The Heraldry of Sacred Music (Part II)...

Author: Duane L.C.M. Galles


Persons in the Armorial Musical Alphabet

by Duane L.C.M. Galles

The armorial musical alphabet contains a seemingly endless number of devices and emblems with which to decorate, support, and ensign the armorial shield. The heraldic alphabet is not limited to eight or twelve tones or to twenty-six letters. It is considerably more varied. It consists of simple and somewhat abstract charges like the bend, the chevron, and the cross. At the same time it includes a rich variety of elements drawn from the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms as well as devices plucked from the celestial realm. Music, too, has made her contribution.

The armorial musical alphabet in fact begins on high. The venerable musician, Joannis Tinctoris (c. 1435-1511), assured us that (Christ is the supreme musician). The lyre, he adds, personifies Christ, who in sounding His psalm of praise to the Father, frees man to rise from the dead. Indeed, one might gloss this passage of Tinctoris to add that the harmony which exists between the Three Persons of the Trinity typifies the harmony of sound which is music.

In general, heraldry prefers abstract devices for use on armorial shields, since these are more "readable" at a distance. The more realistic human figures tend to be confined to crests and to supporters of the shield in British heraldry. Yet the traditional emblem of the Trinity is occasionally met on armorial bearings. This is the familiar Trinitarian emblem consisting of a pale or "Y" set upon a border charged with four roundels, one at the center of the pale and one at the end of each arm of it. Those reared on the Baltimore catechism and others familiar with it will recall that the central roundel is charged with the word , and the others with the words . Between the roundels on each of the pale's arms is the Latin word . On the border are the words, . to indicate the Trinity's distinction of persons and unity of substance. This emblem is known as the or arms of faith. Against a red field this black on white Trinitarian emblem was borne as an armorial banner by King Henry V of England at the battle of Agincourt in 1415. The Black Canons located near the Aldgate, London, also bore this Trinitarian device on a blue field as the common armorial bearings of their priory. As an appropriate pun it appears in the arms granted in 1951 to the Anglican diocese of Trinidad and Tobago in the West Indies.

The cross of Christ is one of the oldest heraldic charges and it appears in heraldry in countless varieties. It is, however, a symbol rather than a depiction of Christ. But figures of Christ, too, are sometimes encountered in armory. The English diocese of Chichester bears on a blue field a figure of Christ seated in majesty while the royal burgh of Inverness in Scotland bears a figure of Christ on a cross upon a red field. This shield is then supported by a pair of camels, recalling perhaps those of the Magi who were present at His first epiphany.

It was the Franciscans who wrought a sea change in the christological devotional climate of western Christendom and this affected armory, too. Stressing Christ's humanity, the Franciscans introduced devotions such as the creche and the way of the cross. The latter devotional practice led to the introduction into armory of the instruments of Christ's passion. The plain cross was now thought insufficient to evoke the intensity of His passion. In heraldry the instruments of the passion are called the or arms of salvation. Besides the cross they include the crown of thorns, the nails, the lance, the sponge, the pillar of , and the flagellum or whip, all of which need not necessarily appear together on the same coat. However, the Franciscan vice-custody of Cambridge in the thirteenth century did employ all of the instruments of salvation-save the pillar of flagellation-on its armorial bearings.

Our Lady sang her and the Church early adopted this canticle of praise into the liturgy. Today it invariably still forms part of the evening prayer of the Latin Church and formerly a Marian hymn such as , , , or formed part of vespers, too.

Our Lady forms the main charge on the armorial bearings of the diocese of Salisbury, England, where she stands carrying the Holy Child against a blue shield. Similar arms are borne by the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, except that there the blue field is appropriately strewn with the golden lilies derived from the ancient French royal arms.

The greater London borough of Marylebone anciently bore as a crest what must be a Marian figure, despite its non-descript blazon (or literary description). This speaks merely of a "female figure" in a white gown and blue mantle carrying a child dressed in golden attire with halos about the head of each. Clearly, these are canting arms and the figure of the Madonna makes a pun on the borough's name.

The Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Roxbury, Massachusetts, bears a stylized figure of Our Lady of Perpetual Help on its armorial bearings designed by the celebrated Benedictine heraldist, Dom Wilfrid Bayne. Atop the shield is the red and yellow or umbrella indicative of the church's rank as a minor basilica.

