Papal Heraldry: Versions of Coat-of-Arms of Benedict XVI

Version by Hyacinthe de Keranrouë

Heraldry is the art and science of blazoning and emblazoning armorial bearings, and the use, display, meaning, and descriptions in special terminology of coats-of-arms. Of particular interest to some Catholics is papal armory in the sacred liturgy (specifically, when emblazoned on vestments). Indeed, ecclesiastical heraldry is a subdivision of heraldry with special insignia to denote ecclesiastical dignity, rank, and office. The charges, terms, and forms of heraldry are rich with rules, symbolisms, and traditions that safeguard the meanings behind the arms. 

Arms detail - cope donated to Benedict XVI

There are many different versions of the coats-of-arms of each pope, including Pope Benedict XVI. And this is okay. Yes, there is generally an "official" version, but there have always been many different renditions of this version. Unfortunately, in recent years the heraldic rules concerning ecclesiastical arms have not always been obeyed or stringently followed. The arms should not be designed as a simple pictograph or something to be twisted for whatever aim or purpose. Heraldry is a science and an art. The design of ecclesiastical heraldry should thus only be entrusted to those thoroughly familiar with the highly technical rules governing armorial bearings. Heraldry is a complicated study and should be kept far from ideologues who seek to further their own agendas contrary to the time-honored traditions of the Church.  

Because of the rank and dignity that goes with the Petrine office, everything done with the artistic design aspects of ecclesiastical papal arms ought to be protected with the utmost care and propriety. A coat-of-arms, if it is to be proposed, ought always to be rightly in accordance with tradition and the rules of heraldry prescribed long ago by the Holy See. The tiara has always been and remains appropriate to papal heraldry and is most popular amongst people in the know.   

In 2005 when Pope Benedict was presented his new arms, it was clearly a computer deign version (see image below), totally lacking in artistic merit. There was one serious and glaring change to the artistic representation -- the papal tiara was replaced with a mitre. This highlights a certain interpretation of episcopal collegiality (that for some unfortunately completely ignores papal primacy). This new distortion of the papal arms has therefore become a point of contention. It was the creation of Cardinal Montezemolo, the same prelate who said after Benedict retired in 2013 that he needed yet another new coat-of-arms, which the Cardinal took to himself to promptly draw up, a proposal that was totally unqualified and rightly ignored.   

In conclusion, a few of the versions below display not a tiara or mitre, but the "camelaucum," an ancient cap exclusive to the use of popes. It later developed into the mitre for bishops and also eventually had three crowns added for the Roman Pontiffs. This symbol remains a uniquely papal heraldic emblem when decorated with the three crowns added for the popes.  

Official version of the arms of Benedict XVI

Version by Marco Foppoli

Artist unknown

Arms by Maurizio Bettoja

Arms by Matthew Alderman

Arms by Ars Regia

Arms by Unknown Roman Artist

Arms by Pasamanerias y Bordados

Arms by Anatole Upart

Arms by Vatican Garden Engineers

Arms by Unknown Artist

Arms by Unknown Artist

Arms by Unknown Artist

Arms by Unknown Vatican Artist

Arms by Michael McCarthy

Arms by Unknown Roman Artist

Arms by Unknown Artist

Arms by Unknown Artist

Arms by Anatole Upart

Flag by Pontifical Swiss Guard

Arms by Saint Bede Studio

Arms by Tridentinum

Arms by unknown artist

Arms by R/Heraldry

Arms on titular church in Rome

Arms of the Ven. Cappella Giulia della Sac. Basilica Vaticana 

Arms close-up of crest


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