Heraldic Achievement of
MOST REVEREND NELSON J. PEREZ
Bishop of Cleveland
Per pale: dexter, per chevron sable and ermine, a chevron engrailed between three cross crosslets counterchanged; sinister, per fess azure and chevronny inverted azure and Or, in chief a mullet argent and in base a mound Or, over all on a fess sable fimbriated argent, a Paschal Lamb reguardant, carrying in the dexter forelimb a palm branch Or and a banner argent charged with a Cross gules
In designing the shield—the central element in what is formally called the heraldic achievement—a bishop has an opportunity to depict symbolically various aspects of his own life and heritage, and to highlight particular aspects of Catholic faith and devotion that are important to him. Every coat of arms also includes external elements that identify the rank of the bearer. The formal description of a coat of arms, known as the blazon, uses a technical language, derived from medieval French and English terms, which allows the appearance and position of each element in the achievement to be recorded precisely.
A diocesan bishop shows his commitment to the flock he shepherds by combining his personal coat of arms with that of the diocese, in a technique known as impaling. The shield is divided in half along the pale or central vertical line. The arms of the diocese appear on the dexter side—that is, on the side of the shield to the viewer’s left, which would cover the right side (in Latin, dextera) of the person carrying the shield. The arms of the bishop are on the sinister side—the bearer’s left, the viewer’s right.
The arms of the Diocese of Cleveland are based on the family arms of General Moses Cleaveland (1754–1806), who surveyed and founded the city that bears his name. To the Cleaveland arms—which divide the shield with a line like an inverted “V” (per chevron), and charge it with a similar shape drawn with semi-circular indentations along its edge (a chevron engrailed)—the Diocese adds three small Crosses, the arms of which are crossed again (cross crosslets). The shield is painted black (sable) above the chevron; below, it is white with small black spots meant to represent ermine, a fur typically used to line the robes of royalty and nobility. The crosses and the chevron are counterchanged; that is, they are painted black where the shield is ermine, and ermine where the shield is black.
On the other side of the shield are the arms that Bishop Perez adopted when he was ordained a bishop in 2012. The background of the shield is painted blue (azure), the color of the morning sky. At the base of the shield is seen a rising Sun, to represent Christ the Savior, “the dawn from on
high” (Luke 1:78). This depiction of the rising Sun also recalls the coat of arms of the Republic of Cuba, adopted in 1906, which bears a rising Sun in the upper part of the shield or chief. Bishop Perez’s parents emigrated from Cuba to the United States a few months before his birth.
In the chief of the bishop’s arms is a five-pointed star, painted white (a mullet argent). Placed above the rising sun, it depicts the Morning Star, which appears on the eastern horizon each day in the hours before dawn. It has long been a symbol of Our Lady, whose own Immaculate Conception heralded the birth of the coming Messiah, and who, as his most perfect disciple, always points the way to Christ. A white star in the same position appears in the arms of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, where Bishop Perez served as a priest for 23 years.
The scroll below the shield echoes the symbolism of the Morning Star and the rising Sun. “Confide et spera,” it says, “trust and hope” — words that recall and summarize many exhortations of Scripture to “trust in the Lord” and to find peace by placing every need and worry in the hands of the One for whom all things work for good (Jeremiah 17:7; cf. Psalm 37:7; Romans 8:28; Philippians 4:4-7; 1 Peter 5:7). Our Lady, Mother of Holy Hope (Roman Missal), is a model for every disciple, and teaches her children to place confident trust in her Son.
On a wide black stripe across the center of the shield, bordered in white (a fess sable, fimbriated argent), appears a Paschal Lamb in gold. These colors recall the coat of arms of the Perez family in Cuba, whose shield depicts five black wolves on a gold shield. The lamb, representing Jesus the Lamb of God (cf. John 1:36; Revelation 5:6, etc.) looks back over his shoulder (reguardant), to lead those who will follow his example and to “guide them to springs of the water of life” (Revelation 7:17).
As the “firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18), Jesus the Lamb has become the “inspiration and example for every martyr” (Liturgy of the Hours). The lamb on Bishop Perez’s shield also recalls Saint Agnes, the twelve-year-old Roman martyr who was killed in AD 304. (The saint’s name sounds like the Latin word agnus, which means “lamb.”) Saint Agnes is the patroness of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, for which Bishop Perez was ordained an auxiliary bishop, and a lamb’s head, painted gold, appears on the arms of the Diocese. She is also the patroness of the parish in West Chester, Pennsylvania, where the Bishop was serving as pastor at the time of his appointment as auxiliary bishop.
In addition to its typical attribute—a banner marked with a cross—the lamb also carries a palm branch, which in Roman times was used to adorn the burial places of martyrs. It also alludes to the coat of arms of Bishop Perez’s maternal relatives, the Ginart family, whose coat of arms shows a gold lion on a blue field, clasping a palm branch.
The shield is ensigned with external elements that identify the bearer as a Bishop. A gold processional cross appears behind the shield. The galero or “pilgrim’s hat” is used heraldically in various colors and with specific numbers of tassels to indicate the rank of a bearer of a coat of arms. A bishop uses a green galero with three rows of green tassels.