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

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.

Findings in the Archives: Conserving 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.

Welcome back and thank you for returning to learn more about the conservation efforts employed to preserve the 1924 patent letter for ECCT’s diocesan Coat of Arms!

Last May, upon recognizing that the 100-year anniversary of this patent letter’s issue to the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut by the English College of Heraldry was soon approaching, I began the process of learning more about the history of this archival object and its significance for our diocese. I also continued to wonder if the reframing of this artifactual piece would be worthwhile, since its encasing wooden box-frame was worn and scratched, and its hardware was rusted. Further, as I had mentioned in last week’s article, the letter’s material, resembling some kind of textile, was visibly wrinkled and two of the three attached sealing-wax cannisters set below the letter in the case had somehow come loose from their brass mounting pins.

As a guide for conducting historical investigations, archivists frequently apply the principle of “provenance” to ascertain the original historical context of records and artifacts. To inquire about a thing’s provenance means asking about its origin or source, first determining who created it (either an individual or a corporate agency) and then learning what details can be found about its ownership or custodial history. Of course, the other essential fact-finding questions of where? when? how? and why? eventually follow. Fortunately, after learning a bit more about the UK College of Arms and discovering that the commissioned designer of ECCT’s diocesan shield, Mr. Robert H. Symonds, was a local parishioner at St. John’s, Warehouse Point in New Haven in the 1920s, I was able to locate some additional record correspondence in ECCT’s well-preserved archival holdings. These documents were specifically connected to ECCT’s acquisition of its Coat of Arms patent letter, the final official record denoting the process of obtaining a diocesan Coat of Arms, first initiated in 1921. From here, I found clues that led me to other publications that could help me understand the contours of this historic transaction, including our diocesan news publication from this time period, The Connecticut Churchman, our diocesan annual convention journals, and finally, a book publication authored in 1926 by Symonds himself, entitled, Ecclesiastical Shields for the Interior of Churches. There is much to share and discuss about these published resources, including the detailed information offered about the design elements of ECCT Coat of Arms and their particular historical significance. However, in this week’s blog, I would like to relate the unfolding story of the archival conservation of the patent letter, sharing some its various twists and turns.

Patent letter in original, open frame.

While I initially had hoped that I might simply open the box-frame containing the patent letter by unscrewing a few screws, and thereby merely reset the textile material under its mounting clips, I was quickly alerted to the fact that using a hand-held screwdriver to remove the twenty 3-inch wood screws set in around the perimeter of the box-frame would take quite a bit of work! And, after assessing the high degree of security afforded this artifact by its framing, I became concerned that perhaps finally breaking the seal of this case could potentially cause damage to the interior contents. So, at this point, I decided to contact an art-framing contractor with whom ECCT had worked in the past to get some professional assistance. I was confident that, at the very least, I would attempt to have the patent letter reframed, so I brought the letter in its box-frame to Collinsville, CT, to meet with Kristen Stevens. Kristen has been working as a professional art framer since she first worked in an art gallery at the age of 16. After dropping the artifact off to Kristen and discussing my intent to restore the piece in a new frame, I soon got a call from Kristen requesting that I stop by her shop again to discuss the work ahead. When I arrived back at Kristen’s workshop, the piece was still in its original case, but all the screws sealing the case had been removed, as was the glass panel that served as a cover lid to the frame. Inside the case, I could see the letter, as it sat stiff and still wrinkled in its case. As readers may have already surmised, the patent letter was not made of textile, but rather its medium is an animal skin membrane more commonly known as vellum. Due to temperature changes over the past century, the vellum material, which at this juncture felt like a thin sheet of dried rawhide, had broken free from its mounting clips and had contracted into a wavy, cockled shape.

With this discovery, Kristen informed me that flattening the letter would not be possible just by remounting and reframing the piece. Instead, the next step would involve finding a manuscript conservator who may, or may not, be able to restore the letter to its original condition. Luckily, Kristen was able to use her professional network to locate a paper conservator who operates a manuscript restoration business in Roxbury, CT. Incredibly, Jean Baldwin, a paper and rare book conservator with 20+ years of professional experience, working formally with both the Library of Congress and Yale University, was available to appraise the letter and to develop a plan for its restoration! Jean informed us that it may be possible to flatten the vellum out over an extended period of time, using the additional humidity of summertime to help the process. After conducting a microscopic inspection of the document, Jean also related that despite the wavy distortions in the vellum material, the colored illuminations on the document were all in pristine condition and exhibited little to no cracking or crazing. Further, Jean determined that the document could undergo further conservation given the chemical composition of the color pigments used by the early creators for these illustrations. The plan was to treat the vellum letter with gradual amounts of humidity and tensioning over an eight-week period, and, if the treatment successfully flattened the document, Jean would remount the piece on a cellulose matboard using Japanese paper strips to hinge and adhere the vellum so that it could properly expand and contract in its new frame that Kristen would provide. I then learned that the especially tricky part of this process would be in the transfer of the conserved piece to its frame, which would require a coordinated effort to quickly move the piece out of its temperature-controlled climate and into its new protective light-sensitive, air-tight museum frame. It was in the late waning summer weeks of September, that Jean and Kristen met for a full day to finalize this conservation project that had begun many months prior.

Vellum before conservation.

Please come back next week to celebrate Jean and Kristen’s amazing collaborative work restoring this unique ECCT artifact and to learn more about the meaning and use of our diocesan Coat of Arms!

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!