by Msgr. Robert Wister
Seton Hall University

The Presidential Medallion, as inscribed on its reverse side, was "Presented to Right Reverend Monsignor John J. Dougherty by the Board of Trustees on his Inauguration as President April 25, 1960." John Joseph Dougherty served as President of Seton Hall University from 1959 to 1969. He was consecrated an auxiliary bishop of Newark in 1963 and died in 1986.

Struck by Herff Jones of Providence, Rhode Island, the medallion bears the original seal of Seton Hall as adopted by the Board of Trustees on May 17, 1864.

The inscription around the rim of the medallion reads: Universitas Setoniana A.D. MDCCCLXI, Religioni Ac Bonis Artibus, "Seton Hall University, A.D. 1861, For Religion and the Liberal Arts." The date indicates the year in which Seton Hall was chartered by the State of New Jersey to grant "the usual academic and other degrees granted by any other college in the state."

When Seton Hall became a university in 1950, the inscription on the seal was changed from Collegium Setoniense to Universitas Setoniana. This change provided an opportunity to correct an error in the Latin inscription. Setoniensis, -e is an adjectival form of the name Seton, but is a "locative" form used to refer to a place name, as if Seton were the name of the town in which the university was located. The correct form, the simple adjective Setonianus, -a, -um, was adopted to modify the now appropriate word Universitas. According to tradition, this correction was made by Rev. Joseph P. Christopher, Ph.D., then professor of Classical Languages at The Catholic University of America and later professor at Seton Hall.

The seal itself is an example of nineteenth century American institutional heraldry. Freed from the constraints of the heraldic legislation of Europe, antipathetic to "the pompe of heraldrie" symbolic of monarchy, American institutions fashioned coats of arms of their own imagination, often resulting in cluttered design and symbolism incomprehensible to all but the initiated. Some were simply representational, the State of Washington choosing a portrait of George Washington as its coat of arms.

The center of our seal depicts a woman wearing a veil and holding a cross. According to early twentieth century descriptions of the seal, this represents "Our Lady Seat of Wisdom." If so, it is a rather unusual representation of the Blessed Virgin under this particular title. Usually Our Lady Seat of Wisdom is pictured, not surprisingly, as seated, and holding the Child Jesus on her lap. This is the form in which she is depicted on the medieval arms of several universities, such as Louvain. Among other representations of a woman holding a cross is that of St. Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, who, according to tradition, discovered the relics of the cross of Christ. Another is the allegorical depiction of "Faith," who is shown as an unveiled woman holding a cross and a ciborium or a monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament.

Placing the figure in a mandorla, a panel in the shape of an almond, indicates that the designers intended at least that the figure represent the Blessed Virgin. The mandorla frame was, in medieval architecture, reserved for the figures of Christ and the Blessed Virgin. This often is seen in statues and reliefs over the main entrance to cathedrals. Medieval heraldry followed the same pattern, with occasional exceptions being made for particular saints, usually the patron of the church or abbey represented by the coat of arms. In any event, we may presume that the figure in the Seton Hall arms is the Blessed Virgin Mary. If it was intended that this figure portray Our Lady Seat of Wisdom, it is an atypical version.

Behind the figure are what appear to be fronds or sheaves. They might well be sheaves of palm, representing Palm Sunday, which anticipated the Resurrection of Christ, or they may simply be decoration, given the Victorian aversion to leaving any empty space unfilled.

On the left of the central figure is the episcopal coat of arms of the Right Reverend James Roosevelt Bayley, first Bishop of Newark and founder of Seton Hall. Bishop Bayley named his new college after his aunt, Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton. Above the shield is the pontifical hat with its pendant tassels. The green color of the hat and the six tassels on each side denote the rank of bishop. These hats, dating from the medieval period, were worn by members of the hierarchy at the papal court until their use was discontinued in 1870. Today they exist only in heraldic representations. Behind the shield can be seen the top of the pontifical cross, carried before a bishop in procession. Barely visible in the Seton Hall College seal are a tiny miter and the upper portion of the crosier, the bishop's staff. The miter and staff are no longer used in ecclesiastical heraldry.

The shield bears the arms of the Bayley family, originally from Hoddeston, Hertfordshire, England. These arms are blazoned in a combination of archaic French and English: Argent, three torteaux - two and one, a chief gules. This translates as "A silver shield on which are three torteaux arranged two above one, the upper portion of the shield, the chief, in red." The torteau is a heraldic device of French origin representing a loaf of bread. Often it was bome by families whose origins as bakers it thereby indicated. The torteau is depicted on a shield as a flat red colored disc. On a scroll beneath the coat of arms is Bishop Bayley's motto, Per fidem non per speciem. This is taken from the Second Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 5, verse 6, and can be rendered "By faith not by sight."

Few, if any, Scottish coats of arms as old as that of the Setons. The earliest existing seal of the family is that of Sir Alexander de Seton which dates from 1216. In their original form, probably dating from the twelfth century, they are blazoned: Or, three crescents gules. This is interpreted: "A gold shield on which are three red crescents."  The origin of the crescents is debated. Some maintain that they refer to the crescent-shaped harbors of three Sea Towns which were not only part of the ancestral lands of the family but the putative origin of their name. Others claim that the crescents were added after the Crusades to allude to victories over Islam in which the Setons played a role.

