Arms of Villamayor de Calatrava, Spain

Villamayor de Calatrava

Granted 1984; possibly in use since 1576

Blazon: Or a stone column* proper on a base vert, in chief a cross of Calatrava gules

Obviously, these are partly canting arms, but I’m more intrigued by the stone column. One of the sources I found implies that these arms are significantly older and, moreover, that there was actually a column in the town square in the 16th and 17th centuries. It seems the column was demolished sometime before 1639, but I have no idea why. It also seems that the original use of these arms dates back to around the same time, and putting a local landmark on municipal arms is an extremely common practice.

*I know, but I’m trying very hard to be mature about it, and the… distinctive shape seems to be unique to this particular depiction

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Arms of Villamanrique, Spain

Villamanrique

Granted ?

Blazon: Gules a cross of Santiago voided argent between two cauldrons chequy or and sable, each containing six serpents facing the exterior, in base a point dancetté vert, all within a bordure chequy of the first a castle triple-towered of the third windowed azure and of the second a lion rampant of the field crowned of the third

Whew, okay. Sadly, that blazon is probably going to be longer than anything I can write about it (if I cut out my frustration about the mystery of the snake cauldrons, which I will.) The city was actually named after a Manrique – specifically, Rodrigo Manrique, Grand Master of the Order of Santiago, which probably explains the cross of Santiago. He evidently split the town off from Torre de Juan Abad, and the citizens renamed it in gratitude.

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.

Arms of Valdemanco del Esteras, Spain

Valdemanco del Esteras

Granted 1992

Blazon: Per pale argent a cross of Calatrava gules and vert two bars wavy of the first, in chief a beehive between two bees displayed and in base a sheep statant or

As you might expect from the charges, both agriculture and beekeeping are extremely important to the municipality, all the way back to its founding. The very first settlers were apparently beekeepers and ranchers, so while it might not be particularly exciting, I can’t really fault them for using those as charges. (At this point, I’m more surprised I can’t find anything that claims the bars wavy symbolize two rivers in the area, though I definitely wouldn’t rule it out.)

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 Torrenueva, Spain

Torrenueva

Granted 1975

Blazon: Per pale vert a tower or windowed gules and of the last two cauldrons in pale chequy or and sable, each containing eight serpents, four facing the exterior and four facing the interior proper; overall in the fess point an escutcheon argent charged with a cross of Santiago gules

THE SNAKE CAULDRONS STRIKE AGAIN. This is a bafflingly common motif in this region of Spain, and I have no idea why. I’ve been researching this for years – nothing but dead ends. All the sources I’ve found just seem to nonchalantly accept the existence of snake cauldrons as a thing! Seriously, there has to be a story behind these! It’s such specific imagery, and so highly localized! Please, please, if anyone knows ANYTHING about the snake cauldrons, please tell me! What is their DEAL???

Right, yeah, also the cross of Santiago in the arms probably comes from the fact the town belonged to the Order of Santiago from like the Middle Ages to the 19th century and the tower is likely a canting element, whatever, what is UP with the snake cauldrons?

Arms of Torre de Juan Abad, Spain

Torre de Juan Abad

Granted 1273

Blazon: Argent a tower and lion rampant gules, in chief a molet of five points azure, all within a bordure of the first charged with eight saltires couped or

Unfortunately, I have no idea who Juan Abad might have been, and it seems like nobody else does, either. It seems reasonable to speculate that the tower is a canting element (“torre,” or “tower” in Spanish). The lion is possibly taken from the arms of Alfonso X of Castile, who granted the town’s arms, but I don’t have anything on the saltires or the molet. One last fun fact – Francisco de Quevedo, a prominent satirical Baroque poet, ruled the town for a while after his mother purchased the title for him. While the town apparently didn’t take too kindly to him at the time (read: they sued him, and he won, but only after he died), they now host an “International Graphic Humor Center” in honor of his snarky legacy.