Friday, July 09, 2010

English heraldry has its origins in the middle ages; it originated in the symbolism appearing on the shields of nobles as they rode into battle. These nobles were quite often far from noble in their behavior, but that didn’t stop heraldry accruing idealized connotations of lineage, stability, strength, dignity, chivalry, good breeding, excellence and above all identification with, and the protection of, the community the symbols stood for. The irony of human behaviour is that admirable ideals so easily become mixed up with pride and snob value and so in a desire to ape the upper classes the up and coming middle classes adopted heraldry themselves. Below are two examples of non-aristocratic parties associating with heraldic motifs.

The above picture is a detail of the statue of Sir Samual Bignold, son of a freeman grocer, Norwich Union grandee, Sheriff of Norwich and MP. The statue appears outside the Marble hall on Surrey street. The coat of arms can be seen hanging from the chain.

This coat of arms is found on the stained glass window of Norwich Central Baptist Church, home church of successful business men, mayors and MPs (we're talking ancient history here!).

The coat of arms we can see in these pictures is the Norwich civic coat of arms. According to this web site:

The City's arms are based on a seal of the Fifteenth century. They were recorded and confirmed on 27th May 1562.The shield depicts Norwich Castle and the royal lion of England. This was traditionally granted to the city by King Edward III (1327-1377).

Thus Baptists join with the old Norwich Union to proudly display their identification with their community, city and country. What a contrast: Today Christian groups are largely subcultures found on the margins of civic society with little to give them a sense of belonging, identification or protection. Accordingly, some Christian groups have become alienated “holiness” sects with a tendency to attract only clients with a propensity for an unbearable spiritual intensity and a self righteous hostility toward the rest of society (and church) around them. As I said, the irony of human behaviour is that admirable ideals so easily become mixed up (and corrupted) with pride and snob value. Let them take note of the following epitaph found on a tomb in St. Stephen’s church, Norwich:

A scholar without pride, a Christian without bigotry, and devout without ostentation”.

Norwich's coat of arms: Symbols of dignity, protection and attack.

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