the three powers of the Bishop of Rome: Orders, Jurisdiction and Magisterium. The stripes preserve that meaning and are joined at the centre to show their unity in the same person. Coincidentally, the three stripes and the vertical stripe in the center of the mitre also forms the Chinese character for “sovereign” (王).


The pallium with red crosses is also a new addition.[3] It represents a bishop's role of being pastor of the flock entrusted to him by Christ. The form of the pallium included in the coat of arms recalls that used by metropolitan archbishops (but with black crosses) rather than the much larger pallium worn by Pope Benedict at his inauguration.

Early controversy[edit]

Some[specify] have voiced objection to Pope Benedict's use of the mitre and pallium in his coat of arms, and the absence of the traditional papal tiara.

Their arguments include:

  • The use of mitres in the personal arms of cardinals and bishops was banned by an instruction of the Holy See in April 1969.[4] Previously a crozier and mitre were used as external ornaments, being placed behind the shield, beneath the clerical hat, the galero.[5][6]
Pope's arms with a tiara, Vatican Garden

Regardless of the validity of such arguments, the Pope, as supreme legislator and interpreter of Church law,[7] had full authority to decide the form of his armorial bearings.

Some[specify] claimed that Benedict's arms could still properly be rendered with the tiara and keys and without the pallium. This was done in the Vatican gardens behind St. Peter's Basilica, viewable from atop the dome. Shortly after the death of John Paul II, the contents of his shield were removed from the flowerbed, but the tiara was left in place. After the election of Benedict XVI, the gardeners put the design of the new Pope's arms within the shield, but rather than digging up the flowers depicting the tiara and replacing them with a mitre design, they left the tiara in place and omitted the pallium.

Later controversy[edit]

In a 2013 interview, Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, designer of the coat of arms, said that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI needed a new coat of arms now that he was no longer the pontiff. “The problem now is whether the Pope Emeritus can keep that same coat of arms or not,”. “And as a person who has always dedicated himself to this, I say ‘no,’”. He drew up a new coat of arms, which he believed could be used now by the former pontiff. He moved the big keys of Saint Peter from the back of the coat of arms to the top part of the shield and made them much smaller. “But this is only a proposal, it isn’t official,” Montezemolo qualified.[8]


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-01-10. Retrieved 2013-05-18.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ "The bear and the scallop-shell — a unique papal coat of arms". Catholic World News. 27 April 2005. Retrieved 5 January 2007.
  3. ^ a b Glatz, Carol (2005-05-18). "Pope drops papal crown from coat of arms, adds miter, pallium". Catholic News Service. Retrieved 2012-03-23.
  4. ^ "Instruction on the Dress, Titles, and Coat-of-Arms of Cardinals, Bishops, and Lesser Prelates". The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church. Salvador Miranda via FIU. April 17, 1969. Retrieved 2012-03-23. 28. The use of coats-of-arms by Cardinals and Bishops is permitted. The shield of the coat-of-arms must be simple and clear. The use of the crozier and mitre in the coat-of-arms is suppressed.
  5. ^ Ecclesiastical Heraldry Archived March 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ An example of an episcopal coat-of-arms ensigned with mitre and crozier, curiously granted a few months after the official exclusion of these ornaments, is that of Bishop Colin A. MacPherson of Argyll and the Isles Archived August 3, 2016, at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ John P. Beal, James A. Coriden, Thomas J. Green, New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law (Paulist Press 2002 ISBN 9780809140664), p. 71
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 26 April 2016. Retrieved 2013-05-05.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)

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