A historical walk with the Prefect of the Pontifical Household through the treasures of papal heraldry
24.8 x 18.8 cm. 285 pp. + nearly 400 b/w illus. with the text and 24 pp. with 54 colour illus. Captions to all illustrations are in English, Italian and German
In the late 1960s Cardinal Martin conceived the idea of having an authoritative heraldic guide for the Vatican where hundreds of coats of arms date back to Pope Eugene IV (1431-1447) the earliest armorial bearings of popes who resided in the Vatican. When Pope Paul VI had consecrated him Bishop of Neapolis in Palaestina during the papal visit to the Holy Land in 1964 and appointed him the first Prefect of the Pontifical Court, Monsignor Martin spent his free time writing profusely illustrated articles for the Holy See's Sunday newspaper L'Osservatore della Domenica on heraldry in the Vatican.
At that time he already had lived in the Vatican for over thirty years. When Pope John Paul II ascended the See of St. Peter in 1978 and, like his immediate predecessor, John Paul I, appointed him Prefect of the Papal Household and the Pontifical Court, Monsignor Martin had himself become a unique figure in the history of heraldry. He was the first Prelate of the Roman Church who was able to impale his personal coat of arms with that of the three Popes under whom he had served as Prefect of the Pontifical Court.
When Mons. Martin approached me in 1983 about the possibility of producing a book on heraldry in the Vatican, he had lived over fifty years in the Vatican. His knowledge about the Vatican and the people who had lived there was phenomenal. After the book had been published, several prominent members of the Roman Curia suggested that the book's title was in many respects a misnomer. All the Popes and other famous residents of the Apostolic Palace were profusely represented with their armorial bearings, but Monsignor Martin, who personally had served six Popes, added countless anecdotes and curiosities about people and places inside the Vatican. The book reminds one of the succinct and sometimes hilarious accounts in Aubrey's Brief Lives. For example, he recalls his first years in the Vatican when he worked in the Papal Secretariat of State of Pope Pius XI, under whom the present Vatican City State came into existence. Pope Pius XI checked the signatures of all the members in his Secretariat, and anybody whose signature he considered illegible was dismissed from service in the Secretariat of State.
The idiosyncrasies of many popes and cardinals resident in the Vatican during the last 550 years were often expressed in heraldic ornaments, on ceilings, walls and fountains. Bernini placed statues of 140 Popes, Cardinals and Bishops who had lived in the Vatican on his colonnades of St. Peter's Square. Monsignor Martin knew who everyone was, their life stories and why Bernini had chosen them to be immortalised.
We worked on his book for four years. I have never ceased to be amazed by Cardinal Martin's phenomenal memory. As Prefect of the Pontifical Household, he was always at the Pope's side. Sometimes I was privileged to be present when he introduced visitors to the Pope; he had this charming way of briefing the Holy Father not only on who the person was, but always with personal information about the visitor. Everybody was astonished at the ease with which the Pope walked among the many visitors and seemed to know everybody personally. Few realised that the Pope's Prefect was that walking encyclopedia on which not only the Pope but countless Cardinals and members of the Curia could rely to provide accurate and detailed information. As far as the Vatican Palaces were concerned, he knew of rooms and entire suites nobody but he had entered since the days of Pope Pius IX (1846-1878). He found heraldic curiosities nobody had seen for hundreds of years. Cardinal Martin, more than any prelate who had lived in the Vatican has enriched the wealth of human knowledge of heraldry in the Vatican.
Without fear of contradiction I can say that Cardinal Jacques Martin was one of the most loved men in the Vatican, and the warmth of his love and care for others permeated the Apostolic palace for many decades. Cardinal Martin's love and devotion to the successors of St. Peter was unparalleled. His sense of humour was infectious, and he could speak about the follies of some illustrious residents over the last 550 years without malice. Coats of Arms came to life and spoke to those who were fortunate to be guided by him.
HERALDRY IN THE VATICAN is in a manner of speaking a legacy Cardinal Martin left behind when he died in 1992. It is far more than a guide to the hundreds of heraldic emblems in the Vatican or a history of their bearers. It brings alive 500 years of one of the most fascinating places on earth. The author himself had become part of the rich tapestry of the Vatican.
This is not just a book for any serious scholar of heraldry or Vatican history; it is an indispensable companion for anybody fortunate enough to visit Rome and the Vatican, and it will compensate those who cannot do so.Peter Bander van Duren More info →