Church wedding

Coat of arms of the bishop of the Catholic Church steeped in medieval heraldry

Bishop David Toups was on a plane to Florida, returning from his presentation to members of the Diocese of Beaumont as the sixth bishop, when he began sketching out the idea for his personal coat of arms. The symbol would soon mark the crest representing the diocese of Beaumont after his ordination on August 21, 2020.

It is a duty with which every bishop of the Roman Catholic Church has been charged for over a thousand years – part of an ancient heraldic tradition dating back to the Middle Ages.

“There’s a lot of continuity and deep symbolic meaning” in the practice, Toups said.


Just as families in medieval times had a coat of arms to distinguish them in times of battle or celebration, bishops designed coats of arms depicting their lives as they were called to lead their diocesan family, Toups explained.

It’s a tradition that Toups never expected to be part of, until he received a call from the papal nuncio informing him that Pope Francis had named him as the next bishop of the diocese of Beaumont, following a papal acceptance of Bishop Curtis Guillory’s retirement after 20 years. years at the head of the diocese.

At the time, Toups was rector and president of St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Clearwater, Florida.

He had been enmeshed in seminary and university life for about 20 years.

The move would require leaving the world of spiritual teaching for that of spiritual direction – not just in one church, but in a consortium of 49 parishes in nine counties serving nearly 70,000 Catholics throughout the Golden Triangle.

Its home base would be the Basilica-Cathedral of Saint Anthony, a historic site created in 1907 whose roots date back to 1879.

It was a life-changing decision – a Toups asked to be considered with the consultation of spiritual advisors.

“What is there to consider?” Toups remembers the papal nuncio asking. “The pope appointed you.”

Toups reflected on his longtime favorite Bible verse – “To those who love God, all things work together for good,” Romans 8:28.

“It happened to be my family’s favorite verse and the first verse I ever experienced,” Toups said.

Speaking to then-Bishop Curtis Guillory during a first visit, Toups learned that the verse was actually the motto for the Bishop of Guillory’s personal crest.

That’s when he knew the date was fate.

“We call it divine incidence,” Toups said during his introduction to the community of priests in the diocese on June 9, 2020.

As he set out to create the ridge that would adjoin the diocesan ridge, he considered his personal history, his deep roots in the southern Gulf Coast, and a spiritual life rooted in academia.

Toups had created a family crest years ago, “so heraldry wasn’t new to me,” he said.

But part of it would resonate with members of Beaumont parishes – the motto.

“It is unusual to carry a motto” from one bishop to another, Toups noted, “but it shows the continuity of Bishop Guillory and me. It was a beautiful sign of providence.”

From there, however, personal crests diverge.

That of Bishop Guillory was surrounded by the colors of Africa – red, green and black – in which were encrusted personal symbols, such as a strand of cotton referring to his descent from sharecroppers.

The crest of Bishop Toups would signify a story imbued with its own layers of symbolic figures and colors.

Its background colors are red, yellow and blue, their meaning being specified in the diocesan documents.

Red represents the color of blood, especially the blood of Jesus, which was shed for all in the ultimate act of love.

Gold symbolizes nobility and the first virtue, faith, “which helps us to believe in God’s plan of salvation”.

The color blue “symbolizes the separation from worldly values ​​and the ascent of the soul to God”.

Silver “is the second of the noble metals and is displayed in white, which symbolizes the purity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which all Christians share through the gift of sanctification”.

The rules of ecclesiastical heraldry state that in a coat of arms color cannot be laid on color nor metal on metal.

At the top left of the crest is a gold feather on a red background. It’s a feather-shaped plume – part of the old Dubs (Toups) family crest that serves as a reminder of family lineage – but also a nod to the fact that “much of my priesthood was spent in academia, in the intellectual side of the church,” notes Toups.

“The plume/feather represents the importance of the intellectual search for truth and (my) desire to be a faithful and true shepherd,” he added.

Toups was inspired by Mother Teresa’s statement that she was simply “a pencil in the hand of God, but he is the one who writes”.

Next to this image, in contrasting hues, is a red lion set in the middle of a gold plane.

The lion comes from a symbol for the diocese of Saint Petersburg, where Toups was first ordained a priest in 1997.

