Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Unveiled is the new papal coat of arms.  There is much fuss over how simple it is but then again, the best arms are simple.  You may remember that when John Paul II arms were revealed there was a bit of consternation for he had put a large letter "M" on it to represent "Mary" - a huge no-no in the world of heraldry.  There is general agreement that this coat of arms is a success.
The shield itself is blue, most often associated in the Church with Mary though in it also stands for steadfastness and fidelity.  Center top is a sun which we can see easily represents THE Son, Jesus, for the IHS (IHSUS - the first three letters for Jesus in Greek) the Cross, and the three nails which represent the three nails that held Jesus to the Cross.  This symbol incidental also is the symbol of the Jesuit order.
On the lower left hand corner is a gold star which represents Mary and in the lower right is what looks like an upended bunch of grapes but what is actually a nard flower.  Nope, I never heard of it either.  I looked one up and so present it here.  Apparently it represents St. Joseph though I dare say I don't know from where this comes.  It is not in my books.  I would love to know the source if anybody knows.
Anyway, from this we can see the pope's love of the Holy Family and perhaps an aim of his papacy - to safeguard the family.  Time alone will tell.
By the way, his motto is Miserando atque eligendo, from a homily of Saint Bede.  It is Latin for "Having had mercy, He called him"  This is a reference to when Jesus called Matthew to be one of his apostles despite his being unworthy.
For additional information about herladry in the Church in general, go here.


Pat said...

To the right of the star is
the image of the spikenard, an aromatic plant,

meant to symbolize St. Joseph, Patron of the
Universal Church. According to spanish
iconographic tradition, St. Joseph is depicted
holding a branch of spikenard in his hand.

Pat said...

To the right of the star is
the image of the spikenard, an aromatic plant,
meant to symbolize St. Joseph, Patron of the
Universal Church. According to Spanish
iconographic tradition, St. Joseph is depicted
holding a branch of spikenard in his hand.
(Someone sent this to me.)

MaryofSharon said...

Another irresistible challenge! The symbolism of that "nard flower" (buds? fruit?) is perplexing. The commenters over at WDTPRS really are puzzling over this, too. I am determined to find some documentation for the symbolism of this flower (buds/fruit) in association with St. Joseph. (Here are some nice images of the American spikenard .)

Virtually all the pages that come up on Google for "Joseph" and "spikenard" are new items referencing Pope Francis's coat of arms. I could find nothing in any of the many sources on my list of online resources on symbolism on the association of Joseph with spikenard. Not even the lengthy books on symbolism that can be searched on Google Books give the slightest suggestion of a nard or spikenard being symbolic of St. Joseph.

As I'm sure you already know, spikenard is most frequently associated with Mary Magdalen and her anointing of the feet of Jesus with spikenard oil and is symbolized by an alabaster jar (Concise Dictionary of Saints, Signs, and Symbol, p 46). Spikenard also comes up in the Songs of Solomon 1:12-14. In "Floral Symbolism of the Great Masters, page 24, the use of plants in this book of the Bible is beautifully explained: "Those plants introduced as metaphors in the Song of Solomon....spikenard...which refer to the 'Beloved' and the 'Spouse' are all considered holy plants and by the Roman Catholic Church are assigned to the Blessed Virgin Mary."

As you also know, Joseph always seems to be associated with lilies in a variety of different ways. (Floral Symbolism of the Great Masters, p. 226-227). The only other flower I could find associated with Joseph was the grape hyacinth (Mary's Garden) which looks much like the flower you put on your post today.

It would really help to know a Spanish iconographer, but I did find one solitary hint that there may actually be something to spikenard-Joseph connection. In a book of Spanish poetry, A Woman in Her Garden: Selected Poems, on page 151 by Cuban, Dulce Maria Loynaz, I found this verse:

"Planted in your spell-bound earth, dry twigs turn to spikenard, white flower of Saint Joseph, the wedding flower."

Curiously, the original Spanish on page 150 seems to be far removed from the English translation, and doesn't use the word "nardo" which is Spanish for "spikenard":

"Varas de San José en trance de boda, tórnanse todos los gavos secos clavados en tu tierra taumatúrgica."

