Findings in the Archives: The Meaning of 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. Today is the final installment. Thank you for reading!

The earlier two installments of this 3-part blog series told the stories of the rediscovery of one of the most unique artifacts preserved within the ECCT Archives and the unfolding process of manuscript conservation employed to restore the 1924 patent letter for ECCT’s Coat of Arms to its original condition. As was shared, this patent letter, written on animal membrane vellum and adorned with inked cursive script and illumined heraldic images, had become dried and cockled over the past century due to fluctuating changes in temperature and humidity. Fortunately, after testing the pigments and media of the artifact to ensure that the item could endure the restorative process of re-humidification and tensioning, CT document conservator Jean Baldwin was able to appropriately flatten the vellum letter and prepare this archival object for ongoing long-term preservation. As was also previously mentioned, following this two-and-a-half-month period of patient “paper” conservation, the final “sealing” of the letter in its new enclosure was foreseen as the most complex part of the project, since the vellum letter needed to be fastened in its new frame in the same environment it had been flattened and re-tensioned in to prevent any subsequent distortion of this mutable material. So, equipped with templated matte fittings and a wooden museum-quality shadow-box frame, Collinsville art framer Kristen Stevens met Jean at her Roxbury workshop to carry out the final steps in this conservation process. Kristen had located a dark walnut wood frame with a simple Tudor-style design carved around its perimeter that seemed to perfectly match and highlight the character of this historical artifact. Finally, after determining that it would be necessary to remount the appended gold-plated cannisters with their lids securely closed, so as to prevent any additional wicking of moisture from the embossed red wax resin contained within each, Jean and Kristen were able to set the piece in its present frame and to let me know that the final product was ready for its transport back to The Commons, the home of ECCT’s diocesan offices and archive repository in Meriden, CT.

Kristen Stevens in her Collinsville frame shop.

The full significance and history of this patent letter and the diocesan Coat of Arms that this letter confers, of course, extends far beyond the scope of what might be shared here in this blog format. My hope, accordingly, is that this artifact, along with its archival conservation, will continue to invite further reflection and conversation related to Episcopalian identity and the insights this archival record may convey concerning our own diocesan history as the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. In this vein, for instance, I have found it fascinating to learn about the various ways the diocesan Coat of Arms, as a unique form of ecclesiastical heraldry, is customarily utilized by Christian religious organizations and clergy. Differing notably from other types of heraldry to indicate rank or military order, ecclesiastical heraldry is primarily used to represent the identity and authority of religious institutions, perhaps appearing in stained glass windows, on lecterns and tapestries, or in embroidered clergy vestments. A large representation of ECCT’s Coat of Arms sits above the Bishop’s chair [cathedra] in Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford, and a small engraved representation of the same image sits at the base of the Bishop’s insignia ring used to create an embossed wax seal that authenticates official certificates – such as when our own diocesan bishop, The Right Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello, officially witnesses, by written record and signature, the ordination of other diocesan bishops or the appointment of ordained clergy in our own diocese. Beyond their many possible uses for historical branding, coats of arms are also symbolically evocative in themselves, often conveying, through the best practices of heraldry, a contextual understanding of the organization or individual(s) to which it pertains.

The traditional description of the elemental design of ECCT’s Coat of Arms is as follows:

Azure, a saltire argent, in chief two swords saltirewise proper, blades upward; on an inescutcheon sable in fess point, a key and a crosier in saltire or, on a chief of the second, three grapevines proper.

The Coat of Arms for the Episcopal Church in Connecticut

As Robert Symonds reports in his 1926 publication, Ecclesiastical Shields for the Interior of Churches, “azure, a saltire argent,” represents Scotland. Symonds further explains, “St. Andrew, the Apostle, for whom the saltire is named, after much journeying came to Patras in Achaia and converted the wife of the Pro-Consul. Her husband, becoming enraged at this, crucified the Apostle on a diagonal cross or

Saltire.” We also hear of other design features in the above description, such as the “key” and the “crosier” forming another ‘saltire’ or cross; the “inescutcheon” and the “chief”; and “grapevines” – with each representation possessing a particular significance within the area of the “shield” in ECCT’s Coat of Arms. When considering the image as a whole, which is useful for appreciating the presence of a bishop’s mitre set at the top of the shield and that there is a smaller shield placed strategically within the larger or encompassing shield, one comes to recognize that, with the specific placement of images and the chosen colors of the images, these elements are designed and arranged in such a way to articulate a dynamic, relational context of history. Gradually, the heraldic creativity developed in this diocesan symbol comes into impressive view!

