November 30, 2012

Archbishop Tobin reflects on his coat of arms and its meaning

By Mary Ann Garber

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin's coat of armsFinding humor in daily life situations comes easily for Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, the new shepherd of the Church in central and southern Indiana.

During an Oct. 18 interview with The Criterion after the press conference announcing his appointment, Archbishop Tobin discussed his coat of arms and the meanings of some of the heraldic symbols displayed on it next to the other half of the shield, which is the archdiocese’s coat of arms.

“On one side, there are three oak leaves, which is a rather pretentious symbol of the Tobins,” he said. “The Irish are as poor as church mice, but [many families] have their own coat of arms.”

Also depicted on his coat of arms is a gilded lily.

“The lily should not be seen as a symbol for the New Orleans Saints,” Archbishop Tobin said, smiling. “In heraldry, the gilded lily is a symbol for St. Joseph,” his patron saint.

A processional cross with five red gemstones above the shield represents the five wounds of Christ, and another cross on a green hill with a spear and sponge represent the Crucifixion on Calvary.


Definitions explain the parts of a bishop’s coat of arms
Impalement—The joining of two coats of arms side by side.
Dexter—The right-hand side of the shield, which is on the viewer’s left.
Sinister—While sinister in heraldry means “left-handed,” on a coat of arms this is the right hand of the viewer. The right hand of the shield is the left hand of the viewer.
Azure in chief—Azure is a name for one shade of the color blue. The word comes from the Old French and Middle English languages.
Chief—The top of the shield.
Base—The bottom of the shield.
Sinister base quarter—The left-hand bottom quarter of the shield.
Dexter base quarter—The right-hand bottom quarter of the shield.
Charges—Figures on a colored field.
External embellishments—A type of ornamentation surrounding the shield, such as tassels.

Description of the coat of arms of Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R.

In the Roman Catholic Church’s heraldic tradition, the coat of arms of a metropolitan archbishop is normally composed of:

  • a shield with its charges or symbols coming from family, geographic, religious and historical meanings, and/or referred to the name of the archbishop;
  • a golden processional cross with two traversal bars to represent the rank of the archbishop “impaled” vertically behind the shield;
  • a green hat, called a “galero,” with 20 attached tassels—10 tassels on each side;
  • a pallium with small black crosses;
  • a scroll with the bishop’s episcopal motto written in black below everything.

Archbishop Tobin’s coat of arms also features a gothic shape shield and processional cross with five red gemstones symbolic of the five wounds of Christ.

Episcopal motto—“Gaudete in Domino,” which means “Rejoice in the Lord,” from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, Chapter 4, verse 4, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!”

Interpretation—In the right side of the shield—the observer’s left, being that in the heraldic shield one needs to consider the right and the left from the perspective of the soldier who, in ancient times, held his own shield—we find represented the coat of arms of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

It consists of a blue (azure) cross on a gold field. Here the fleur de lis symbolizes the faith brought to this area by French missionaries.

The fish and trident recall the Native Americans of this region, who spoke Algonquin, which means “at the place of spearing fish.”

The gold is considered the most noble metal in heraldry, and is the symbol of the first virtue, the faith. It is by the faith that we can comprehend the message of salvation of our Lord.

The silver (argent) is the symbol of the transparency then of the justice and truth, fundamental dowries on which the bishop articulates his pastoral service.

The cross between the perch with the sponge, spear and mount represent the Crucifixion on Calvary, and the green (vert) color recalls the hope and virtue which hold us in the pilgrimage toward salvation.

These figures come from the coat of arms of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists), which Archbishop Tobin joined in the early 1970s.

The three oak leaves come from the crest of the Tobin family; beside this, the oak in heraldry is the symbol of strength, the strength which is necessary to follow the word of God to reach, at the end of our pilgrimage on Earth, the salvation of our souls. The leaves of oak stand on a blue (azure) field; this color symbolizes the separation from the worldly values and the ascent of the soul toward God, therefore the run of the celestial virtues which raise themselves from the things of the Earth toward the sky.

The fleur de lis is a classical symbol of the iconography of St. Joseph, the baptismal name of the archbishop, on a red (gules) field: this color symbolizes the love and the blood, the Love of the Father who sent the Son to shed His blood for us.

A sign of rank—A bishop’s coat of arms is distinguished by a sign of his rank. That sign, placed over the shield, is a particular version of an ecclesiastical hat that was worn in processions as late as 1870.

The hat is low-crowned, flat and has a wide brim. On a bishop’s coat of arms, the hat is green, and hanging from it are 20 green tassels, 10 on each side.

There is also a processional cross above the shield. The cross on a bishop’s coat of arms has one bar, and an archbishop’s cross has two bars.

The design of the shield itself differs from bishop to bishop. †

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