Well, there you have the best I could do with my compulsive internet researching. Perhaps you have a Spanish-speaking reader who could help??? (I think I'll e-mail the Giralts and see if they can help!) Gotta get to the bottom of this!

MaryofSharon said...

Call me obsessive (it's true), but I think I figured it out!

The spikenard for Joseph is likely to be referring to the beautiful tradition about St. Joseph and the flowering rod:

"Briefly, in the Protevangelium an angel tells the priests to call all the widowers to come to the Temple with their rods; there will then be a sign to show which of the widowers should be betrothed to Mary. St. Joseph is chosen when a dove flies out of his rod. A millenium later, the Golden Legend tells essentially the same story but with a flower growing out of the rod and a dove alighting on it; the Legend also ties this episode to Isaiah 11:1, 'And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root.' This episode is sometimes represented in medieval art century, when his cult was promoted by St. Teresa of Avila and by the Jesuits. Portraits and statues represent him with the flowering rod...."

Notice that this is a particularly Jesuit tradition.

Most art that depicts Joseph with a flower shows that flower as a lily, even when it is on the rod. But that is not always the case. Take a look at Guercino's St. Joseph or perhaps more significantly, because he is Spanish, Jose Ribera's St. Joseph with the Flowering Rod.

The flowers in these paintings don't look much like spikenard, but when you look at them in the context of Dulce Maria Loynaz's poem above, it all comes together. What's more "vara" in her poem, can be translated as "rod"!

To further confirm this I found another source with Spanish connections that reads "Saint Joseph, remains vigilant with his spikenard." And yet another better quote, not with any particularly Hispanic connection: ""Didn't Countess Mérode Westerloo tell me about how St. Joseph's spikenard twig bloomed?"

No clue whatsoever who this countess is (her?), but clearly she heard the story of Joseph and how his rod blossomed with spikenard, thus leading to him being found worthy of betrothal to Mary.

Bottom line is that our new Holy Father is choosing to represent his papacy with beautiful imagery of the Holy Family!

Pat Giralt said...

At first, I was also confused about the symbolism used for St. Joseph in Pope Francis' coat of arms. At first I thought it was a bunch of grapes.

Gabe and I did some research on the plant Nardo. We found out that the scientific name of the plant is Polianthes tuberosa. Nardo or Vara de San Jose (Staff of St. Joseph) is its common name in Spanish. It is called "tuberose" in English. It is originally from Mexico. Some statues or pictures of St. Joseph depict him with a staff with a flower on top. Most of the time the ones toward the bottom are in bloom and those at the top are closed.

Nardo is a night blooming plant and is fragrant. It is about 18 inches long that produce waxy white flowers that bloom from the bottom towards the top. What is interesting in the Pope's Coat of Arms is that the Nardo is represented before the flower is in full bloom. So what we see are clusters of unopened flowers because that is how it looks during the day since it blooms at night. We associate St. Joseph with a Lily because what we are familiar with is the flower in bloom and we call it a Lily. That's not necessarily wrong because Nardo is from the family of Lilys.

Since the flower is white it is a symbol of purity. The Fathers of the Church use Nardo as a symbol of humility. Purity and Humility are of course virtues that we find in St. Joseph. And the staff is a symbol of authority, he was given the authority as Foster father of Jesus.

Being a Carmelite, I want to add that St. Teresa of Avila has a great devotion to St. Joseph. She was cured through his intercession. She entrusted the Carmelite Order to the protection of St. Joseph. From the Book of Her Life, Chapter 6, St. Teresa says:

"....I took for my patron and Lord the glorious St. Joseph, and recommended myself earnestly to him. I saw clearly that both out of this my present trouble, and out of others of greater importance, relating to my honour and the loss of my soul, this my father and lord delivered me, and rendered me greater services than I knew how to ask for. I cannot call to mind that I have ever asked him at any time for anything which he has not granted; and I am filled with amazement when I consider the great favors which God hath given me through this blessed Saint; the dangers from which he hath delivered me, both of body and of soul. To other Saints, our Lord seems to have given grace to succor men in some special necessity; but to this glorious Saint, I know by experience, to help us in all: and our Lord would have us understand that as He was Himself subject to him upon earth--for St. Joseph having the title of father, and being His guardian, could command Him--so now in heaven He performs all his petitions. I have asked others to recommend themselves to St. Joseph, and they too know this by experience; and there are many who are now of late devout to him, having had experience of this truth."

