Findings in the Archives: Discovering a 1924 Letter of Patent & Diocesan Shield

Greg Farr, Diocesan Archivist

It all started when our Diocesan Archivist, Greg Farr, found a Letter of Patent & Diocesan shield from 1924 in the ECCT archive. The piece needed preservation/conservation and Greg has written a three-part blog examining the process. Come back to our blog every Friday for the next three weeks to read along.

One of the most rewarding aspects of professional work is learning the unique experiential knowledge that a career trade or a field discipline requires. In my own work, this sort of knowledge often is transmitted within archival inquiries made by researchers, who, through their own curiosity and intellectual passions, alert me to areas of special expertise or historical importance that I had not been entirely familiar with until that unique encounter. In response to such inquiries, I initially attempt to locate the archival record or object that the researcher is searching for and then follow up this work with my own contextual research about the subject so that I might better understand the researcher’s information needs when offering a reply. An inquiry of exactly this type was made to the ECCT Archives back in May 2021 by an English clerical scholar researching the development of ecclesiastical heraldry in his own country. Little did I know at the time how this scholar’s investigations would later lead to the full-blown archival conservation project of one of ECCT’s most intriguing artifacts – the 1924 patent letter that issues, from the Lyon Court of Scotland and the College of Heraldry in England, the institutional conferral of our diocesan Coat of Arms!

In the process of first learning about the 1924 patent letter bestowing the “armorial bearings” upon the Diocese of Connecticut, I began my hunt in the vault of our ECCT Archives essentially looking for a regular letter-sized document that may have been issued to the Diocesan bishop at the time, The Right Reverend Chauncey Bunce Brewster (Fifth ECCT Bishop Diocesan, 1899-1928). From the description set forth in the scholar’s inquiry, I was informed that the document might be “illumined,” containing a color image of our diocesan shield (or Coat of Arms. After finding some historical correspondence about the process of obtaining our Coat of Arms), I still was not locating the official patent letter, which was, at that time, relatively close by in our stacks to these other century-old documents. However, the letter was not at all the archival record that I had first imagined.

The Coat of Arms for the Episcopal Church in Connecticut.

Still unsure about where the patent letter was in our holdings, I remained puzzled by the scholar’s description of the document containing “illuminations” which I was somewhat familiar with from seeing other medieval manuscripts decorated with color (in some instances, with gold leaf) by scribes who sought to highlight or “light up” the text they were transcribing. So, on a hunch about the colored ink, I began to sort through our loose collection of framed artworks and came upon a large wooden window-box case that, because it was lying on its side, was concealing its internal contents. Upon inspection, this wooden box with an enframed glass lid was protecting what appeared to be a sizable linen-colored cloth, pinned down on all sides by brass clips, that had exquisite cursive calligraphy written over a significant portion of this unusual textile-like object. And adorning the header of this small poster-sized document (27” x 20”) were four colorfully illuminated images. One of these images indeed was the ECCT diocesan shield, so I knew then that I most likely had found the artifact of my search – the 1924 patent letter of ECCT’s diocesan Coat of Arms.

After taking a few quick photos of the item to share with the English scholar, I made a quick mental note to return later to take a better look at this artifact and potentially see about resetting the document in its case since the cloth inside appeared somewhat crumpled and wrinkled. Also in the case, arranged below this official proclamation, were three gold canisters (with lids) filled with imprinted dried red wax, two of which were dislodged from their original mounting clips. Though I did not have the time then, I was hoping to see about opening the case, which was sealed by a series of woodscrews around its perimeter, and then maybe consider reframing the item. But such plans had to wait until I knew more about this artifact and whether such additional conservation work would be worth the time and effort.

In my research to trace the origins and significance of this record, I soon landed on some files in our collections that offered some descriptions of ECCT’s Coat of Arms and more information about its heraldic meanings. I also discovered that the patent letter was issued to the Diocese of Connecticut on February 14, 1924, and was received by clergy officials in Connecticut on March 27, 1924, following its trans-Atlantic journey to the United States. Upon learning more about the design and creators of the Coat of Arms, and, of course, noting that this patent letter was nearing its centennial mark, I conferred with other ECCT leaders and received their blessings to discover more about what might be done to better preserve this unique archival object.

Please check back next week to hear more about the wider scope of this ECCT Archives conservation project!

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