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Heraldic concepts

Last modified: 2002-03-15 by phil nelson
Keywords: heraldic concepts | petra sancta | saltire | cross | saint patrick | saint andrew | blazon |
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Petra Sancta method

The Petra Sancta method was created in 1638 to render colors in black and white images of coats of arms. Each colour (called tincture) is represented by a different hatch. In heraldry tinctures have old French names; tinctures are divided into "colours" (or "smalts") and "metals". It is better to avoid using metals on metals and smalts on enamels. The natural colours (e.g., the pink of skin) is left empty.

metal English translation symbol used description of symbol mnemonic
argent (silver or white) empty the empty paper
or (gold or yellow) points bright surface

tincture English translation symbol used description of symbol mnemonic
gules (red) vertical lines the left line on an "R"
azure (blue) horizontal lines the horizontal line on an "A"
sable (black) vertical and horizontal lines almost full
vert (green) backslashes the left side of a "V"
purpure (purple) slanted lines "between" red (vertical) and blue (horizontal)
sanguine (blood red) slashes like purple
tenne (orange) dots and vertical lines O=R+Y
marron (brown) crossing bendwise and palewise
fer (grey) crossing bend sinister and palewise

Giuseppe Bottasini, Antonio Martins and Zeljko Heimer

Source: Heraldika 1 by Milos Ciric, Belgrade, 1988

According to 'Grand Larousse Illustre' du XXe sie`cle' (1932), the method was named after his inventor. The Jesuit and heraldist Silvestre Petra Sancta, or Pietra Santa (Roma, 1590 - Roma, 1647) was rector of the college of Loreto. Later, he settled in Roma and published there two famous treaties of heraldry (in Latin): Blazons and emblems of nobility (1634) ; Coat of Arms of the Great Famlies(1638).

Anyway, Neubecker says that Petra Sancta did not invent the method but popularize it in his second treaty (Latin title: Tesserae Gentilitiae). Petra Sancta also proposed new elements of the external decoration (around the shield) for the princely arms, i.e. mantle for dukes and sovereign princes, and pavilion for the Emperor and kings. In the latter case, Petra Sancta used for model the pavilions, that could be dismantled, which were used at that time as tents by the princes. His sources were the engravings by L. Gaultier for 'Tableau des Armoiries de France' (Table of Arms of France) by Philippe Moreau (1609 and 1630) and 'Histoire de la Maison de France' (History of the House of Frtance) by the brothers Sainte-Marthe (1628).
Ivan Sache, 11 November 2001

Saltires and X crosses

A "X" cross on a flag is, strictly speaking, a saltire and not a cross. Although I think it's referred to as a cross, especially in relation to St. Patrick, because he was purportedly cruicified on a cross this shape.
Robert Czernkowski

In effect "St. Andrew cross" is an X. St. Andrew was crucified on a X cross. He is represented with this kind of cross in a lot of shields and pictures (also in the church of my town, dedicated to him).
Giuseppe Bottasini

I believe the St. Patrick thing was invented, and never actually used in Irish heraldry to mean Ireland. I've also heard the red saltire on white called the Geraldine cross, presumably after a group of people involved in Irish politics at the time. I guess it fitted in much better with the pre-Union flag of Great Britain (to make the United Kingdom) than the Irish harp would have.
Christopher Vance

St. Patrick was not crucified in any way, shape or form, he lived to a ripe old age. (When Giraldus Cambrensis sneered at the Irish for not having any martyrs, the Archbishop of Cashel retorted "Our people never raised their hands against God's saints... but now that men have come here who know how to make them, we shall have martyrs in plenty!")
      The so-called "St Patrick's cross" is really taken from the arms of the FitzGerald Earls of Kildare, and plopped in the Union flag to represent Ireland for no good reason anyone can figure out.
Will Linden


Here's an example of "Blazonry":

Argent, on a Fess dancettee Vert, between in cief a Castle triple-towered Sable, upon a rock proper issuant from the fess, masoned Argent, windows, vanes and portcullis Gules, and in base a three-masted Lymphad of the third sails furled Azure, flagged of Scotland (viz. Azure a saltire Argent), a Ram's head affrontee proper, horned Or, between two Garbs of the last.
To describe flags I don't know of any formal language other than the "blazonry" above, with special terms not found in standard heraldic blazonry like fly, mast and canton (the last is occasionally seen in standard heraldry). There are several varieties of blazonry, although they are all fairly similar. The above is an example of English blazonry, which is accepted in pretty near all the English speaking world. There is also a Continental (European) standard blazonry, I believe.
Grammar is fairly strict, and can be unearthed in many books on heraldry. Basically, you go from the background colour of the flag (the "field"), to the major "divisions" (eg, the Italian flag is "tierced per pale", i.e., divided vertically in three), to the "added bits", which are called "ordinaries" if they are sections of a design (like, say, the cross on the Danish flag) or "charges" if they are emblems like a lion or fleur de lys placed on part of the flag. To go through the one above:
Argent[A white background] on a Fess[horizontal division in the middle of the flag] dancettee[zigzag] Vert[green], between in chief[above it] a Castle triple-towered Sable[black], upon a rock proper[rock-coloured] issuant from the fess[coming out of the horiz. div.], masoned Argent[white mortar on the castle], windows, vanes and portcullis Gules[red windows, doors and flagpoles], and in base[below the fess] a three-masted Lymphad[heraldic round bottomed ship] of the third[third colour mentioned - black] sails furled Azure[blue], flagged of Scotland (viz. Azure a saltire Argent[white X on blue]), a Ram's head affrontee [facing forward towards the viewer] proper[ram-coloured], horned Or[with gold horns], between two Garbs[sheafs of grain] of the last[colour, i.e., gold].
Note particularly that it starts with the field, goes to the ordinary (the fess), then describes the charges on the field, then finally describes the charges on the fess (even though the second word of the description, "on" indicates they will eventually be described).
Look for a simple text on heraldry by someone like A C Fox-Davies or J P Brooke-Little if you want to go into blazonry further.
James Dignan

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