Today Pope Francis’ official coat of arms and papal motto were unveiled at a Vatican press conference. The coat of arms is almost identical to the one he used as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, except the wide-brimmed cardinal’s hat at the top of the shield has been replaced by a miter, and the papal keys have been added.
From the Vatican Information Service, here are details about the symbols found on Francis’ coat of arms:
The shield has a bright blue background, at the centre top of which is a yellow radiant sun with the IHS christogram on it representing Jesus (it is also the Jesuit logo). The IHS monogram, as well as a cross that pierces the H, are in red with three black nails directly under them. Under that, to the left, is a star representing Mary, Mother of Christ and the Church. To the right of the star is a nard flower representing Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church. With these symbols the Pope demonstrates his love for the Holy Family.
Francis’ papal motto, displayed with the coat of arms, is also the same as the one he used as a bishop; it is “miserando atque eligendo,” which in Latin means “by having mercy, by choosing him.” It is taken from a homily of the Venerable Bede on the call of St. Matthew: “Jesus saw the tax collector and by having mercy chose him as an Apostle saying to him: Follow me.” Vatican Radio explains the significance of this passage to the Holy Father:
This homily, which focuses on divine mercy and is reproduced in the Liturgy of the Hours on the Feast of Saint Matthew, has taken on special significance in the Pope’s life and spiritual journey.
In fact it was on the Feast of Saint Matthew in 1953 that a young, seventeen-year-old Jorge Bergoglio was touched by the mercy of God and felt the call to religious life in the footsteps of Saint Ignatius of Loyola.
Episcopal—and papal—coats of arms have a long history in the Church, dating back to the Middle Ages. From the Vatican’s website:
There is an at least 800-year-old tradition for Popes to have their own personal coat of arms, in addition to the symbols proper to the Apostolic See. Particularly during the Renaissance and the centuries that followed, it was customary to mark with the arms of the reigning Supreme Pontiff all his principal works. Indeed, Papal coats of arms appear on buildings and in various publications, decrees and documents.
Popes often used their family shield or composed their own with symbols indicating their ideal of life or referring to past events or experiences, or even elements connected with specific Pontifical programmes. At times, they even added a variant to a shield that they had adopted on becoming a Bishop.
Details on Pope Benedict XVI’s papal coat of arms and motto (“Cooperatores Veritatis”—“Co-workers of the Truth”) can be read here. Explanations of Pope John Paul II’s shield and motto (“Totus Tuus”—“All yours”) are here.