Heraldry (Stemma, Arms) on Vestments: Historical Usages and Variations

As there has been an increase in both the interest in and use of stemma (arms) on vestments, it seemed like a good time to review how they were historically used in order to help inform their contemporary revival. Stemma on chasubles were done to signify either the ownership of the vestments in question or its donor/benefactor. This could either be a person (frequently a pontiff or prelate in such instances), a family (e.g. a royal or aristocratic house), a religious order (e.g. Carmelite, Franciscan, etc.), religious society or institution (e.g. a confraternity, school, etc.) or even a territory (e.g. a city).

In the case of personal arms, the vestments bore the arms of the particular ecclesiastic who owned or commissioned the vestments. 

Prelatial stemma. This chasuble would have been commissioned for or donated by the prelate whose arms are shown on the chasuble.

Chasuble with the arms of a canon

In the instance of family arms, they bore the arms of a family to whom they belonged (e.g. for use a royal or house chapel) or were donated by:

Chasuble with the arms of the Leonardi family

Chasuble with the arms of the Barberini family

In some instances, were there were no arms proper, they simply declared the donors/benefactors in a stemma like fashion. In such instances, sometimes the name or more often the initials of the donor would simply appear or other wording to describe the benefaction:

One might even see the arms of cities or other geographical territories who presumably donated the vestments to some important church:

Chasuble with the arms of the Comune di Veroli

In the same way, chasubles belonging or donated to religious orders might bear the arms of the order upon them. The same would apply to other religious societies or institutions:

Chasuble with the arms of the Order of Friars Minor (OFM)

Chasuble with the stemma of the Confraternita della Misericordia 

Two outliers to this owner / benefactor model exist that I know of. One is that it seems to have also been popular to have the arms of the reigning pope placed upon vestments during a particular pontificate, such as this example from Pisa coming from the late 19th or early 20th century which have the arms of Pope Leo XIII upon them:

The other is of a more symbolic or devotional nature, whereby a symbol, the image of a saint or other religious scene was given the same placement and often placed within a stemma like shield (a cartouche). Here, for example, is one chasuble which depicts St. Rocco and another of the Holy Face of Lucca:

There are any number of possibilities where this particular type of usage might be concerned, ranging from saintly symbols to memento mori. 

At any rate, I hope that this brief survey may be of some use to those who are looking to incorporate stemma designs into contemporary vestment work. 

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