A leading Catholic heraldist explains each element in Bishop Freyer’s coat of arms

By James-Charles Noonan, Church historian and world-renowned ecclesiastical protocolist     1/17/2017

Bishop-elect Timothy E. Freyer was born on Oct. 13, 1963 on the feast of the holy martyrs Faustus, Januarius, and Martial in the city of Los Angeles, and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Orange in California on June 10, 1989 on the feast of Saint Margaret of Scotland.

Pope Francis appointed him the fourth titular bishop of Strathernia (in Latin, and in the church’s official Atlas Sedi Titulari known as Stratherniensis) and as an auxiliary to the Residential Bishop of Orange, the Most Reverend Kevin W. Vann, Nov. 23, 2016. At Bishop Vann’s hands he shall be ordained Jan. 17 on the feast of Saint Anthony the Abbot.

Bishop-elect Freyer was raised by his parents, the late Jerry Freyer and his wife Patricia, who still resides in Huntington Beach. After graduating from Huntington Beach High School he entered St. John’s Seminary College in Camarillo where after four years of study he earned his bachelor’s degree, followed by four years in the theologate at St. John’s Seminary. It was from here that he went on to priestly ordination at the age of 25. After ordination, then-Father Freyer was assigned to posts at Saint Hedwig in Los Alamitos, Our Lady of Fatima in San Clemente, Saint Catherine of Siena in Laguna Beach, and later named pastor at Saint Mary’s in Fullerton.

In 2003 then-Father Freyer became pastor at Saint Boniface in Anaheim. Here he came to know the great history of the Evangelizer of the German peoples, which arose in him a greater appreciation of his own German heritage and the stellar attributes in the life story of this great saint of the Church.

After this time, Bishop-elect Freyer assumed many diocesan posts and accepted seats on numerous charitable and community boards. It was of these many gifts, and the fine training that his postings offered him, that singled him out in the Holy Father’s mindset, thus calling him to the Office of Bishop. He is the first priest of his ordination class to rise to this high office.

The titular diocese of Strathernia is found in Scotland rather than in Northern Africa or the Middle East where many of the vacated sees have been reserved for titular bishops. As an active diocese it was founded in A.D. 1155 but was later suppressed in 1571 after the Reformation and the destruction of the Catholic Church in England and Scotland where the surviving church had to reorganize to thrive. From 1571 onward it remained on the list of existing but suppressed sees until 1973 when it was restored and awarded by the Holy See as one of the sees granted to titular bishops in the Church. Bishop-elect Freyer will be the fourth bishop to hold this see since its restoration in 1973. In irony, when the Holy See assigned Strathernia to Bishop-elect Freyer, in giving this Scottish see to him it completed the circle begun in him on the day of his priestly ordination, the feast of Saint Margaret of Scotland.


Blazon of the Episcopal Heraldic Achievement of the Most Reverend Timothy Edward Freyer, D.D
The design of the personal coat of arms of Bishop-elect Freyer set out to achieve both spiritual and theological symbolism most important to him. The bishop-elect also sought to include honor to his family’s heritage—German, Irish and Scandinavian. Premier amongst what he wished to see in his coat of arms design was the staunch desire to include an emblem associated with the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Guadalupe in 1531.

In Catholic heraldic custom, multiple roses are typically, but not necessarily, used to symbolize this Marian apparition so as to depict the multiple roses that that were found in St. Juan Diego’s tilma as a sign from the Blessed Virgin to the bishop that doubted Her appearance. And so today, when a new bishop assumes a coat of arms with homage to Our Lady of Guadalupe included in it, more than one rose is typically used to depict the multiple roses found in the tilma. Bishop Vann’s coat of arms employs a border of roses to pay homage to Our Lady of Guadalupe and two of the most recently named auxiliary bishops of Los Angeles include the rose as well. In fact, throughout the Western United States, and the Southwest in particular, bishops and dioceses employ the rose of Guadalupe in one way or another, more than any other charge (emblem). Even the new design for the diocese of Orange incorporates special tribute to Our Lady of Guadalupe. In each coat of arms, the roses themselves are designed so that no two designs have the same rose type as in heraldry there are many forms of rose to employ and at all costs things should be as unique as possible.

Bishop-elect Freyer’s shield division is known in heraldry as tierced in mantle. This is to say that as one looks at the shield, the lower portion of it is divided into three geometric parts with the central line reaching to the top of the shield. This division pattern was purposely selected to represent the actual tilma of Juan Diego; the mantle in heraldry equates to the tilma so that as when one studies the design one can actually imagine the unfolding of the tilma before the skeptical bishop’s eyes, the roses beginning to appear as Juan Diego drops the tilma before him. This division style also provides two silver fields on which one rose each appears.

