Joseph Cardinal Ritter
COAT OF ARMS – The Meaning Behind the Symbols

Published in 1961 in THE BEACON, a publication written by the seminarians of St. Meinrad Seminary where Elmer Joseph Ritter studied and was ordained in 1917.


Bright patches of blue and gold, red and silver, expressive mottos, symbols steeped in tradition and meaning, and even a clever pun – that is the coat of arms of Joseph Cardinal Ritter. Of course, it is much more. Formerly used to identify the kingdom for which a soldier was fighting, the ecclesiastical coat of arts today symbolizes the spirit of the one who selects it and proclaims that he is fighting for the Kingdom of God.

The coat of arms has three parts: the mottos – expressing the Cardinal’s philosophy of life; the external ornaments – indicating his ecclesiastical office; and the shield – symbolizing a number of things close to the Cardinal and his beloved See.

When Cardinal Ritter was elevated to the Sacred College by Pope John XXIII, he adopted one of his two mottos – “Ipsa Duce Non Fatigaris” – from the arms of Bishop Joseph Chartrand, his predecessor at Indianapolis who consecrated him in 1933. [“Guided by her, Mary, you will walk without weariness” was taken from Lesson VI of the second nocturne in matins for the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary.] Cardinal Ritter was so impressed by the words of St. Paul to Timothy, “Conduct thyself in work, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (I Tim. 2, 3), that he chose as his original motto the words, “Miles Christi Sum.”

The external ornaments indicate the bearer of arms is a Prince of the Church. The scarlet pontifical hat has thirty scarlet tassels arranged in five rows. Archbishops have twenty tassels in four rows. While bishops have three rows, a total of 12 tassels. The metropolitan cross with its characteristic double traverse extends above in gold.

At the heart of any coat of arms is the shield. Cardinal Ritter’s arms contain now one, but a combination of two shields. The arms at left are those of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, while the Cardinal’s personal arms are at the right.

In the Archdiocesan half is a golden cross against a blue background. The fleur-des-lis design on each end of the cross unmistakably French and symbolizes the French heritage of the St. Louis Archdiocese.

The silver crescent in the upper left had corner has a double significance. It symbolizes the Blessed Virgin Mary, patroness of the United States under the title of the Immaculate Conception, and also honors the State of Missouri, since the crescent is found on the arms of that state. At the base of the blue field, the wavy bar – heraldic symbol for a river – represents the Mississippi River.

The cross of St. George, showing brilliant red on a white field, divides the personal arms at the right. The cross was pun-fully chosen because St. George is the patron of knights, and Ritter in German means “knight.” The ciborium at the center of the cross again honors Bishop Chartrand who had Blessed Sacrament as his crowning devotion.

The message which the coat of arms carries might appropriately be summed up – Cardinal Ritter: Knight of Christ and Mary.