“Two swords saltirewise” represent the Bishopric of London who had original jurisdiction over the Colonial Church in America, and the key and crozier within the inescutcheon’s black (sable) background represents Bishop Samuel Seabury’s Arms or Seal. An “inescutcheon in fess point” refers to a smaller shield centered within a shield, and, in this case, it is Bishop Seabury’s armorial shield that also appears printed atop the letterhead of many of Seabury’s earliest ecclesiastical correspondences. At the top of the inescutcheon, on the rectangle area called a chief, are three colonial vines on a ground of gold. These vines are at once meant to emulate those found in the state seal of Connecticut, symbolically representing our state’s colonial history and its agricultural abundance, and to give representation to Gospel references to Christ as identified as “the vine” (John 15). The religious symbolism runs deep in this area of the shield, moreover, with the three vines and the three bunches of grapes representing the Trinity, the four grape leaves on each vine representing the four gospels (while also totaling across the chief to the number 12, representing the number of Jesus’ apostles), and the leaves and grapes together, along with the number of each bunch of grapes totaling to seven, resonating with a number of Biblical motifs including the Seven Sacred Symbols of Mosiac Law, the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation, the Seven Words of Christ upon the Cross and the Seventh Day of Rest after the Creation, etc. Moving again to the background of the image, there is, of course, the pastoral staff or crosier of the Bishop and a key (symbolizing the keys of the kingdom of heaven, metaphorically given to St. Peter by Jesus (Matthew16:19)) that together represent the ministerial charge bestowed to a Bishop in the Anglican Church. Finally, the charge of the episcopate is the adorning red/gold mitre associated with the Bishopric of Aberdeen and Orkney, ECCT’s sister diocese. The mitre, in this instance, is a copy of the one painted on the roof of St. Machar’s Cathedral in Aberdeen in 1520.

Again, there is much to explore historically as well as much to discuss presently about the elements of this diocesan symbol, ECCT’s Coat of Arms, and their given historic significance. This patent letter, signifying the Episcopal Church in Connecticut as being the first Bishopric in United States of America to receive a Patent of Arms, and, so, being recognized as the oldest see in the world in the Anglican Communion outside the British Isles by Heraldry College of Arms, also holds its own historic place in this story. It seems relevant to celebrate its centennial anniversary and  to continue to courageously reckon with ECCT’s past, present, and future.

In this addendum, please see the content of the letter conveyed February 15, 1924; received in U.S., March 27, 1924.

Patent of Arms :

To ALL AND SINGULAR to whom these Presents shall come, Sir Henry Farnham Burke, Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Garter Principal King of Arms, William Alexander Lindsay, Esquire, Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, One of his Majesty’s Counsel, learned in the Law, Clarenceux King of Arms, and Gordon Ambrose de Lisle Lee, Esquire, Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Norroy King of Arms, Send Greetings:

WHEREAS the Right Reverend Chauncey Bunce Brewster, Bishop of Connecticut, Doctor of Divinity of Trinity College, Hartford, Yale University of New Haven and Wesleyan University of Middletown, all in the State of Connecticut and United States of America, hath represented unto Edmund Bernard Viscount Fitz Alan of Derwent, Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, Companion of the Distinguished Service Order, One of His Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council and Deputy to the Most Noble Bernard Marmaduke, Duke of Norfolk, Earl Marshal and Hereditary Marshal of England, that the DIOCECE OF CONNECTICUT had its origin in Colonial times, the parishes of which it was formed having been under the jurisdiction of the Bishops of London, that the Bishops of the said Diocese of Connecticut, since the Right Reverend Samuel Seabury, Doctor of Divinity, first Bishop of Connecticut, have derived their Orders from the Archbishops of Canterbury: That it being desired that certain Armorial Devices, adopted and used by the Bishops of Connecticut to commemorate their original connection of the said See with the English Church, should be recorded and registered in the College of Arms, he therefore requested (on behalf of the Officials of the said Diocese of Connecticut) the favour of His Lordship’s Warrant for our assigning and registering the said Arms by Letters Patent, to be borne and used by him and his successors Bishops of the said Diocese of Connecticut on Seals, Shields, or otherwise according to the Laws of Arms: AND F0RASMUCH as His Lordship did by Warrant under his hand and the Seal of the Earl Marshal bearing date the Sixth day of February instant authorize and direct Us to assign and register such Armorial Ensigns accordingly: KNOW YE THEREFORE that We the said Garter Clarenceux and Norroy in pursuance of the aforesaid Warrant and by virtue of the Letters Patent of Our several Offices to each of Us respectively granted do by these presents assign and register the Arms following for the DIOCESE OF CONNECTICUT, that is to say: Azure a Saltire Argent in chief two Swords points upward saltirewise of the second pomets and hilts Or on an Inescutcheon Sable a Key and a Pastoral Staff in saltire of the third and on a Chief also of the third three Grape Vines fructed and issuing from Mounds proper to be borne and used by the said Bishop of the Diocese of Connecticut and by his successors on Seals Shields or otherwise according to the Laws of Arms:

 IN WITNESS whereof We the said Garter Clarenceux and Norroy Kings of Arms have to these Presents subscribed Our names and affixed the Seals of Our several Offices this Fifteenth day of February in the Fourteenth year of the Reign of Our Sovereign Lord George the Fifth by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas King, Defender of the Faith &c. and in the year of Our Lord One thousand nine hundred and twenty four.

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