Indo-Portuguese Ecclesiastical Heraldry

Four and a half centuries ago, the most influential priests of the Portuguese Estado da Índia gathered in Goa for the first provincial council of the eastern portion of the empire: the First Goa Council.

During the council, the Archbishop of Goa, the Augustinian D. Gaspar de Leão, resigned from office, thus being substituted by the Dominican D. Jorge Themudo, then Bishop of Kochi (Cochim, in Portuguese sources). The change of power may have disrupted momentarily the works of the council, but it ended without any major inconveniences in November 1567.

From the gathering, two publications came the following year from the presses of Goa-resident printer João de Endem: the decrees of the council and the ecclesiastical constitutions. While the first included controversial issues regarding local Christians, the second was a compilation of laws to be used by ecclesiastical justices to solve disputes in the Portuguese-controlled territories.

There are very few extant copies of these two publications. According to the Iberian Books website and other sources, there are four copies of the council decrees: the Public Library of Évora, Portugal; the Collection of Dom Manuel II, in Vila Viçosa, Portugal; the Lilly Library, at the University of Indiana Bloomington; and the library of the Lincoln Cathedral, in the United Kingdom.


Cover for the decrees, 1568. Source: Livros Antigos Portuguezes 1489-1600 da Bibliotheca de Sua Majestade Fidelissima Descriptos por S. M. El-Rei D. Manuel em Tres Volumes, II 1540-1569. London: Maggs Bros, 1932, p. 790.

As for the first edition of the constitutions, it seems the only known copy is at the National Library of Portugal (RES 3134 A, with three reproductions: F 3337, F 41292, and F 41425). Nevertheless, the constitutions would be printed again three other times, in single volumes with the decrees of the council annexed: Constitvicoes [sic] do Arcebispado de Goa Aprouadas pello primeiro Prouincial. Lisbon: [printer unknown], 1592; Constituições do Arcebispado de Goa Approvadas pelo primeiro Concilio Provincial. Goa: Collégio de S. Paulo Novo da Companhia de Jesus, 1643; and Constitviçoens do Arcebispado de Goa Approvadas pello Primeiro Prouincial. Goa: Collégio de Sam Paulo Nouo da Companhia de Iesvs, 1649 (only known copy in the Rio de Janeiro National Library).

Comparing both covers is an interesting exercise of early modern ecclesiastical heraldry. Both have very different shields, and their details may give a glimpse into the symbols used by priests in Portuguese India. Let us first see the coat of arms on the cover of the ecclesiastical constitutions of Goa.

coat of arms constitutions

Detail from the cover of the Goa Constitutions

The coat of arms displays the lamb of God or Agnus Dei, one of the oldest symbols of Christianity meaning the sacrifice of Christ himself. On the back of the lamb we see two palm trees, certainly indicating the apostolic work of the prelate in Portuguese India. The escutcheon or shield is of a traditional Iberian format, likewise the coat of arms of Portugal itself. Around the shield it reads “Dilectus meus candidus et rub[icundus] ellectus [sic] ex millibus,” [My beloved is white and ruddy, chosen among thousands] a passage from the Song of Songs 5:10. Traditionally, this verse indicates Christ’s purity and his sacrifice, represented by the duality white and red. But we cannot avoid wondering if this passage may have indeed been chosen as a reminder to the bearer of this coat of arms. To remind him of the missionary work as martyrdom in Asia. Above the shield, the hat indicating prelacy and six tassels on each side. This number of tassels indicate the coat of arms to be of a bishop.

coat of arms decrees

Detail from the cover for the decrees of the provincial council

Next, let us see the shield on the cover of the decrees of the council, drawn over a traditional Iberian escutcheon as well. Our eyes go directly to the double-headed eagle above a head. Unarguably, the Augustinian order used the double-headed eagle as a symbol during this period. As, for example, in this sixteenth-century Chinese jar. That means this could be D. Gaspar de Leão’s coat of arms, as he was a member of the order himself.

However, in fact, this is the coat of arms of the Themudo family, to which pertained the second archbishop of Goa, D. Jorge Themudo. According to Francisco de Simas Alves de Azevedo, the family’s shield was had a golden eagle holding the severed head of a Moor, rounded by a cord of St. Francis.

The cross above – in fact, the upper half of an pastoral staff – indicates the family’s coat of arms was adapted as an ecclesiastical shield. The number of tassels on each side, ten, indicates the office of archbishop. Interestingly, the cord has nine knots, which is still a mystery to me. Traditionally, the cord has one to five knots. In Mexico,  nine knots could be a reference “to the Nine Lords of the Underworld, a symbol of death in the prehispanic world.” But, as for the Portuguese world, it is still necessary further investigation to clarify what this number of knots means.

If the second coat of arms is definitely D. Jorge Themudo’s, thus the first one, decorated with the Agnus Dei, was most probably D. Gaspar de Leão’s shield. At the time of the publication, Leão was no longer an archbishop, which may explain the number of tassels. Even though this period was still previous to the establishment of official rules for ecclesiastical heraldry by the Church, there are signs indicating rules such as the number of tassels and the use of the episcopal hat above the coat of arms were already in place.

These two publications seem to suggest the success achieved by the First Provincial Council of Goa. An initiative first forwarded by D. Gaspar de Leão, the presence of his shield on the cover of the constitutions is certainly symbolical. Thus, we could say that D. Jorge Themudo shared the success with his predecessor, putting both marks on the cover of each volume. It would be interesting to analyze further covers of the constitutions, and see whether they kept or erased D. Gaspar de Leão’s shield from the history of the first Catholic legal code in Asia.

Further references

SEIXAS, Miguel Metelo de. “Os Ornamentos Exteriores na Heráldica Eclesiástica como Representação da Hierarquia da Igreja Católica” in: Lusíada. História v. 2, n. 1. Lisbon: Universidades Lusíada, 2004, p. 55-72.

LIMA, Manuel de. “Prefácio” in: MASTRILLI, Marcelo Francisco. Relacam de Hvm Prodigioso Milagre. Lisbon: Biblioteca Nacional, 1989, p. XIII.

FERNANDES, Leão Cristóstomo. “O Livro e o Jornal em Goa” in: Boletim do Instituto Vasco da Gama, N. 33. Goa: Tipografia Rangel, 1937, pp. 95-6.

FERNANDES, Leão Cristóstomo. “Ainda a Monografia ‘O Livro e o Jornal em Goa’” in: Boletim do Instituto Vasco da Gama, N. 39. Goa: Tipografia Rangel, 1938, pp. 64-8.