The bottom portion of the shield is worked in red and silver, in heraldry Gules and Argent. Since silver tarnishes badly, white long ago replaced it, but in heraldry the two are one and the same. Silver is one of the two Heavenly Attributes, the other being Gold (which is why the flag of the Holy See/Vatican City State is worked in both). Silver represents the purity of the Blessed Virgin. On these two pure silver fields appears the red rose for Our Lady of Guadalupe.

To distinguish these from other bishops’ coats of arms with similar Guadalupe references, Bishop-elect Freyer’s roses are barbed vert, heraldic language meaning that the thorns are green.

The second homage in this design is equally as important. The base of this special division style is worked in red. This was selected to represent the Precious Blood of the Eucharistic Christ and thus a way to depict the bishop-elect’s devotion to Our Lord in the Eucharist. Upon this field is a representation of the Eucharistic Body of Christ. It is worked in white (technically argent/silver) with gold used to embellish the Sacred Host with the brilliance of the sun and to work into it the Christological monogram at its center.

I·H·S has been one of the symbols for Jesus Christ from the earliest days of the Church at Rome. The monogram stands for JESUS HOMINUM SALVATOR, which translates in English to Jesus, Savior of Men, or of Mankind. It is one of the many Christological emblems traditionally worked into the large hosts used by bishops and priests at the altar of sacrifice. In this version, a Latin cross rests upon the monogram itself, forming the cross bar on the letter H. This emblem came to the designer when he was praying at the very beautiful 100-year-old Shrine of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in Germantown, now a section of the city of Philadelphia but in revolutionary times it was a town in its own right comprised entirely of German Catholic settlers. These settlers came to America from the very area in Germany where Bishop-elect Freyer’s family emigrated from later in history. It was thought appropriate, therefore, that this unique link to both Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, which is spiritually important to the bishop-elect, and this link to early German immigration in America, would be appropriate for incorporation in this new heraldic design.

Silver and gold are seldom seen together in heraldry. In fact metal upon metal and color upon color is generally prohibited, but not so in Catholic heraldry which has employed both metals together from the Middle Ages onward—these two becoming symbolically the Heavenly Attributes of Divine perfection, purity, mercy and omnipotence.

The third homage that Bishop-elect Freyer wished to see included was one honoring Saint Boniface who was the great evangelizer of the German race and also the titular (title) of the bishop-elect’s first parish as pastor. Saint Boniface was a Wessex-born English Benedictine monk, abbot and later bishop who was sent out from the English Isles, circa A.D. 716, to convert the pagans of the German race. He faced fierce opposition and real danger but despite this he personally converted thousands to the faith, he built numerous abbeys and monasteries, and at the insistence of, and investiture with the pallium by, Pope Gregory III he returned to the German speaking lands, after time with the pope in Rome, as the first Metropolitan Archbishop of All Germany. Boniface worked as best he could with the Carolingian kings of the Franks, including Charles Martel and Pepin. Germany at this time was an amalgam of many tribes, and peoples bound by common pagan themes (sadly later adopted by the Nazi regime to de-Christianize Germany) and a similar but not common language. Some groups received him well while others threatened him with violence, but Boniface never ceased in hoping to convert the Frisians, a particularly ardent pagan group. In 754 he set out with a small body of his monks and he baptized a great number of converts. However a group of brigands approached who killed the by-then-aged archbishop and his monks. History tells us that their intent was to plunder their belongings, but found nothing of value once they killed the Benedictine company. Seeking wealth and bounty, they broke open Boniface’s trunks finding only the books of the Gospels and other sacred texts. After the brigands fled, Boniface’s followers returned to inspect the scene. Alongside the saint and his fellow monks’ dead bodies were found the books left behind. Many had huge gashes in them showing that in anger the pagans had slashed the Scriptures with axes and pierced them with daggers.

It left such a visibly disturbing image in the Christians there at that time that the image of a dagger or sword or axe piercing a sacred text has forever after been the main emblem associated with Saint Boniface. As such, for Bishop-elect Freyer’s coat of arms design, on a field of red in chief (a separate field that sometimes appears above a full shield as in this case), representing the blood of Saint Boniface’s martyrdom, is the book of Sacred Scriptures pierced by a sword. The sword is worked in silver/white as is proper but the hilt and pommel are worked in gold to represent that martyrs’ death of this holy company of Benedictine monks and their triumph over hatred and death.

The externals
Thus comprises the shield of Bishop Timothy Edward Freyer. However, there are external elements to every coat of arms design that must also be explained, especially under Catholic heraldic law.

