Roman Catholic Heraldic Practice

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Chris Green
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Re: New Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph

Postby Chris Green » 28 Oct 2015, 07:18

The red galero dates back to the 13th century I know, and was actually worn by cardinals (is it still?). Were/are the other coloured galeros now seen in heraldry actually worn by clergy (with or without tassels hanging down) or is it just a heraldic convention to overcome the need to fill the void over the shield left by the absence of a helm?

I see that even the Moderator of the General Assembly of the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland has succumbed, though his is said to be a "Geneva hat" as worn by Calvin.

If you have time, a new thread about heraldic conventions in the Roman Catholic Church would be good. There is material on Wiki (of course), but on the Forum one can ask questions.
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Re: New Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph

Postby JMcMillan » 29 Oct 2015, 13:25

Chris Green wrote:The red galero dates back to the 13th century I know, and was actually worn by cardinals (is it still?). Were/are the other coloured galeros now seen in heraldry actually worn by clergy (with or without tassels hanging down) or is it just a heraldic convention to overcome the need to fill the void over the shield left by the absence of a helm?

I see that even the Moderator of the General Assembly of the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland has succumbed, though his is said to be a "Geneva hat" as worn by Calvin.

If you have time, a new thread about heraldic conventions in the Roman Catholic Church would be good. There is material on Wiki (of course), but on the Forum one can ask questions.


Fr. Guy Selvester is the expert on galeros, and the subject of the physical hat I leave to him, but in brief, actual scarlet galeros were traditionally presented to new cardinals at their creation. It is not clear that they were ever worn, certainly not in recent centuries, but simply put aside until they were hung over the cardinal's tomb following his death. There were no colored galeri for other clerics--I believe no galeri at all, but in any case not colored; they are merely heraldic conventions to fill the space and indicate rank. Woodward's Ecclesiastical Heraldry discusses the history; basically, working from memory, the heraldic use of green galeri by bishops seems to have originated in Spain in the late 1500s and spread northward from there; when Woodward was writing in the 19th century the custom still had not taken root in Germany and German-influenced countries. (The Pope no longer presents galeri to new cardinals; I think it was Paul VI who dropped the practice. Some cardinals still have them made for funerary use.)

The similar hat without cords and tassels and with a somewhat deeper crown that we see priests wearing today is called a capello romano. Except for the Pope, it comes in all the same colors as Henry Ford's Model T.

The hat that Lyon Innes of Learney invented for clergy of the Church of Scotland is absurd on so many levels it's hard how to know where to start. The "Geneva hat" (or "bonnet," as Learney called it) was indeed worn by John Calvin, John Knox, and other leaders of the Reformed Church, but it was not unique to them. The famous Holbein portrait of Sir Thomas More depicts him wearing the same kind of hat, and no one would have mistaken him for a Calvinist minister. What's even more absurd is the attachment of tassels to the bonnet of the moderator. It's absurd historically (no one ever wore such dangling cords and tassels on a Renaissance scholar's cap) and from the point of view of Presbyterian polity (a moderator is not a hierarch of higher rank than other ministers; he or she is simply a minister elected for a one-year term to preside over a general assembly or one of the lower governing bodies of the church).
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Michael F. McCartney
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Re: New Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph

Postby Michael F. McCartney » 29 Oct 2015, 17:18

All true enough; but the Geneva bonnet for clergy in the Presbyterian and Reformed churches, rather than a priest's galero, does reflect the theological difference between the central sacerdotal role of a RC or Anglican priest vs the central preaching and teaching roles of a Presbyterian Minister of the Word. (Not arguing which is more pleasing to the Lord, merely noting differences in the beliefs and practices of these two traditions which I see as relevant to their choice of clerical hats )

The single tassel version of the Geneva bonnet, while perhaps fictional, is at least plausible - in origin likely just a single cord on each side to tie the bonnet down in windy weather, which I suspect may also have been the origin of the tassels of the galero. (I also suspect, though don't know, that the galero itself was originally just a type of hat which was adopted and adapted by the Catholic clergy and otherwise fell out of fashion for laymen.)

The single tassel version of the Geneva bonnet in the moderator's simple arms, and any similar single-tassel (one on each side) bonnets used by other ministers in the Calvinist tradition* are thus IMO not entirely non-historical. The modern multi-tasseled versions of the Geneva bonnet for the moderator, presbyteries and synods of the Kirk are, shall we say, more than a bit fanciful.

But then I suspect (but only that) the galero originally had only utilitarian single cords, later elaborated in church useage into increasingly multi-tasseled and technicolor versions. If so, the RC galeros have the historical advantage; but over time the Geneva bonnets, if Lyon continues to grant them and especially if they catch on in other churches overseas, they will catch up.

