SIGNIFICANCE OF THE COAT OF ARMS
The episcopal heraldic achievement of a bishop’s coat of arms is composed of a shield with its charges (symbols), a motto scroll and the external ornaments. The shield, which is the central and most important feature of any heraldic device, is described (blazoned) in 12th Century terms that are archaic to our modern language. This description is done as if given by the bearer with the shield worn on the arm. Thus, it must be remembered, where it applies, that the terms “dexter” (right) and “sinister” (left) are reversed as the device is viewed from the front.
By heraldic tradition, the arms of the bishop of a diocese, called the “Ordinary,” are joined to the arms of his jurisdiction, seen in the dexter impalement (left side, as seen from the front) of the shield. In this case, these are arms of the Diocese of Boise.
The arms of the diocese are a variation of the arms of Pope Leo XIII who erected the Diocese of Boise on Aug. 25, 1893. They are composed of a silver (white) field on which are seen a green terrace that has a green pine tree growing forth from it. The name “Boise,” suggests a tree and the Latin name of the diocese, Xylopolitanus, meaning “wood city” or “wooded place,” further indicates this.
Across the center of this field is a red, embattled fess (horizontal bar) to represent the fortifications that traditionally surrounded all cities, especially the frontier cities like Boise. In the upper left (chief dexter) of Pope Leo’s arms is a comet that is taken from his family’s arms, the Pecci family. In this design for the Diocese of Boise, that comet has been replaced with a small, red ornamental cross that has a comet-like tail.
For his personal arms, seen in the sinister impalement (right side) of the shield, Bishop Christensen’s coat of arms pays homage to St. Peter, the first bishop of Rome, and to a lesser degree, to St. Francis de Sales.
The external elements of the shield are composed of the green pilgrim’s hat with its six tassels on each side, in three rows. These are the heraldic insignia of a bishop. For his motto, Bishop Christensen selected a text from the Mt 16:16, “Tu es Christus Filius Dei Vivi,” (“You are the Christ, Son of the Living God.” )
The barque on the coat of arms was based on a design by Bishop Christensen, who has a background in the graphic arts. Bishop Christensen’s crest was designed by James-Charles Noonan, Jr., a well-known church historian and ecclesial heraldist from Gwynedd Valley, Penn. Linda Nicholson, a craft painter of the Society of Heraldic Arts in England, painted the arms designed by Noonan.
There is also tribute to the Blessed Virgin Mary evidenced in blue on the base of the shield. Besides Mary, blue also represents philosophy, symbolic of a bishop’s teaching role. Above a depiction of a wave in silver, is the barque (boat) of Peter in gold. Gold represents the first of the heavenly attributes, as well as divine wisdom and the Petrine office. The mast of the boat is in the form of a cross in gold, representing the heroic sacrifice of Christ. This image is particularly significant, since Bishop Christensen was ordained to the episcopacy on Sept. 14, 2007, the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The sail of the boat is silver, its fullness representing the fullness of truth that the apostle Peter carried to Rome. The star on the sail is the Star of Mary, with red rays representing the graces that flow from her. Its position near the base of the mast recalls Mary’s steadfast presence at the foot of the cross.
On the top, in gold rectangle, is a circlet representing a halo of holiness to which all in the church are called. It consists of eight thorns (black for human sinfulness) tipped in red, the color of Christ’s redeeming blood. Here is a reference to the sorrows that pierced the heart of St. Francis de Sales, a saint with whom Bishop Christensen shares a deep spiritual kinship.
Behind the coat of arms is the episcopal cross, with one transverse arm. The crozier on the cross represents St. Peter and the sword St. Paul. The ruby is reminiscent of the martyrdom each saint suffered in witness to Christ.