It also refers to his middle name – Léon, after his father – and therefore renders his coat of arms “canting”, or heraldic bearings which represent the bearer’s name. The lion also symbolizes courage, “which the bishop asks God to pour upon him as he embraces the office of bishop,” according to diocesan documentation.

At the bottom of the shield is a pelican – a bird featured on the Louisiana flag of Toups’ youth in recognition of his upbringing in Houma, Louisiana – feeding his chicks.

Its silver wings spread out amid a base of blue, and in its chest, three drops of blood rest beneath the pelican’s dipping beak as it prepares to feed its young.

In symbolic reference to the Eucharist, “the pelican in times of famine would pinch its chest and feed the chicks with their own flesh so that they would not die,” Toups explained.

The image, attributed to Saint Thomas Aquinas, is “a powerful and ancient symbol of Jesus, who, to prevent us from starving, serves us with his flesh and blood. This image serves as the base/foundation of the entire shield to remind us all that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of our lives as Catholic Christians,” according to diocesan documents explaining the Toups crest. .

On a personal level, the three chicks represent Toups, his 2 older siblings and “the sacrifice parents make for their children,” he said.

Set in the middle of a base of blue, its meaning elevates to that representing Toups’ movement from an earthly family to his extended family as a servant of God.

In the center of his coat of arms is a silver star.

“It is a symbol of Mary, star of the sea guiding sailors to safety as the patroness of storms,” Toups explained.

It is a symbol that has not escaped anyone in the history of hurricanes and devastating storms of the Golden Triangle.

But it further represents Bishop Toups’ wish to “entrust his new pastoral service to the protection and guiding light of the Blessed Virgin Mary…and an important symbol of his new home in Texas, ‘the State of ‘lone star'”, according to Diocesan Documents.

After his enthronement as bishop, Toups’ personal coat of arms was joined to one that has long represented the diocese of Beaumont – what is known as “marshaling” in heraldic tradition.

The left half, or heart, of the diocesan coat of arms has been passed down through six generations of pastoral leadership.

Its symbolism is worn on the vestments of priests during diocese-wide services, such as the Chrism Mass celebrated on Tuesdays of Holy Week and is part of the imagery decorating the metal doors of the basilica.

On a base of blue is a golden vase inscribed with the Greek letters X (Chi) and P (Rho) – the monogram of Christ, the “X” meaning “the anointed”, Toups said.

Above are two flowers representing descent from the Diocese of Beaumont of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston; a star in between refers to the “Lone Star State”.

The vessel depicts what “holds the sacred oils used in the administration of the sacraments,” Toups explained, but also acknowledges the area’s role as the “origins of oil in Southeast Texas – a mountain of ‘or, a Beau Mont’.

Although the word originates from the maiden name of the city’s founder, its symbolic meaning has remained and has its place in the complex layered imagery of its later diocesan nomenclature.

The coat of arms of the bishop and of the diocese form a shield unified by a golden processional cross adorned with five red gems symbolizing the wounds of Christ during the crucifixion.

At the top of the cross is a green hat from which flows on each side a total of six.

They represent the stature of the crest bearer within the Catholic hierarchy.

Designing his coat of arms was just one step towards Toups taking on his new role on a journey of loyal service.

It was a learning curve helped by other bishops.

One pointed him to the talents of Renato Poletti – a member of the Italian government who takes up ecclesiastical heraldry as a hobby – to create the final design of his coat of arms from Toups’ early sketches.

Another bishop advised him to a jeweler in Pittsburgh to create the bishop’s ring that would bear the seal of his crest.

And it was Toup’s sister, Vicki Sheaffer, who suggested that he use their parents’ wedding rings as the base metal for this piece.

It was all part of the heraldry that would lead to his installment as the sixth Bishop of Beaumont in a place he would now call home.

“I really feel at home here in Southeast Texas,” Toups said, noting that a ward member created the crest-embroidered capes that now cover the shoulders of servers who help him during mass. .

“It was a nice little touch” to his installment as the next bishop, Toups said, which made him feel welcome in the community he now calls home — a home he felt in. called to serve.

“I like being in a small diocese. It’s like being the pastor of a big parish, and I feel like that’s good,” Toups said. “This is where God wanted me to be.”

kbrent@beaumontenterprise.com