Published January 20, 2005
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory’s personal coat of arms is not only a reflection of his life experiences and identity but also of his particular preparation to shepherd the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
Archbishop Gregory’s archiepiscopal heraldic achievement, or coat of arms, joins elements of his personal arms with the coat of arms of the Atlanta Archdiocese, signifying his unity with his flock. The coat of arms is a means of identification, and in this case it identifies the institution of the archdiocese with its sixth archbishop. Its design will be used as the official seal of the diocese, which is affixed to legal and other documents.
The design contains a golden phoenix, coming forth from red flames, to honor his native city of Chicago, the city reborn after the famous Chicago fire. Coincidentally that bird is also the symbol of Atlanta, a city that rose from the ashes of the Civil War and a century later became a thriving spiritual center of renewal for the U.S. Catholic Church.
The archbishop’s coat of arms is composed of a shield with its charges or symbols, a motto scroll and the external ornamentation. The shield, the central and most important feature of any heraldic device, is described in 12th-century terms that are archaic to modern language.
The shield is divided in half vertically. The dexter, or right side of the arms, as viewed by one who is behind the shield and bears it on his arm, remains the same from bishop to bishop. Its significance comes from symbols that uniquely represent the Archdiocese of Atlanta. The sinister, or left side, as viewed by the one bearing the shield, contains symbols representing the individual archbishop.
On the dexter for the archdiocese are three blue wavy bars that divide the shield into seven alternate wavy spaces of white and blue. In the center of the shield is an open gold crown and above on the upper wavy bar is a Cherokee rose.
The seven white and blue wavy bars are the heraldic equivalent of the sea and represent Atlanta, which is the See City and is indirectly named after the Atlantic Ocean. The seven bars also recall the seven sacraments administered in the archdiocese. Blue and white are the colors of the Blessed Mother. The wavy aspects of the bars can also be said to symbolize the rolling foothills of the Blue Ridge country of North Georgia. The open gold crown represents the crown of Christ the King, the title of the Cathedral Church of the diocese. The crown may also have a secondary representation commemorating King George II of England after whom the state of Georgia was named. On the upper wavy blue bar is a Cherokee rose, a white flower with a yellow center that is the state flower of Georgia.
For his personal arms, Archbishop Gregory has retained the design that was adopted upon his selection to receive the fullness of Christ’s priesthood as a bishop, when he was appointed as an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Chicago. He retained the design during his tenure as bishop of Belleville, Ill.
On a silver white field is a cross of the faith, composed of three colors: the black on green on red. These colors are referred to as the African-American colors, and by their use Archbishop Gregory honors the religious and racial heritage that has come to him from his parents, Wilton and Ethel (Duncan) Gregory.
Within the quarters that are formed by the cross are a raven to honor the archbishop’s Benedictine education at Sant’Anselmo in Rome and a black bear taken from the arms of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, His Excellency’s principal Episcopal Consecrator. Also within the quarters are a red fleur-de-lis taken from the arms of the Mundelein Seminary in Chicago, where Archbishop Gregory was a student and faculty member, and the golden phoenix, coming forth from red flames.
For his motto, Archbishop Gregory continues to use the phrase: “We are the Lord’s,” which is taken from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Rom 14:8). The use of this phrase expresses the archbishop’s deep Christian belief that in all that we are and in all that we do, “we are the Lord’s.”
The achievement is completed with the external ornaments, which are a gold processional cross with two cross-members, which is placed in back of and extends above and below the shield, and the pontifical hat, called a “gallero,” with its 10 tassels in four rows on either side of the shield, all in green. These are the heraldic insignia of a prelate of the rank of archbishop by instruction of the Holy See of March 31, 1969.
Archbishop Gregory’s coat of arms was impaled by Deacon Paul Sullivan of Saunderstown, R.I.