Excerpt from the book




       Written and illustrated by

          Carl Alexander von Volborth , K.St.J., A.I.H.

                    Copenhagen 1973


       Internet version edited by   Andrew Andersen, Ph.D.







Ecclesiastical Heraldry

(pp. 168-176 and 237-238)



In the early days of heraldry, in the twelfth century, seals were already in use among bishops and other princes of the Church, and it was not long before they began to include coats of arms and other heraldic devices in them. The insignia of their ecclesiastical office, such as the bishop’s mitre and the cross-staff and crosier, were frequently used. Eventually the prelate’s hat was also used in the system devised by the Catholic Church to indicate the rank of the holder. The triple coronet called the tiara is the Pope’s special crown (Figs 868, 875, 879 and 899). It was originally a tall, pointed, white hat combined with a coronet or open crown, which together stood for the Pope’s authority as a secular prince. Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1303) added one more crown and Clement V (1305-14) yet another. At the back hang two ribbons (‘infulae’), as a rule white with gold ornamentation (white and yellow are the papal colours), or yellow with red or purple decoration. The first pope to bear the tiara together with his family arms was John XXII (1316-34).


In the blazonry of the Catholic Church the bishop’s mitre is used and borne by cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops, abbots and certain others. It is also used in the Anglican Church (Figs 237, 870 and 880) and in several other Protestant Churches (p. 176). Nowadays a bishop’s mitre is usually reproduced in white or yellow with stones of various colours and with ribbons in corresponding colours.

The heraldic use of the flat prelate’s hat of the Catholic Church with its cords and tassels can be traced back to the fourteenth century. For the next couple of centuries there were only two sorts: the red hat of the cardinal (Fig. 464) and the black of the papal protonotary. Gradually more were added and in 1833 the system now in force was laid down: Cardinals have red hats with fifteen tassels on each side (Fig. 883). Patriarchs, archbishops and bishops have green hats, patriarchs with fifteen tassels on each side (Fig. 890), archbishops with ten (Fig. 889), and bishops with six (Fig. 891). There are also a large number of black and purple hats with numbers of tassels down to one on each side, a selection of which is shown on pp. 174 and 175.


Other Catholic badges of office and rank are the crossed keys, the crosier and various types of cross-staff. Both crosiers and cross-staffs are also used in non-Catholic churches (p. 176).








The two crossed keys, ‘St Peter’s keys’, are first and foremost the device of the Pope. Together with the tiara they make up the arms of the Vatican City and are also included in the arms of a large number of existing or former papal possessions (for example in the civic arms of Naestvaed in Denmark, which in the Middle Ages came within the jurisdiction of the local monastery of St Peter). Nowadays one of the keys is usually gold and the other silver, tied with a red cord. Together with another item of papal insignia, an object resembling an umbrella and called an ombrellino, they are borne by families who have had a member on the papal throne, and also by certain institutions.


The crosier or shepherd’s crook in gold is borne by bishops and abbots (Figs 887 and 893), by priors, usually in silver - sometimes in a different shape. On the crosier of an abbot or prior there is usually a piece of silk, a ‘sudarium’ (Fig. 877) or napkin, intended to soak up the dampness of the hand. When bishops do not bear a sudarium it is because their vestments include ceremonial gloves.

The cross-staff is borne by bishops (Fig. 891): archbishops also have it, but with the arms of the cross doubled. The colour is usually gold.


A pallium is a broad pall worn over both shoulders. It is the symbol of office for functioning archbishops (as compared with titular archbishops) and in more recent heraldry is sometimes shown as an adjunct to the coat of arms (Fig. 888). In England a pallium is included in the arms of the province of Canterbury (see Fig. 880).