If the Queen of the Angels has her armorial niche, so too do the angels themselves. These spiritual beings in heraldry take on human form. In English heraldry they often are drawn in female form whereas in French heraldry they exhibit male characteristics.

Their most famous armorial use is perhaps as supporters of the French royal arms where they stand holding the royal shield vested in alb and tabard, a dalmatic-like vestment which is charged with the French royal arms, viz., three golden lilies on a blue field. A similar pair of angels, habited in dalmatics of advent purple with golden orphreys, are supporters of the shield of the Episcopalian Cathedral of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama.

The heavenly choirs of angels form no undifferentiated breed. They are divided into nine choirs, each of which is set forth in the Latin (but not in the ICEL English) text of the fourth lenten preface of the reformed Vatican II missal. These nine choirs include the Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominations, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels and Angels.

It is the Seraphim who surround the Throne of Grace, ceaselessly intoning the , the "holy, holy, holy." As Aurelian of Reome (fl. 850) reminds us, the sanctus of the Seraphim is the original of all earthly liturgy and our song of praise does but feebly ape theirs. In heraldry the Seraphim are depicted with six wings. The Cherubim rank next and are distinguished by their four wings. In them reposes divine Wisdom. Sir Thomas Chaloner, who was governor to Henry, Prince of Wales, and son of James I, bore a chevron between three Cherubim, all gold, on a black field. The Thrones are agents of divine justice and they are often shown holding a scale.

The second triad of angelic choirs begins with the Dominations who represent the divine majesty. They therefore wear royal crowns, robes and sceptres. The Virtues work miracles on earth and bestow grace and valor. Appropriately, they bear a pyx, a vessel holding the sacred Host, symbol of the greatest miracle. The Powers frustrate the knavish tricks of the devil and, hence, are represented armed for battle and holding a sword. Since all just authority comes from God, the Principalities are deputed to protect religion and princes and other heads of state. Thus they are depicted wearing crowns and carrying drawn swords.

The Archangels are seven in number and serve as divine ambassadors plenipotentiary. Raphael, Gabriel and Michael, whose feast is now celebrated together on September 29, are the most frequently represented of the "herald angels." Traditionally Angels are depicted in heraldry vested in an alb and cincture. The apparels or orphreys of the alb may be blazoned a separate color as may be the orphreys of the amice, which is the cloth worn about the neck to absorb moisture. Since Angels form the heavenly choir, they sometimes appear having donned the surplice, the traditional choir vestment, and they may add a scarf or tippet, a choir vestment devised to guard the neck against the winter cold during the long choral offices.

Ordinary mortals sometimes appear in heraldry and among those forming part of the armorial musical alphabet are the traditional makers of sacred music. The middle ages distinguished sharply between the operative and speculative musicians. The former was the cantor; the latter was the . The practical musician was the cantor, the human voice retaining its pre-eminence until the time of the renaissance. The cantor would, moreover, have included three , canons, choristers, and choir boys.

The canons were those clerics who were members of a chapter or college of canons serving a cathedral or collegiate church. As canon 503 of the Latin reminds us today, chapters of canons are established to perform the more solemn liturgical functions. Traditionally this has included the singing of a daily solemn conventual Mass and the singing of the liturgy of the hours. Headed by a dean, provost, or archpriest, the chapter officer in charge of liturgical offices was the precentor or first chanter who was often assisted by a succentor or sub-chanter.

The female of this species is worthy of special mention. These are the canonesses. While the church has never admitted women to the priestly ministry of the altar, from the very earliest days of the Church women have formed part of the prophetic ministry of prayer, like the widow before the unjust judge of the parable "praying ceaselessly." Arising out of the ancient orders of widows and virgins were the canonesses, women who maintained a ministry of public prayer living "according to the canons" (hence their name) but without vows or a religious habit or rule. By the early middle ages many foundations of canonesses became quite wealthy and their leader or abbess often enjoyed a vote in church synods and councils and a seat in the imperial diet. Sometimes such abbesses ranked as secular magnates and also had the right to pontificals, the crozier and mitre. To forward their ministry of music, canonesses often established schools of music. They were among the leading practitioners of Gregorian chant.

By the late middle ages chapters of canons had often co-opted a number of choristers who might be clerics or clerks in minor orders. These were sometimes called vicars choral. Choristers might also be lay men and often these were simply called "song men." Generally it was the choristers who enabled a church to perform polyphonic music. For the higher voices a group of choir boys was often engaged. Music was taught by apprenticeship and boys graduating from the local grammar school who showed some promise and had a good voice were often recruited by cathedral and collegiate churches to become musical apprentices and assist in the sacred music.

