VATICAN CITY, APRIL 29, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Personal elements and novelties characterize Benedict XVI’s coat of arms, unveiled in the Vatican’s semiofficial newspaper.
Published Thursday in the Italian edition of L’Osservatore Romano, the new coat of arms has three personal elements: a shell, the “Moor of Freising” and “St. Corbinian’s bear.”
There are also two novelties: the substitution of the miter instead of the tiara, and the addition of the white pallium with black crosses draped below the shield.
For at least eight centuries, popes have had their own personal coat of arms.
The shield has symbols introduced by then Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger of Munich and Freising, and later as cardinal, but the composition is new.
The central element, the shield’s most noble point, has a large gold shell, whose meaning Ratzinger explained in his autobiography “Milestones, Memoirs: 1927-1977”: It is “above all the sign of our being pilgrims, of our being on a journey.”
But it also recalls to legend in which St. Augustine came across a boy on the seashore who was scooping water from the sea and pouring it into a small hole he had dug in the sand. When the saint pondered this seemingly futile activity, it struck him as analogous to limited human minds trying to understand the infinite mystery of the divine.
Two other symbols, from the tradition of Bavaria, where the new Pope comes from, are also included in the shield.
The upper left-hand section depicts a brown-faced Moor, crown and collar. This element is not rare in European heraldry, and it is very frequent in the Bavarian tradition. It is called “caput ethiopicum” or “Moor of Freising.”
As Ratzinger himself explained in his autobiography, this element has been included in the shields of the bishops of Freising for some 1,000 years.
“I do not know its meaning. For me it is it is an expression of the universality of the Church, which knows no distinctions of race or class since all are one in Christ (Galatians 3:28),” he wrote.
On the upper right-hand section of the shield is a brown bear with a pack on its back. It is “St. Corbinian’s bear.”
The bear is tied to an old Bavarian legend about St. Corbinian, the first bishop and patron saint of the Diocese of Freising.
According to the legend, when the saint was on his way to Rome, a bear attacked and killed his horse. St. Corbinian punished the bear by making him carry the saint’s belongings the rest of the way to Rome.
The bear symbolizes the beast “tamed by the grace of God,” and the pack he is carrying symbolizes “the weight of the episcopate,” said Cardinal Ratzinger in his autobiography.
“The bear with the pack, which replaced the horse or, more probably, St. Corbinian’s mule, becoming, against his will, his pack animal, was that not, and is it not an image of what I should be and of what I am?” continues the cardinal in his book.
On the back of the shield are the keys, in remembrance of Christ’s words to Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you lose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19).
Benedict XVI decided not to include the tiara that traditionally appeared at the top of each Pope’s coat of arms, and replaced it with the pointed miter.
The papal miter, represented in Benedict XVI’s shield, is silver and has three gold stripes, symbolizing the Supreme Pontiff’s three powers: order, jurisdiction and magisterium.
An absolute novelty in Benedict XVI’s shield is the pallium, the woolen stole symbolizing a bishop’s authority, and the typical liturgical insignia of the Supreme Pontiff, indicating his responsibility to be the shepherd of Christ’s flock.
During the first centuries the Popes wore a real sheepskin on their shoulders. Later they began to use a white woolen band.