"Would that I could persuade all men to be devout to this glorious Saint; for I know by long experience what blessings he can obtain for us from God. I have never known any one who was really devout to him, and who honored him by particular services, who did not visibly grow more and more in virtue; for he helps in a special way those souls who commend themselves to him. It is now some years since I have always on his feast asked him for something, and I always have it. If the petition be in any way amiss, he directs it aright for my greater good."

Hope this helps.

MaryofSharon said...

Thanks Giralts! Beautiful and inspiring explanation that fills in a lot of the details! Now we've got the right plant. I'd also like to think of that it still symbolizes the flowers that miraculously bloomed on Joseph's rod as God's means of selecting Joseph to be Mary's husband. (Why else call them Joseph's rod?)

You can see these Polianthes tuberosa on the Spanish Wikipedia site, where they are called varas de San Jose or nardos. You can see some buds at the end of a spike here which looks sort of like the image on the coat of arms, which helps to settle the question about what it is a picture of.

Still more confusion revolving around this image stems from the fact that there are several completely unrelated plants all sharing the name "spikenard". People looking for scriptural meaning would think of the the biblical spikenard from Asia, Nardostachys jatamansi, which is mistakenly identified on Wikipedia as the spikenard on the coat of arms. Everyone and their brother is citing Wikipedia on this and getting it wrong! (Then there's American spikenard, too.)

Perhaps the confusion is coming from the Vatican website which, for now, is only in Italian, and says ramo di nardo which translates on Google Translate as "branch of spikenard". I guess you can't blame the reporters for not knowing that another plant, native to Mexico, is only rarely called spikenard, but that we normally call them tuberoses and our neighbors to the south call it them "Rods of St. Joseph". It seems that it is only in old and obscure books, as those I cited in earlier comments, where these "Rod of Joseph" flowers are called spikenards. The only news outlet I found who got it right was Rome Reports; they called the symbol a tuberose! Think I'll go tell theWDTPRS people to come over here and read the comments. They talked about this a lot, and still haven't really figured it out.

Sister Marie Rose Kassiani said...

The symbol of the nard and St. Joseph reveals his association with Aaron's priesthood and nard was used in the Temple as incense. Only the priests could offer incense to YAHWEH. And if some people think that the use of the Divine Name is taboo, look at Isaiah 42:8. The verse makes no sense other than using the Name!
And yes, St. Joseph was descended from King David as well.

MaryofSharon said...

Guess what, Fr. V? I'm really excited about something I just found!

Pope Francis has a new nardo image on his coat of arms. Now it looks much more like a just-beginning-to-bloom nardo flower, that is the flower of the Polianthes tuberosa, also know as the vara de San José (staff of St. Joseph) in Mexico, etc.

I'm glad they changed it! I was really puzzled by the whole thing, since it didn't really look like any kind of nard. Here's a page with a painting of St. Joseph above photo of this flower, looking much like the image on the Holy Fathers coat of arms. Now it all makes sense!

(The star is now has eight points instead of five. Care to explain the change in meaning, if any? )

MaryofSharon said...

Here are the details on the pope's revised coat of arms. I particularly like the additional explanation about his motto from a a homily of St. Bede's about the conversion of St. Matthew which is featured in the Office of Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours.

Anonymous said...

There is a collection of devotional poems called Spikenard by Laurence Houseman. Houseman was was seriously into St. Francis of Assisi so I assumed that there was some connection between St. Francis of Assisi and spikenard and Pope Francis chose it for that reason.

Anonymous said...

Hello Fr. V,
Here are 2 Spanish images of St. Joseph with a his rod and what looks like spikenard in the photos i've seen, although it's a little stretch to make it look like the papal imagery. I believe it was said that in Spanish imagery that spikenard is used, instead of the lily we are used to seeing.) So, links to 2 spanish paintings: by Ribera and one by an unknown Spanish artist:

His peace,

Anonymous said...

The eight pointed star is the star of Esther which is also found on our Lady's cloak in Fatima. Esther is an important end times prophetic book and Fatima points to it.