In any event, the arms remained the same until the fourteenth century when they were granted an honorable augmentation, the so-called Royal Tressure, a beautiful but complex heraldic device. A tressure is a narrow border inset from the edges of the shield. It is usually found double and enriched with fleurs-de-lis. It occurs in the Royal Arms of Scotland as a double tressure flory counter-flory, that is, the heads of the fleurs-de-lis point alternately outward and inward, but the fleurs-de-lis are broken at the center, the space between the two concentric parts of the double tressure being voided throughout. The fleurs-de-lis allude to the longtime alliance between Scotland and France. The addition of this tressure to the Seton arms was in recognition of their matrimonial alliance with and descent from the Scottish royal families of Bruce and Stuart. The grant of the Royal Tressure was extremely rare. It was added to the family arms of the Stuarts only after they became the reigning family of Scotland. Another to whom it was awarded is the Bowes-Lyon family, the Earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne, the family of the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

The current Seton arms would be blazoned: Or, within a double tressure flory counter flory gules, three crescents two and one gules. Or, more simply: "a gold shield on which are three red crescents arranged two above one within two red concentric borders decorated with alternating fleurs-de-lis." Above the shield is the Seton crest. The crest, when granted by appropriate authority, forms an integral part of a coat of arms. Crests were originally three dimensional devices mounted on helmets wom in battle or tournaments. They were held in place by a wreath or torse. The Seton crest is a Wyvern on a torse alternately or and gules. More plainly, "A wyvern on a wreath of gold and red." The wyvern is a monster with a horny head and forked tongue, a scaly back and rolls like armor on the chest and belly, bat-like ears and wings, two legs ending in talons and a pointed tail. The wyvern probably entered British armory as the standard of the Roman cohort and remained in the symbolism of the post-Roman period. When depicted in color its head and back are green, its tongue, chest, belly and the point of its tail red, and its displayed wings gold. In medieval legends the wyvern typifies viciousness, but fortunately, when'used in heraldry, it is a symbol for overthrowing the tyranny of a demonic enemy. Although its precise origins are unclear, this crest has been used by the senior branch of the Setons at least from the eighteenth century.

On a scroll below the shield is the family motto, Hazard Zit Forward. Like many of the oldest mottoes found in England and Scotland, it is a combination of Norman French and archaic English. The letter Z is actually an old English letter known as a yogh and  pronounced as a Y. The meaning of the motto is: At whatever risk, yet go forward. In addition to the motto some of the early Seton arms carry the family war cry, Set on, an obvious play on the name. The shield is also adorned with a wreath-like decoration of no heraldic significance.

During the presidency of Bishop Dougherty this original seal and coat of arms was replaced by the current simplified arms which incorporated elements of the Bayley and Seton arms and altered the motto to Hazard Yet Forward, an acceptable and more comprehensible variant. William F. J. Ryan, an expert American heraldist, designed the new coat of arms. Ryan had designed hundreds of coats of arms for American prelates and Catholic institutions. The style he adopted followed an eclectic interpretation of British, rather than continental, heraldic regulations and traditions. He was free to do this as there are no laws in the United States regarding heraldic styles and forms. Nor is there any agreed upon American heraldic tradition.       

Ryan combined elements of the Seton and Bayley arms and added a charge from the arms of the Archdiocese of Newark. The current arms are blazoned: Gules, three crescents or, two above one, within a double tressure flory counter flory or, on a chief argent a fess wavy azure; the crest three torteaux gules one above two on an open book proper above a torse alternately or and gules. That is, "On a red shield, three gold crescents arranged two above one within two gold concentric borders decorated with alternating fleurs-de-lis; the upper portion of the shield, the chief, silver with a blue wavy band; the crest composed of three flat red disks one above two on an open book of white on a red and gold wreath."

In order to create a coat of arms unique to Seton Hall, Ryan took the Seton arms as his base, reversed the colors, and added a device from the Newark archdiocesan arms. The blue wavy band which he placed on silver as the chief of the new shield represents one of the rivers which flows through the archdiocese of Newark. Ryan created an appropriate crest, an open book symbolic of university studies, on which he placed the red disks from the Bayley arms in a new arrangement. Unlike the nineteenth century arms, the current arms  have the virtue of simplicity. Like the old version they represent the Seton Hall's origins and heritage, the Bayleys and the Setons, as well as its Catholic identity. These symbols are most evident when the arms are clearly and correctly portrayed.

Robert J. Wister
Professor of Church History
Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology


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Stephen Friar, ed. A Dictionary of Heraldry, Harmony Books: New York, 1987.
A.C. Fox-Davies. Complete Guide to Heraldry, Thomas Nelson and Sons: London, 1909, revised 1949.
Rodney Dennys. The Heraldic Imagination, Clarkson N. Potter, Inc: New York, 1975.
Ottfried Neubecker. Araldica: Origini, Simboli, Significato, Mondadori: Milan, 1980.
Records of the Meetings of the Board of Trustees of Seton Hall College, 1861-1935, Archives of Seton Hall University.
Robert Seton. An Old Family or The Setons of Scotland and America, Brentano's: New York, 1899.
Setonian, v. 8, n. 9, Diamond Jubilee Edition, June 4, 1941.
Eugene Zieber. Heraldry in America, Greenwich House: New York, 1895.