It stands apart.
The colors and design of the Jefferson City diocese’s new Coat of Arms are unmistakable.
“The central component is the cross, the instrument of our salvation,” said Bishop W. Shawn McKnight, who commissioned the new Coat of Arms and had a hand in its design.
“It points to our identity, our mission to preach the Good News and make disciples,” he said.
The new Coat of Arms becomes official on July 1.
It is made up of two parts: a bishop’s miter, indicating a diocese, and a shield.
The combination of red, white and blue on the shield is a nod to the See City’s namesake, Thomas Jefferson, drafter of the Declaration of Independence and chief promoter of the Louisiana Purchase.
The preponderance of blue and white in the shield symbolizes the Blessed Mother, the waters of baptism and the rivers that help define the topography of these 38 counties.
The alternating red and white of the cross illustrate two mysteries of the Christian faith: the fully divine and fully human nature of Christ, and the blood and water that flowed from His pierced side on the cross, representing Baptism and Eucharist.
A star indicates that the See City is also the state Capital.
Together, the star and crescent moon echo Scriptural references to the Blessed Mother, who through her Immaculate Heart is patroness of the diocese.
The colors, the crescent moon and the star also appear on the Missouri state flag.
The alternating colors of the rivers on both sides of the cross point to the fundamental change that comes through Baptism.
The reflection of colors on the shield points to humanity and divinity becoming inextricably linked through Christ’s Incarnation.
“This is who we are,” said Bishop McKnight, whose own Coat of Arms has been updated to incorporate the new heraldry of his diocese.
Lifting up the senses
The Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) and the Presbyteral Council unanimously recommended that Bishop McKnight work toward the creation of a new Coat of Arms, in response to requests from clergy and laity.
Benedictine Father Pachomius Meade worked with Bishop McKnight and his advisors to design the new Coat of Arms.
The Palmyra native is a monk of Conception Abbey and vice rector and dean of students at Conception Seminary College in northwestern Missouri.
Having studied several branches of religious art, he became interested in the ancient method and symbols for creating seals, flags and Coats of Arms.
In Medieval times, kings, nobles and their armies marked their battle shields and banners with symbols that identified their affiliation.
This tradition carried over into the Church as kings and nobles became Christian, and members of their families became priests and bishops.
“And because seals were so important, a Coat of Arms became a handy thing to use for identification,” said Fr. Pachomius.
He said the Church is always on the lookout for ways to unite its people and reinforce their sense of purpose.
“Because we’re Catholic!” he stated. “We strive to draw from all of the faculties of our Catholic soul and the souls of those around us in order to seek harmony with each other.
“If we were merely brains in jars, we wouldn’t need things like this,” he said. “But we are more than that. We have all of these senses. We need things that represent other things and elevate our senses.”
Tested in battle
Every Catholic diocese, most bishops and many abbots of monasteries now have their own Coat of Arms.
The discipline known as ecclesiastical heraldry has clear rules for creating Coats of Arms, including proper contrasts with colors, in order for the images to be clear and recognizable, even from a distance.
The Jefferson City diocese’s current Coat of Arms, dating from the founding in 1956, depicts a Phrygian cap, a Greek symbol for a freed slave.
The image was synonymous with patriots and those seeking liberty around the time of the American Revolution, hence its connection to Thomas Jefferson.
But for the past 65 years, few people in this diocese knew what it meant.
After listening and consulting with people, Bishop McKnight wanted to update the Coat of Arms with more distinct heraldry that could be easily associated with the entire diocese.
“He was clear about what he wanted to communicate,” said Fr. Pachomius. “With my knowledge of heraldry, I helped execute it.”
Fr. Pachomius became interested in this mode of expression while teaching art at Conception.
He worked with his students to create a Coat of Arms for a previous abbot. When the current abbot was elected, Fr. Pachomius took his interest in heraldry to a new level.
“I really got excited about it and it became kind of a hobby for me to research and learn about,” he said.
This has opened up doors to friendship with other heraldic artists and priests who are experts in heraldry, he said.
“So when I was asked to help create a new Coat of Arms for my home diocese, I said I’d be happy to help in any capacity that I could,” he stated. “I saw it as a chance to give something back.”
The Presbyteral Council and DPC both unanimously approved the new design.
Fr. Pachomius emphasized that a Coat of Arms is not simply a diocesan logo.
“It’s a personal identification, like a photo ID or a fingerprint,” he said. “Its purpose is to clearly and uniquely identify us.”
He noted that while steeped in traditions of the Middle Ages, ecclesiastical heraldry is contemporary and very relevant.
“It doesn’t have to tell your life story, so long it can be clearly identified as yours,” he stated. “Clarity, simplicity, cohesion and balance are all good principles of design and have a lot of impact.”
He reiterated ecclesiastical heraldry’s roots on the battlefield.
“Even as noncombatants in the Church, we use symbols that bear witness to being willing to lay down our lives in service of the One Who laid down His own life for us,” he stated.
For which it stands
Fr. Pachomius hopes the new Coat of Arms will grow in stature over time, through association with decades of holy actions.
He sees his own association with it as a humble craftsman, “united with a Church that is holy only because it is in union with Christ Jesus.”
He noted that Western culture is so image-saturated that people tend to become desensitized to it.
“Our medieval and pre-enlightenment ancestors had a much more vigorous imagination than we often do,” he said.
He’s amazed at how many people think they’re not interested in heraldry “until you start talking about flags, and they get very excited.”
It’s because flags contain symbols and images that transcend and endure.
“Sports teams may come and go, and corporations might change their names, but the members of the Diocese of Jefferson City will always be able to identify with this Coat of Arms,” he said.
“It’s meant to convey something important, something shared, something eternal, something you can trust.”
An earlier version of this article was published in the April 30, 2021, print edition of The Catholic Missourian.