Surmounting the episcopal shield is the pilgrim’s hat, the heraldic emblem for all prelates and priests of the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church. For the rank of bishop, both residential and titular, the pilgrim’s hat is always worked in deep green, the true color of the Office of Bishop. For this rank and office there are six tassels suspended on either side of the hat in a pyramidal style.

The interior of the hat is worked in scarlet to represent the martyrdom, real or spiritual, which all bishops, not only cardinals, are called to at the time of consecration to the episcopal dignity.
The hat is properly known in the Church as the galero and the tassels take the name fiocchi. These, too, are worked in green for the rank of bishop.

Behind Bishop-elect Freyer’s coat of arms is the episcopal cross. For the bishops, this cross has only one transverse arm. The cross may be jeweled or stylized and may also be depicted as plain. Most resemble the processional cross used at Mass.

For Bishop-elect Freyer’s design the episcopal cross displayed is a Latin Cross in form. The cross is worked in gold and the central stone chosen is a deep green cabochon emerald, a rough, non-faceted stone proper for homage to Irish heritage.

The bishop-elect desired that his heraldic achievement would honor his entire family heritage, not just the more prominent German side of his family, which is evident in the coat of arms’ homage to Saint Boniface and the emerald for Ireland. Timothy Freyer has additional Swedish heritage, as well as German and Irish, however, and so the stone known as the official stone of Scandinavia, the carnelion, has also been incorporated into the design by including the reddish hued carnelion stone at the three visible points of the cross.

The carnelion is a brownish red semi-precious gemstone found in many places as diverse as Brazil, Ethiopia, and Scandinavia. It was much sought after by bishops in the Middle Ages as it could easily take a carving and thus became both official seals of the dioceses at that time and of the ring of the bishop so that his coat of arms might be carved into the face of the stone. And so in this way, all of the various lines of the bishop-elect’s family have been given honor in his new episcopal design.
Overall, Bishop-elect Freyer’s episcopal coat of arms has remained faithful to the style of heraldry, both episcopal and civil in nature, originally developed in the Middle Ages. It is this ancient style that the Church continues to demand in the seals of office of each diocesan bishop, of the co-adjutore bishops, and of the titular bishops as well, whose seals traditionally derive from the design of their modern personal coat of arms.

In heraldry, a motto has been both a personal philosophy of life as well as a family dictum, and sometimes even a cry for battle. But in Church heraldry, a prelate’s personal motto has always been intended to represent his personal spirituality and theologically based philosophy of life and is most frequently grounded in Sacred Scripture and in spiritual reflection.

Bishop-elect Freyer has selected EUNTES DOCETE OMNES GENTES for his motto, which comes from MATTHEW 28:19. Bishop-elect Freyer’s personal spirituality is deeply rooted in this scriptural dictum, which translates into English as: “Go out and make disciples of all nations.” Another modern translation from the Vulgate renders this motto as: “Go out to teach all nations.” The Most Reverent Timothy Edward Freyer accepts both translations with ease as in both he finds his new mission as a member of the Order of Bishops of the Catholic Church as he assumes his responsibilities at the side of The Most Reverend Kevin William Vann, the See of Orange in California’s fourth residential bishop.

At the base of the shield, within the folds of his motto, is also found the insignia of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. Bishop-elect Freyer is a knight of the Equestrian Order, one of the church’s most important chivalric bodies, one that protects and upholds the sacred sites in the Holy Land as well as one that exercises great charitable works worldwide. By papal decree, only the insignia of the Equestrian Order and the Order of Malta are permitted to be included in episcopal and cardinalatial coats of arms when these prelates belong to one or both of these chivalric orders.

Editor’s Note: James-Charles Noonan, Jr. is a well-known Church historian and ecclesiastical protocolist as well as one of the most famous ecclesial heraldists at work today. He routinely works with the Holy See, with members of the College of Cardinals and the episcopacy. Mr. Noonan is now recognized as the leading Catholic heraldist of our own time. His select clients include cardinals, archbishops and bishops, and he had designed arms for basilicas, cathedrals, seminaries, shrines, and for abbots, priors, priests and minor prelates, as well as for dioceses and for educational institutions the world over. Mr. Noonan resides in Gwynedd Valley, Pennsylvania.

Linda Nicholson, who expertly paints the heraldic arms designed by James-Charles Noonan, Jr., completes the partnership of this unique team in Church service. Nicholson’s talented renderings complement Noonan’s rich designs. She is a Craft Painter of the prestigious Society of Heraldic Arts in England. Mrs. Nicholson holds a Master’s Degree in Medieval Studies from the University of Toronto. She resides in Ontario.