(* Note that blue single-tassel Geneva bonnets are already in use by a number of clergy of the Uniting Church of Australia, which includes former Presbyterian clergy and congregations, due to the efforts of one of their number who has designed arms for them, and whose own arms as granted by Lyon include the Australian Geneva bonnet.)
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Re: New Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph

Postby JMcMillan » 29 Oct 2015, 21:50

The actual physical galero has always had the complex knotted cords with multiple dangling tassels that were clearly decorative, not functional. (Can you imagine trying to untie that knot?) Chronologically, it was the cardinal's multi-tasseled hat that came first. As far as I know, none of the others ever existed in the cloth; they were used for progressively lower ranks of the clergy over a gradual, centuries-long evolution.

As for tassels on Renaissance/Reformation scholars' caps, I think we know what they looked like, and I've yet to see a picture of one with tassels on the chinstraps.

I don't particularly object to the use of the Geneva cap for Reformed clergy, but hanging any number of tassels on them is silly, and Mike and I are in full agreement that showing multiple tassels to make the Moderator's headgear resemble a bishop's is inappropriate. In an earlier time, it would have been seen as offensive, bishops being the thing that Presbyterian churches explicitly don't have and don't want.
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Re: New Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph

Postby Michael F. McCartney » 30 Oct 2015, 06:10

Thanks for the historical correction re: tasselated galeros. I wrongly assumed extrapolation from a simple original rather than interpolation from a complex original..

As silly as multiple tassels may be on the various Scottish Geneva bonnets, they appear to be an established practice in Lyon Court, judging from the several examples illustrated in Mark Dennis's book(let) on Scottish heraldry. They do serve to distinguish minister from presbytery from synod etc., the same function served by the various "legal fiction" tassels on RC galeros below Cardinal level and Anglican / Episcopal galeros below Bishop level.

At least the Australian blue Genevs bonnets are AFAIK limited to a single tassel on each side!
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Re: New Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph

Postby JMcMillan » 30 Oct 2015, 12:15

We're way off topic, but why would a synod, prebytery, or session have a hat at all?

I don't find 50-60 years of doing something silly a persuasive reason to keep doing it. This is how myths that "we've always done it this way" get started.

Learney's equally silly baronial coats and hats were also established practice at Lyon Court, but recent Lord Lyons have abandoned them. The current Lyon could do the same with the tasselled bonnets.
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Re: New Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph

Postby Chris Green » 30 Oct 2015, 12:32

As Joe says, we are getting way off topic. If someone wants to start a thread about Roman Catholic heraldic symbolism, or the eccentricities of Innes of Learney, please do. Otherwise please stick to the Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph and Daniel's emblazonment.
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Re: New Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph

Postby Michael F. McCartney » 01 Nov 2015, 07:58

Fair enough; perhaps the moderators (of this forum, not of the Kirk :) ) or someone else with the relevant skills can move the off-topic posts from this thread to a new one not tied to a particular cleric? I think I can start a new thread, but don't know how to move off-topic posts from here to there :(
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Roman Catholic Heraldic Practice

Postby Chris Green » 01 Nov 2015, 08:38

I have moved here an interesting discussion about galeros. Could we please keep this thread for discussion of RC heraldic practices. Protestant use of galeros/Geneva bonnets etc could have their own thread.
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Re: Roman Catholic Heraldic Practice

Postby Michael F. McCartney » 03 Nov 2015, 06:38

Spinning off discussion of the history and useage of clerical headgear and other additaments, so as not to hijack threads on the arms of individual clergy, is good.

And my initial reaction to separate threads for RC and Protestant was positive; but thinking more about it, not so much. First, Episcpal/Anglican practice is quite similar to RC, so should that be included with RC or with non-episcopal Protestant? And for better or worse, the Scottish Geneva bonnets and their tassels at various levels more or less parallel the RC practice. Beyond a simple listing of the hat and tassel patterns of each church, most of the interest in clerical hats is to "compare and contrast" the practices of different churches, similar to a discussion of heraldic practices of different countries.

To understand the "why" of different heraldic practices, whether between countries or churches, some "compare and contrast" discussion of their varying cultural and small-p internal political structures is inevitable. Of course this should be on the level of friendly understanding of how and why heraldic practice reflects each group's identity, structure and norms, whether nations (e.g. republics or monarchies) or churches (e.g. hierarchical or otherwise), without criticizing those underlying national or denominational identities and norms.

Anyway, that's my take; others may see it differently, and I will try to comply with the group decision.
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