Heraldry is vanity

This title really caught my eye. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a heraldry aficionado willing to give time to anything that implies a criticism of heraldry, particularly an outright moral failing.

Medieval churches still abound in coats of arms depicted on tombs, epitaphs, windows, altarpieces and other commemorative devices. And of course it was not just knights, nobles, princes and kings that tried to preserve their memory by means of heraldry. Medieval townspeople, too, left behind heraldic reminders in the churches in England and Germany, for instance. The Nuremberg patrician Sebald Schreyer (d. 1520) noted a stained-glass window embellished with the Schreyer arms given to a local church as a ‘remembrance’ (gedechtnus) of his late father,1 just as York alderman and merchant Richard Wartere (d. 1465) commissioned a liturgical garment whilst revealingly requesting ‘that my executors add a shield of my arms to said vestment, in the same way as it is made above the sarcophagus of my tomb, […] with the intention that the people may pray especially for my soul.’

When I look at personal heraldry in churches abroad, I think about what the Episcopalian ministers I know would say about putting something like that in their churches. I don’t think it would be an easy sell. Times have changed. The modern church is more sensitive to the existence and inappropriate use of power structures.

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