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Diocese of Grand Rapids Coat of Arms

In 1882, Pope Leo XIII established the Diocese of Grand Rapids out of the Catholic community living in western Michigan which at that time was under the jurisdiction and pastoral care of the bishop of Detroit. The Coat of Arms of the Diocese of Grand Rapids, which was created under the administration of the first Bishop of Grand Rapids, Henry Joseph Richter, gives witness to the heritage of the Catholic faith in the western half of Michigan’s lower peninsula as well as to the topography of the region.

This Coat of Arms is composed of a silver (Argent) field on which are seen a triad of wavy blue (Azure) bars that proceed from the upper right to the lower left (bendy sinister). In heraldry, this is a classic representation of falling water, as in rapids that would be found in a river. This representation or “cant” is used to recall the site of the rapids in the Grand River where, in 1833, missionary priest Frederick Baraga (later the first Bishop of the Diocese of Marquette) established the first permanent Catholic mission while the area was still a part of the Northwest Territory. From this missionary outpost at Grand Rapids, and traveling mostly by water, Bishop Baraga, his successor Bishop Ignatius Mrak and Father Andrew Viszosky (the first resident priest at Grand Rapids) established mission stations at Beaver Island, Grand Traverse, Cheboygan, Manistee, Muskegon, Grand Haven and Ionia.
Today, the Diocese of Grand Rapids encompasses the Catholic community in eleven counties in the mid-western part of Michigan’s lower peninsula. This water image further underscores the defining presence of Lake Michigan, the western boundary of the Diocese of Grand Rapids, and in religious terms, the defining presence of Christ: “Jesus stood up and exclaimed, ‘Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture says: ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him.’.” (John 7:37-38)
Emblazoned over the watery background of the Coat of Arms of the Diocese of Grand Rapids is a red (Gules) Cross Moline, the arms of which peel off into two curls at the end. The word “moline” comes from the French moulin or “mill” since this cross resembles the curved extremities of a millrynd, the iron which supports an upper millstone. The agrarian roots of this cross shape suggest the wheat of the Holy Eucharist, the source and summit of the Christian community. While interpretations of the Cross Moline vary, some heraldic experts say that this particular Cross symbolizes the mutual convergence of human society – thus adding to its Eucharistic meaning. “As this broken bread was scattered upon the hills, and was gathered together and made one, so let thy Church be gathered together into thy kingdom from the ends of the earth.” (Didache Apostolorum c.110 AD).
In the context of the Diocese of Grand Rapids, the shape of the Cross Moline also has an extended symbolic meaning, which is an “anchor” firmly set in the water. The anchor is an image of Jesus Christ, the security of the soul, and a sign of hope in troubled waters: “...we who have taken refuge might be strongly encouraged to hold fast to the hope that lies before us. This we have as an anchor of the soul, sure and firm ....” (Hebrews 6:18-19)