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home : features : people of faith

4/17/2014 9:01:00 AM
HERALDRY
Bishop's complex coat of arms
"There are many levels of meaning in our symbolism," Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger told The Evangelist, so the coat of arms he chose is more than meets the eye.

The left half of the shield (as seen by the viewer) represents the Diocese of Albany. The insignia includes a beaver holding a crosier, along with a crescent moon. The city of Albany was once known as "Beverwyck," or "Beaver Town;" the beaver is part of the city's coat of arms. The crosier, or staff, symbolizes the rank of bishop. The crescent moon is a reference to the Blessed Mother, patroness of the Diocese under the title of the Immaculate Conception.

The right side represents Bishop Scharfenberger's personal coat of arms. The three green triangles are mountains - an image traditionally found on arms of the Scharfenberg family, as "Scharfenberger" can be interpreted as "person from a sharp (high) mountain."

If the left mountain represents the Bishop and the right, the Diocese, the Bishop noted that the two mountains on either side can also represent the Catskill and Adirondack mountain ranges located in the Diocese, with the Church, "the mountain of faith, in the middle, connecting them."

Rev. Michael Walters, director of the Pontifical Mission Societies for the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., designed the coat of arms for Bishop Scharfenberger. "Mountains have always been a special place of encounter with God," he noted. "Mount Sinai was where Moses received the law; Mount Tabor was the mount of the Transfiguration.

"The Church is the third and central mountain, which unites the faith and witness of both the Old and New Covenants, forming the new People of God. The mountains are green, the color of hope, symbolizing the abundant life available through faith."

The right side of the shield also includes a Star of David. Bishop Scharfenberger called this doubly symbolic: Two interlocking triangles are actually a Marian symbol, symbolizing the link between heaven and earth; and the Star of David also represents his family's Jewish origin on his mother's side. Her family came from Kiev, Ukraine, and immigrated to Iowa. Her maiden name was Magdal, and she was given the name Miriam at her baptism.

The wavy lines, explained Father Walters, "represent the rivers of the Bishop's life: the Dnieper, the Mississippi, the Hudson, the Mohawk and the East Rivers." They begin in the mountains - in God, the source of life - and "flow into the sea, as all life flows into the Kingdom of God."

The gold feather at the base of the shield is symbolic of the Holy Spirit and peace, and also a connection to the Native American tribes that make their home in the Albany Diocese, especially St. Kateri Tekakwitha, a native of what's now Auriesville.

Atop the coat of arms is a hat that was once worn by bishops. The color and number of tassels designate the rank of the bearer; the color for bishops is green, with six tassels on each side. All bishops' coats of arms include this pontifical hat.

Behind the shield is a processional cross; below it is Bishop Scharfenberger's chosen motto: "Lord, Make Me a Channel of Your Peace." Taken from a prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, the Bishop said the motto reminds him of the song "Peace Prayer of St. Francis" and could well be the motto of everyone in the Diocese: "I would call others to pray that prayer, too."

Heraldry began in the Middle Ages and was adopted by the Church as a way of approving and authenticating documents and indicating ownership of church buildings, said Father Walters. "To this day," he said, "the bishop's arms are used in official correspondence and the sealing of important documents."

Sister Gerarda Panek, OP, of Caldwell College in New Jersey did the artwork for the coat of arms.





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