In heraldry choristers and choir boys appear most frequently as armorial supporters. For example, two choir boys, vested in surplice and red cassock, serve as supporters of the arms of the Saint Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue in New York City. A choir boy also appears in the crest of the arms of Keith Lovell, a music teacher. His crest consists of a demi-figure of a youth habited in an alb and amice and playing a recorder. Here it might be noted that members of the Pueri Cantores (), the international and papally-approved boy choristers, have traditionally worn an alb and cincture and about the neck a small wooden cross. Before Vatican II ordered that "choirs be assiduously developed" there were over a hundred groups of Pueri Cantores in Canada. If any of them survives today and wishes a grant of arms from the new Canadian heraldic authority, created June 4, 1988, so clad would provide a most appropriate crest for their armorial heraldry.

The was the speculative musician or the musical theoretician in the medieval view who had studied the statutory texts at university. Music was included in the classical and generally the required reading for a music degree was Boethius's treatise, . Salamanca University possessed Europe's oldest chair of music, but apparently its incumbent enjoyed a lower status than the professors of other subjects since only the music professor was permitted to lecture in the vernacular. In England the degrees of bachelor of music and doctor of music began to be conferred by the late fifteenth century. The brilliant red of the gown of a doctor of music would surely make a most impressive figure as a supporter of the arms of some venerable lay church musician or church music organization.

(clothes do not make the man). Yet it is appearances which produce symbols and distinctive attire distinguishes one figure from another. This points out the importance in armory of certain church vestments that have musical associations. For the most part these are the special vestments of canons and canonesses. In the medieval and early modern period these persons were specially deputed by the Church for choir duty and their choir dress, originally merely functional, ended up as a distinctive privilege. This distinctive dress includes the , the mozzetta, the amess or almutia, the rochet, the biretta, and a special pectoral cross. Moreover, some chapters of canons were privileged to wear distinctive colors, usually red or purple.

But the story really begins with the all, the long white linen garment which in the early Church was the ordinary dress of secular clerics. With the spread of the Latin Church to more northerly climes, it became the custom to wear under the alb for warmth during the long winter choral offices in cold unheated churches a garment made of sheepskin. The bulk of the sheepskin tended to make the alb appear shortened and in time this garment came to be called what it literally was, a or "over- skin." Turned into the vernacular, one has "surplice" and it became the usual choir dress (along with the cassock) in the Latin Church. Clerics and others in choir who enjoyed no special privilege wore the surplice over the cassock.

Some canons, however, were privileged to wear the rochet or close-fitting surplice of a prelate. In the Roman Church the rochet had fitted sleeves and also a silk lining of the same color as the wearer's cassock behind the lace of the cuffs. Distinguished chapters of canons privileged to wear the in winter wear it over the rochet. In summer, if they enjoy no other special privilege, they cover their rochet with a cotta, which is but a diminutive of the surplice.

This last practice perhaps explains the curious privilege conceded by Leo XIII to the canons of the cathedral of his native Perugia. They were privileged to wear two surplices at one time. Presumably they in fact wore a cotta over a surplice and this gave them a certain precedence after those canons privileged to wear the cotta or surplice over their rochet and above those canons who wore only a cotta or surplice over their cassock.

Canonesses also wore the rochet and, until 1967, the Augustinian canonesses regular of the Hotel Dieu in Quebec wore the rochet as a part of their choir dress.

The sleeve or maunch is a frequently-used armorial device and on the continent it is often found in coat armour equipped with a pocket for a book which could be a songbook. Viewed as the sleeve of a surplice, it might fittingly be borne as the armorial device of a college of choristers or vicars choral.

Distinguished chapters of canons were conceded the use of the , the long, poncho-like, violet, woollen garment covering the torso and equipped with an ermine cape. Unlike major prelates, canons usually wear theirs folded and curtailed. Traditionally when a collegiate church was raised to the rank of minor basilica, its canons got the privilege of the violet , which was to be worn over the rochet. In 1964, the Cathedral of Saint Louis in New Orleans became a minor basilica. For this reason it would seem that if the cathedral chapter of New Orleans, created in 1793, were today revived, its canons would have the right to wear the . Two canons each clad in a violet would thus make appropriate supporters-unique in the United States-for the arms of this cathedral.

