Thursday, September 20, 2007


Heraldry is just really cool. I am not even sure why, but it is just cool.

It also has heavy use in the Church, which we will look into over the next few Symbolic Saturdays. It might be helpful to begin with a quick history of heraldry. This is the five-cent quick gloss over of its development so I apologize if it might seem a bit oversimplified to any scholars of heraldry out there.

Heraldry came into being in the Middle Ages. This was back when you had great persons or families with fiefdoms. At first there was no particular need to mark anyone or anything because it was largely these great families and their fiefs that fought against each other and you knew who was with you and who was against you.

Then the Crusades began. Neighbors came together in a common cause and so color picture signs developed in order to help identify the good guys (whom you might not know personally) as well as your “own team”.

As wars progressed and weapons became more brutal casualty rates soared through the roof. So stronger and better armor was developed. As the armor covered more and more of the person (and his horse) it obscured those distinguishing marks that made it easy to recognize individual people. It was like being inside a tank. “Just who is in that pile of tin anyway?” And quite frankly, they became hard to see out of too. So they would paint easily recognizable symbols on the armor, helmet, shields, and even on their horse’s armor in order to be able to distinguish more easily “them” and “us”.

The next problem was that there came to be a great proliferation of these symbols. Somebody would be needed to keep track of them all. That somebody was the heralds from whence cometh the name “heraldry”. These were important men who catalogued all the symbols in order to help quickly identify both friends and foes alike.

They rode with the troops but they were forbidden from fighting. They were keepers of secrets and had pass to travel between warring sides to deliver messages. After a battle they would be sent out to identify the dead. They were courtly men and because they needed to record all the different heraldic shields from all over, they were very well traveled.

Next week we will start into some of the rules that grew out of this period which still apply to heraldry today.


Quiz answers!

The first picture shows from left to right: a) purificator, b)corporal, c) a towel – or – finger towel - or - if you are particularly fancy, a lavabo towel.

The second picture shows again an open corporal, a term that comes from the Latin word “corpus” or “body”. It is placed at the center of the altar under the chalice(s) and hosts. It is most usually heavily starched and ironed into nine squares. Its purpose is to catch any portion of the Body of Christ (hence the name) that fall from the hosts as from the fraction rite for example. The folds, when carefully handled, form “traps” that keep the Body of Christ from falling on the floor or what have you until the corporal can be properly cleaned.

According to the USCCB, this is how these clothes should be cleaned:

"When corporals are cleansed they should first be rinsed in a sacrarium and only afterwards washed with laundry soaps in the customary manner. Corporals should be ironed in such a way that their distinctive manner of folding helps to contain whatever small particles of the consecrated host may remain at the conclusion of the Eucharistic celebration.”

“Because of their function, purificators regularly become stained with the Precious Blood. It is, therefore, essential that they should first be cleansed in a sacrarium and only afterwards washed with laundry soaps in the customary manner. Purificators should be ironed in such a way that they may be easily used for the wiping of the lip of the chalice.”

(You can just throw the lavabo towel in the wash!)


Anonymous said...

This is very interesting, and not least of all because Francis referred to himself as Christ's herald.

I went to a Greek Orthodox Mass once (I was told it was a valid Sunday Mass), and was thunderstruck to see little babies and kids coming back to pews in their fathers' arms while eating a portion of the Host (bread).. for crumbs were going everywhere onto clothes, onto the floor, onto the bottoms of shoes.. I knew I wasn't the only one who'd noticed this, and I was a visitor, so I didn't raise the roof -- and maybe Orthodox folks aren't supposed to communicate Him to their children, but it seemed all did so. Surely they believe in the Real Presence? And here are we, so careful about the least crumb falling into abuse, as it should be. Gosh, what a contrast.

Rob said...

I can't imagine the crumbs were "okay" in Orthodox eyes (but maybe so), but I do know that in the Orthodox church infants are baptised and confirmed and given the eucharist in one ceremony. In fact, this is the ancient approach, which is why some US bishops have moved confirmation and communion back to an early age.