Examples of the Traditional Art of Heraldry on Vestments

In a recent article, I commented on matter of heraldry in relation to vestments and how there has been a revival of this practice today. By way of brief explanation, since this tradition is not familiar to all, heraldry was frequently placed upon the vestments of popes and prelates, either as a way of denoting the particular ownership of the vestments, as a historical marker of sorts, or they may have also been presented as a gift to the pope/prelate in question. While this might see strange to those new to this tradition, the practice of placing heraldry on vestments is little different than placing the arms of the bishop on his cathedra, cathedral facade, or any other such manifestations tied to the authority of his office. Beyond particular individuals, the arms of religious orders were also frequently featured, as were the arms of patronal families where they formed a part of the sacristy of the chapel of a noble or royal house.

One of the struggles in our own time, however, is that we have a tendency to desire quick turnaround times and low costs -- and that leads to shortcuts. As such, very often the heraldry that appears on vestments today comes in the form of machine embroidered 'patches' that are then affixed to the vestment(s). The problem with these is that they often look of low quality and one can tell it is merely something affixed to a vestment -- instead of being something which has been forged into an integral part of the vestment and its design, unified, integrated and in harmony with the whole.

The traditional art of heraldry on vestments is, of course, one of the art of hand embroidery, frequently also employing techniques which gave some three dimensionality to them.  The end result was something which was sat in harmony with the rest of the design, neither standing out too much, nor looking like something merely 'tacked on.'

To help inspire some of our current and up-and-coming liturgical artists (as well as some of our prelates and patrons) I thought I would share a few examples of the traditional art so they might serve as an inspiration and a template for future work in this area. Surely if a thing like this is worth doing at all (and I believe it is), it is worth doing it well.

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