Cardinal’s updated coat of arms

By Chicago Catholic
Sunday, November 27, 2016

Each bishop has his own coat of arms that bears his episcopal motto — usually a quote from Scripture — and symbols that have some personal significance to the man. These coats of arms are used on documents and letterhead and other items pertaining to that bishop. When a bishop is appointed to a new diocese, he updates his coat of arms to include symbols from the new diocese.

Included here is Cardinal Cupich’s updated coat of arms, designed by Deacon Paul Sullivan of Saunderstown, Rhode Island.

The episcopal heraldic achievement, or bishop’s coat of arms, is composed of a shield with its charges (symbols), a motto scroll and the external ornamentation. The shield is the central and most important feature of any heraldic device.

The following is the explanation of the symbols provided by Sullivan and by Todd Williamson, director of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office for Divine Worship.

Blazon: Arms impaled. Dexter: Or, issuant from a ball of flame, a phoenix, both Gules, the phoenix charged at the center chest with the monogram of the Holy Name (IHS) and on each wing tip a fleur-de-lis, all of the first. Sinister: Azure, issuant from a barlet wavy Argent, a simple crozier upon two candles per saltire of the second, enflamed of the third; a base party per bend, to dexter, checky Gules and of the second, and to sinister, of the fourth, with an annulet with a fleur-de-lis within all the third.

Significance: The cardinal’s coat of arms is composed of a shield, the design of which identifies the owner by rank or position. By heraldic tradition the design is described (blazoned) as if the shield is being worn on the arm of its bearer. Thus, where it applies, the terms “sinister” and “dexter” are reversed as the design is viewed from the front.

As leader of an ecclesiastical province, called a “metropolitan archbishop,” the left side of the shield bears the arms of his jurisdiction, the Archdiocese of Chicago. They are composed of a golden (yellow) field on which a phoenix is depicted coming forth from a ball of flames, a symbol of rebirth in ancient mythology where the bird arose anew from the ashes. This is symbolic of the great city of Chicago that arose anew from the catastrophic fire of Oct. 8, 1871. On the breast of the phoenix is the monogram of the Holy Name, the IHS, in gold (yellow) recalling that the cathedral church of the see city is dedicated to the Holy Name of Jesus.

For his personal arms, seen in the dexter impalement of the design, Cardinal Cupich has retained the arms, with some modifications, that were adopted when he became bishop of the Diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota.

The upper portion of the cardinal’s personal arms is composed of a blue field on which are displayed a simple crozier (bishop’s staff) in gold (yellow) that is placed upon two silver (white) lighted candles. The candles honor the cardinal’s baptismal patron, on whose feast day throats are blessed with candles being held in a crossed position.

These candles, joined with the crozier, form a “Chi- Rho” the Greek letters “XP,” that are the first two letters of the name Christ in Greek. The blue field on which these charges are displayed honors Mary, the “parting gift of Christ” to the church universal (Preface from the Mass of the Feast of Mary, Mother of God).

The upper portion of the design is divided from the lower portion by a silver (white) wavy barlet to represent the Missouri River that forms the eastern border of the Archdiocese of Omaha, where Cardinal Cupich first exercised his presbyteral ministry.

Below the river, on a field bearing the red color found in the arms of the Archdiocese of Chicago is a gold (yellow) circle and fleur-de-lis, taken from the arms of the Dioceses of Rapid City and Spokane, respectively, where the cardinal served before being named to the Metropolitan See of Chicago.

In the left (dexter) portion of the base, angularly divided, is a field of crimson and white checks that is part of the arms of Croatia, the land and heritage of the cardinal’s immigrant family.

For his motto Cardinal Cupich has retained the phrase from John 20:21 recounting Christ’s appearance to his disciples after the Resurrection and his greeting: “Peace be with you.” This is also the greeting of a bishop to the assembly at the Eucharist.

The achievement is completed with the external ornaments that are a gold (yellow) archiepiscopal processional cross (with two cross members) that tends above and below the shield and a pontifical red hat called a galero with its 15 tassels in five rows, on either side of the shield. These are the heraldic insignia of a prelate of the rank of cardinal by instruction of the Holy See.


  • bishops
  • scripture
  • cardinal cupich

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