Arms of Villahermosa, Spain

Villahermosa

Granted 1993; in use since 1444

Blazon: Gules three escallops or

The town was apparently part of Montiel until 1444, when Infante Henry of Aragon incorporated the town and granted it arms. Given that Henry was also the Grand Master of the Order of Santiago (St. James), it’s not too much of a stretch to figure out where the escallops come from. This is pretty straightforward, and I don’t have too much to say, so I’ll also take this opportunity to point out that the above arrangement of charges is the default for three charges. Arrangements of charges usually take the shape of ordinaries; three charges in a horizontal line across the center of the shield would be in chief, three in a vertical line would be in pale, etc. (“In saltire” and “in cross” require at least four charges; you can’t really make those shapes with just three.) For larger numbers of charges, the blazon might specify how many should be placed on each horizontal line (e.g. “2, 2, 1, 2” is distinct from “2, 2, 2, 1”). This arrangement could be blazoned as “three escallops in pile” or “three escallops 2 and 1,” but in this case, it’s not necessary to be more specific.

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St. James’ Day

Today is the feast of St. James the Greater, also known as Santiago de Compostela, patron saint of Spain. The Bible describes him as one of the first apostles to follow Jesus, and later as a martyr at the hands of Herod. His connection to Spain is… disputed, but tradition stretching back to the 12th century alleges that James went to Spain to preach the Gospel, and after his death, his body was transported back to Spain, where it was interred at Compostela. (Sources differ on whether some of his fellow disciples or a contingent of angels did the transporting.) There is, provably, a cathedral in Compostela with a shrine to the saint. This serves as the termination of the Way of St. James or the Camino de Santiago, a famous and far-reaching pilgrimage network that stretches across a large part of Europe.

Two of the most famous symbols of St. James are extremely common in heraldry. The first is the escallop, or scallop shell. Why, precisely, this is a symbol of St. James is unclear. It may have to do with his origins as a fisherman, but there are other legends about the saint rescuing a knight covered in scallops. In any case, the connection between Santiago and scallops is so well-established that “scallop” in French is coquille St. Jacques, “St. James’ shell,” and in German, it’s Jakobsmuschein, “James’ mussels.” Eventually, the scallop shell became closely associated with the Camino de Santiago, although a lot of that seems to come from pilgrims bringing home shells as souvenirs. However, it’s a very common symbol in architecture and heraldry in northern Spain and southern France where the paths of the Camino de Santiago start to converge. Supposedly, when the escallop is used as a charge in familial or personal arms, it signifies that the bearer or an ancestor went on pilgrimage to Compostela, but I’m highly skeptical of that claim.

Secondly, of course, is the cross of Santiago, the badge of the Order of Santiago. The precise origin of the shape is not especially clear; it might be a sword combined with a scallop shell, or with multiple fleurs-de-lis for honor and purity, or a cross with a sharpened base that could be stuck into the ground, as the Crusaders allegedly carried. Depending on who you listen to, the sword could also symbolize the military valor of the Order’s knights, or the martyrdom of St. James, since he was beheaded with a sword. (I’d personally advise taking all claims of heraldic symbolism pertaining to some intangible virtue and/or more than a couple centuries old with an extremely large grain of salt.) Anyway, the Order was originally founded to protect pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago, but it soon expanded into fighting the Moors, which is how the cross of Santiago ends up on so many Spanish municipal arms.

Arms of the borough of Camden

Camden

London, England

Granted 1965

Blazon: Argent on a cross gules a mitre or; on a chief sable three escallops of the field

Crest: On a wreath of the colors issuant from a mural crown argent a demi-elephant sable armed or and gorged with a wreath of holly fructed proper

Supporters: On the dexter a lion and on the sinister a griffin or, each gorged with a collar, the dexter argent charged with three molets of five points sable, the sinister of the last charged with as many molets of as many points of the second, pendant from each a fountain

Mantling: Gules lined argent

Motto: Non sibi sed toti (Not for self but for all)

The cross, mural crown, and supporters are derived from the arms of the former borough of Holborn, while those of Hampstead yielded the mitre and the holly wreath, and the escallops and elephant are from St. Pancras. The supporters each correspond to one of the Inns of Court in the borough; the lion is for Lincoln’s Inn, and the griffin for Gray’s.

You know what, it could be worse. At least some of the way-too-many charges are interesting – you don’t see a lot of elephants, and I obviously have a soft spot for griffins. Yes, the level of detail on the collars is incredibly nitpicky, and the colors in this depiction don’t entirely match the blazon, but the actual arms themselves aren’t terrible. The argent-cross-gules is a reference to the city arms, and it obeys the laws of tincture, and honestly, the arms of the London boroughs are so weird and visually messy that I’ll just take what I can get.

Arms of Socovos, Spain

Socovos

In use since at least 1991

Blazon: Per pale argent a cross of Santiago gules between two escallops in base proper and azure a castle triple-towered argent windowed sable

I’ve chosen to blazon the escallops as proper, because while proper charges can be placed upon any metal, tincture, or fur, argent-on-argent is definitely not allowable. The “proper” color of a scallop shell is very similar to argent, so while this configuration is acceptable under the rules of blazon, it is probably not the most effective design choice.

Arms of Woodbridge Town Council, England

Woodbridge

Granted 1975

Blazon: Per bend argent and barry wavy of the last and azure on a bend gules three escallops of the first in sinister chief a rose flowered, slipped, and leaved proper

Crest: On a wreath argent and gules on the stump of an oak tree sprouting proper a cock head to the dexter vert in front of a cock head to the sinister or, both beaked, legged, combed, and wattled gules

Mantling: Gules lined argent

Motto: Preservation and progress