The amess was the hood with shoulder cape with which canons were wont to cover their heads and shoulders during their long choral offices. Usually of woollen cloth and often lined with fur for added warmth, over time the amess became conventionalized in the form of a fur scarf. For most canons it was a scarf of grey fur worn over the left arm.

The arms of the Villiers family (who supplied a grand master to the Order of Malta) included a coat consisting of an arm vested with an ermine maniple. Sometimes noble families ranked as or protectors of a particular church. As such, the head of the family might hold an honorary canonry in the church. Thus, the family of de Preuilly of Touraine were and honorary canons of the chapter of Saint Martin of Tours and noted this distinction armorially by including in their arms a quarter consisting of a clenched hand wearing an ermine maniple pendent from the wrist charged with a red cross patee. The Villiers and de Preuilly "maniples" may have been in fact amesses.

Continental heraldry shows numerous examples of the amess in coat armour. Henri Francois de Baradeau, a canon of Notre Dame de Paris in the early eighteenth century, ensigned his arms with his amess. Atop his shield was his biretta and depending gracefully from it and down the side of the shield was his fur amess. On some tombs of canons in Trent cathedral the amess rests atop and behind the shield as a sort of mantling. Similar examples can be found in the cathedrals of Verona and Mainz. In more modern coats this vestment is no longer used to ensign coat armour, even though it is said that Pope John Paul II had restored the use of the amess in the collegiate churches of Rome. It remains useful as a charge on the armorial shield, however. A variant of the amess is the tippet, a choir scarf worn about the neck and nowadays seen only on Anglican clergy.

For Roman Catholic canons the mozzetta seems the more favored choir vestment today. Just as the surplice, rochet and cotta are diminutives of the alb, so the mozzetta with the tippet are descended from the amess, the mozzetta being the shoulder portion of that hood cum shoulder cape. At first canons wore the mozzetta only as a substitute-usually in spring and fall-for the heavier woolen . Today the distinguished metropolitan cathedral chapters of Quebec and Westminster enjoy the use of a violet mozzetta. In general, since the French revolution the mozzetta has tended to supercede the amess, but Barbier de Montault, the distinguished nineteenth-century writer on liturgical law, noted with horror that the canons of Amiens wore both amess and mozzetta! In 1970, episcopal conferences were given the faculty to reform the choir dress of canons. The reformed choir dress was to be a grey or black mozzetta trimmed with violet. In 1987, a violet mozetta was added to the approved list as well.

Some chapters of canons were privileged to wear as part of their choir dress a special pectoral cross. In 1803, Pius VII conceded to the canons of the Basilica of Loretto the use in choir of a gold pectoral cross suspended from a black silk cord decorated with gold threads. On its obverse the cross bears the image of Our Lady of Loretto. On the reverse is the image of Pius VII who conceded the favor. At Nevers, France, the canons were conceded the use of a silver cross radiant suspended from a purple silk ribbon edged in blue.

Mention should be made of the former armorial use of the biretta. As early as the sixteenth century Jean de Saint Andre, canon of Notre Dame de Paris, placed a biretta on the fulled-faced helmet atop his armorial shield. This would have been the plain black biretta of a simple priest unless the armiger enjoyed some special privilege. But many canons were so privileged. The canons of Loretto basilica in 1882 got a violet tassel on their birettas and numerous chapters were privileged to wear the choir dress of the various grades of prelates of the pontifical household. The canons of Florence, Padua, Venice, Bologna, Estergom and Malta could dress like protonotaries apostolic and thus use a red tassel on their birettas. The canons of the primatial cathedral of Pisa had the dress of a domestic prelate and so could adorn their birettas with a violet tassel.

Today the biretta is no longer used to ensign a coat of arms. Instead, canons would use the broad-brimmed black ecclesiastical hat described with three black tassels pendent from black cords on either side of the shield. At the same time those chapters accorded the privileges of protonotaries apostolic or domestic prelates would today place above their shield a violet ecclesiastical hat trimmed with either red cords and tassels or violet cords and tassels, respectively.

Such, then, are the persons of the armorial musical alphabet and such is their choir dress. In the next part we shall explore the contribution of things to the armorial musical alphabet.


This article appeared in the Fall 1993 issue of "Sacred Music." Published by the Church Music Association of America, 548 Lafond Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55103.