Coat of arms of the state of vatican city

Coat of arms of Vatican City
Armiger Vatican City
Adopted 1929
Escutcheon Gules, two keys in saltire argent and or, interlaced at the intersection gules, beneath a tiara argent, crowned or[1]

The coat of arms of the Holy See has existed, though in varying form, since the 15th century. In 1929, the State of Vatican City adopted a coat of arms as well. Papal emblems and insignia have been represented in different forms (the cross, the keys of Saint Peter, the tiara, the umbraculum, the effigies of Saint Peter and Saint Paul) since the late 13th century. In 1929, a standardised coat of arms began to be used on the flag of the newly created Vatican City State.

Origins and background

Heraldry (the profession, study, or art of creating, granting, and blazoning arms and ruling on questions of rank or protocol, as exercised by an officer of arms) developed in the Middle Ages, beginning in the late 11th century, originally as a personal system of badges of the warrior classes and as insignia on seals to identify documents. These early seals bore a likeness of the owner with the shield and heraldic insignia included.[2] The Church likewise identified the origin and ownership of documents and buildings with seals, which were typically a pointed oval called a vesica to distinguish from round seals in non-religious use.[3] Heraldry in Italy was not codified until the 18th century and, because of the large number of Italian states, not evenly. Papal "heraldry" is not an adequate term to cover the subject as seen in the light of the rules in force since the 15th century in western and northern European heraldry. Heraldic attributes being generally of a military nature, "ecclesiastical heraldry" may not be an accurate term except for the escutcheon, which shed its military character and took on purely decorative forms. This explains why "ecclesiastical heraldry" had its beginnings only at the end of the 13th century, when lay heraldry was already flourishing and near codification.[4] In discussing the history of the development of papal insignia, the article on heraldry in Philippe Levillain's The Papacy: Gaius-Proxies therefore prefers to put the term "heraldry" in quotes,[4] while the term is quite freely used by other authors.

Vatican City

The coat of arms of Vatican City State is officially described in article 20 of the Fundamental Law of Vatican City State in force since 22 February 2001,[5] which repeats the contents of article 19 of the original Fundamental Law of Vatican City State adopted on 7 June 1929 with immediate effect.[6] Each of these official documents includes an illustration of the coat of arms of the state accompanied by the words "Chiavi decussate sormontate dal triregno in campo rosso" (Crossed keys beneath the papal tiara on a red field)[7] under the heading "Annex B. Official coat of arms of Vatican City State".[1]

Coat of arms of the Holy See
Armiger Holy See
Adopted traditional
Escutcheon Gules, two keys in saltire or and argent, interlaced in the rings or, beneath a tiara argent, crowned or

Holy See

The first blazoning of the arms of the Holy See is in Froissart's Chronicles: "gules two keys in saltire argent".[8] The tiara was included in the arms from the late 14th century.[9] "From the beginning of the 14th century, the two crossed keys constitute the arms of the papacy. The field of the shield is generally gules (red) and the cord is azure (blue). Most often the key placed in bend is gold and the one placed in bend sinister, silver; sometimes they are both gold, or, less often, silver."[10] A 15th-century "scudo della Santa Sede" (escutcheon of the Holy See) with crossed keys and tiara is illustrated also in a publication of the Italian Ministry of Cultural Property and Activities.[11] On the history of the choice of tinctures of the keys, Donald Lindsay Galbreath, writing in 1930, soon after the institution of the independent state of Vatican City, states: "At first the keys are white, then comes a time when gold keys are found, and finally the present usage of placing a gold key in bend across a silver one in bend sinister slowly makes its way."[12] This practice of placing a gold key in bend over another of silver in bend sinister is found with certainty from the time of Pope Pius II (1458-1464).[13] Another authority gives the blazon of the present arms of the Holy See as "Gules a key or in bend above a key argent in bend sinister, both wards upwards, the bows united by a cord or, above the shield a tiara, its three crowns or, the mitre argent".[14] In his Heraldry in the Catholic Church, Archbishop Bruno Heim describes the same arrangement.[15] These accounts of the arrangement of the keys in the present coat of arms of the Holy See distinguish it from that of Vatican City State by a reversing of the gold and silver keys. The website Flags of the World has this remark: "When what is represented is the Holy See, not Vatican City State, the keys are reversed. Rather, when the state was set up in 1929, the keys in the arms of the Holy See [...] were reversed to provide a distinctive symbol for the new entity. In the personal arms of the popes, the keys are, of course, arranged as in the arms of the Holy See: the other arrangement would be equivalent to treating him as merely the head of that little state."[16]

The gold key is placed in bend also in the sede vacante emblem, with the tiara replaced by an umbraculum said to represent the absence of a pope and the temporary governance of the Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church over the temporal affairs of the Holy See.[17]

The distinction between the coat of arms of the papacy and that of the territory ruled by it dates back at least to the 16th century. Galbreath states: "From the 16th century on, this, the third coat of the Papacy — which may be blazoned Gules a pair of keys crossed in saltire, one gold, one silver, tied gold, surmounted by a tiara silver, crowned gold — is taken to represent the Papacy as distinct from the Papal States."[18] This statement is quoted with approval by Heim.[19]

The arms of the Papal States differed in having the umbraculum (the emblem of the Pope's temporal powers) in place of the tiara, and were incorporated as the first quartering of the royal coat of arms of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy (1805–1814).[20][21] This coat of arms was not resumed for the territory over which the Pope's temporal powers were restored in 1929 with the creation of Vatican City State.

The holder of the title of Gonfalonier of the Church was entitled to include in his own arms the same design of the crossed kays and umbraculum on a red field.

Charges on the escutcheon

The oldest known representation of the crossed keys beneath the papal tiara dates from the time of Pope Martin V (1417–1431). His successor, Pope Eugene IV (1431–1447), included it in the design of a silver coin.[7]

The keys

The keys refer to the promise of Christ to Peter, "I will entrust to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you declare bound on earth shall be bound in heaven; whatever you declare loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven."[22] They are a symbol of the power the Catholic Church believes that Christ gave to Saint Peter and his successors,[23] with the gold key signifying that the power reaches to heaven and the silver key that it extends to all the faithful on earth, the interlacing indicating the linking between the two aspects of the power, and the handles of the key being at the base to symbolize the power being in the hands of the pope.[15]

The tiara

Recent popes have not worn a tiara, but the papal tiara remains as a papal heraldic symbol. A crown was added to the headgear of the Pope in 1130 to symbolize sovereignty over the Papal States. In 1301, Pope Boniface VIII, at that time in conflict with Philip the Fair of France, added a second crown to indicate that his spiritual authority was superior to any civil power. In 1342, Pope Benedict XII added a third crown to symbolize the superiority of papal religious authority over that of non-religious monarchs. The original significance of the three crowns was lost over time and they came to represent instead the Pope's powers as priest, ruler and teacher.[23]

See also


External links

  • )
  • Text of the Fundamental Law of Vatican City State, including a reproduction of Annex B depicting the coat of arms of the state
  • Papal Heraldry


  • Donald L. Galbreath: Papal Heraldry. Cambridge, 1930; Heffer and Sons.
  • Bruno Heim: Heraldry in the Catholic Church: Its Origins, Customs and Laws. Gerrards Cross: Van Duren, 1978.
  • Baron du Roure de Paulin: L'Héraldique Ecclésiastique. Paris, 1911; H. Daragon

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