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Salesian Coat of Arms

Da mihi animas, caetera tolle. (Give me souls, take away everything else.)

On this page we introduce the Salesian Coats of Arms, one of many church emblems.

Salesian Coat of Arms

Salesian Coat of Arms

The Roman Catholic order known as the Salesians was founded in 1854 by St. John Bosco (1815–1888). The original, and to a lesser extent continuing, focus of the order has been to educate boys in preparation for the priesthood. The institution was named in honour of St. Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geneva (1602–1622).

In schools incorporating the Salesian name today, the syllabus is no different from most other schools, and religious education has been pushed into the corner. Very few students are likely to progress to the priesthood, especially girls, students of other denominations and other faiths.

Even so, many school badges retain elements of the 1885 Salesian coat of arms, shown above. (Click the image to enlarge.)

The three main symbols are the star, the anchor, and the heart, which represent the three theological virtues. However, they each have further interpretations, as do other elements of the crest:

  • At the very top is a Budded Cross, entirely appropriate for representing the spiritual growth of young people.
  • There is also a small Rayed Cross behind the centre of that cross, representing the Light of Christ.
  • The cross is bedded in four red roses, a common figurative reference to the Church or the Virgin Mary.
  • In the centre is a large stockless anchor. Its comparative size emphasizes the importance of holding steadfast in the storms of life. The absence of a stock means it lacks the traditional Latin Cross form; rather it has similarities with the Cross of St. Peter
  • A length of rope wraps the anchor almost like the "S" of St. Sales, although it includes a couple of extra bends. The rope is too short to secure a boat, so we conclude it represents the healing serpent.
  • To the left of the anchor is an image representing the society's patron, St. Francis de Sales, receiving glory from the cross. By enlarging the image you will note his hands are keeping two fingers together (looking a bit like tai chi) that signify the two natures (human and divine) of Christ. This is an important part of the doctrine of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. Two fingers are used when making the sign of the cross, for example.
  • The shining star to the 'east' of the anchor is reference to the Bethlehem Star.
  • The heart on fire symbolizes the Holy Spirit.
  • The wooded area beneath the anchor reminds us of the founder's home, from which he set off to create the society.
  • The snow-covered mountains behind the wood signify the heights of perfection towards which society members aspire.
  • The shield is wrapped in leaves of palm and laurel, symbols commonly used to represent victory.

And finally the motto from Gen. 14:21: Da mihi animas, caetera tolle (Give me souls, take away everything else). This was the reply reportedly given by St. Francis de Sales, when asked if he wanted to be the Prince Bishop of Geneva. No, all he wanted was the souls of the people, not the other trappings that went with the office.

Don Bosco gave the same message to the prison he visited, telling the establishment to do what they must with the physical lives of the inmates, but to give him the opportunity to reach their souls.

Spirit of St Francis de Sales by Jean-Pierre Camus, Bishop of Belley

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