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Saint-Malo (Municipality, Ille-et-Vilaine, France): Municipal coat of arms

Last modified: 2017-08-12 by ivan sache
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Coat of arms with the ermine

Modern coat of arms

[Arms]

Greater municipal coat of arms of Saint-Malo - Image by Ivan Sache, 21 January 2005, after the municipal website

According to the municipal website, the modern muncipal coat of arms uses d'Hozier's shield with either a ducal or mural crown, and sometimes with green palms as supporters. The latter design would be the greater coat of arms. The arms commonly used are said to be similar but without the palms.

[Arms]

Coat of arms of Saint-Malo - Image by Ivan Sache, 21 January 2005, after GASO

However, on the coat of arms given by several sources, the scarf of the ermine is not yellow but... ermine. Brian Timms gives "Gules a portcullis issuant in base or ensigned by an ermine passant argent langued sable gorged of the second with a scarf ermine. Quoting the Armorial Général des Communes de France (1995), Ralf Hartemink (Heraldry of the World website) shows the ermine with a scarf of ermine. Similarly, Philippe Rault shows the two modern flags of Saint-Malo (with or without the portcullis) with the ermine wearing a scarf of ermine.

Ivan Sache, 21 January 2005


Oldest known coat of arms

[Arms]

Coat of arms of Saint-Malo, 1591 - Image by Ivan Sache, 21 January 2005, after the municipal website

According to the municipal website, the oldest known coat of arms of Saint-Malo is dated 1591. It shows on a red shield a yellow portcullis standing on a yellow terrace and a white ermine passant on the terrace, with the portcullis in the background. The shield is surmounted by a yellow crown with five points, four of them being topped with a round pearl and the fifth, central one being topped with a trefoil.

Ivan Sache, 21 January 2005


Coat of arms in Armorial Général (1615)

[Arms]

Coat of arms of Saint-Malo, 1615 - Image by Ivan Sache, 21 January 2005, after the municipal website

A slightly different coat of arms was registered in 1615 in the Armorial Général as "Gules a portcullis issuant in base [or] ensigned by an ermine passant argent gorged or and lampassed gules.
On this new coat of arms, the terrace was dropped and the ermine is walking on the portcullis, whose design is more complex. Moreover, the ermine has now a golden scarf.

Ivan Sache, 21 January 2005


Coat of arms with the guard dog

[Arms]

Coat of arms of Saint-Malo, 18th century (?) - Image by Ivan Sache, 21 January 2005, after the municipal website

A seal used in Saint-Malo shows a completely different coat of arms, "Gules a guard dog argent".
Until 1772, those chiens de guet (guard dogs, in more modern French, chiens de garde) were slipped on the shore around the city from curfew to daybreak in order to repel pillagers. The motto of the city was then Cave canem, Latin for "Beware the Dog!".

[Stamp]             [Stamp]

Postage stamps released by Canada (left) and France (right) in 1984

The coat of arms with the dog is shown on the postage stamps jointly released by Canada and France for the celebration of the 450th anniversary of Jacques Cartier's landing in Canada. Following an agreement signed by the French and the Canadian postal administrations on 1 January 1984, the stamps were released on 24 April 1984 in the two countries. There were designed by the Canadian Yves Paquin (drawing) and the French Claude Haley (engraver). The First Day release of the stamps took place in Saint-Malo and Québec on 20 April 1984. Two Canadian postmen were invited to Saint-Malo and sold there the Canadian stamp (face value, 32 cents; print run, 22 millions), whereas two French postmen were invited to Quebec and sold there the French stamp (face value, 2.00 francs; print run, 15 millions). On the postage stamps, the coat of arms is shown with a red dogue on a white field, which is probably an artistic license, the background of the shield being red. The description sheet of the Canadian Post says: "the anvient emblem of Saint-Malo, the dog rampant".

Philippe Rault says that the coat of arms with the ermine and the portcullis superseded the coat of arms with the guard dog in 1696, a theory which is not supported by the data given above and especially Armorial Général. It might be that the coat of arms with the guard dog replaced the former coat of arms with the ermine for a more or less long period, and was eventually dropped in 1696.

Finally, the origin of the red field of the coat of arms is not clear. The municipal website says that the first naval flag of Saint-Malo has a red canton taken from the coat of arms, whereas Philippe Rault says that the coat of arms was derived from the red flag used by the corsairs as the signal of attack.

Ivan Sache, 15 January 2005


Coat of arms with the ermine and the guard dog as supporters

[Arms]

Coat of arms of Saint-Malo designed by Robert Louis (1949)

Another image of the coat of arms of Saint-Malo is shown by different sources. It shows the ermine with a scarf of ermine; the shield is surmounted with a mural crown and supported by two guard dogs and two anchors. The two decorations appended to the shield are the Légion d'Honneur (1948) and the War Cross (1939-1945). This seems to be a "complete" version of the arms, mixing elements from the two historical coat of arms, the ermine and the guard dog. Robert Louis' original (document) includes the following text (trnaslated from French).

New coat of arms of the city of Saint-Malo
Adopted after deliberation [of the Municipal Council] on 26 March 1949.

The new coat of arms of the city of Saint-Malo, after the heraldic composition by M. Robert Louis, symbolist designer of the official services, is defined as follows:

De gueules à la herse d'or mouvant de la pointe, sommée d'une hermine passante d'argent, lampassée de sable, accolée, bouclée d'or et cravatée d'hermine.

The shield is surmounted by a golden mural crown made of the two big towers of the Grand'Porte flanked by two elements of the rampart walls.
The shield is flanked by two guard dogs langued gules with an armed collar held back in chief by a chain, all argent.
The shield and the dogs are supported by a terrace of granite bearing in Uncial letters sable the motto "SEMPER FIDELIS" and resting on a verge of granite masoned sable.
The paw of each dog lies on a rope or moving from the base of the shield and holding an anchor of the same overlapping the end of the verge.
The cross of the Légion d'Honneur in dexter and the War Cross in sinister (Decree of 8 July 1948) are appended to the base of the shield overlapping the verge.

Symbolics of the composition

Shield: The traditional shield of the municipality of Saint-Malo was not modified. Only its drawing was improved.
In the text of Letters Petented granted 14 December 1822, the mention "with a scarf of ermine" is omitted, whereas the scarf is shown on a seal dated 1749 kept in the National Archives (A.M. Z-3041, supplement 207).
The inhabitants of Saint-Malo are accustomed to see the ermine with a scarf; it was therefore necessary to correct the omission of the text. The text of the Letters Patented also says: herse surmontée d'une hermine (portcullis surmounted by an ermine). In heraldry, "surmounted" is used for a charge placed above another one but without touching it. However, in all documents, the ermine of Saint-Malo has the paws touching the portcullis. It was therefore necessary to replace the incorrect word surmontée with sommée.

External adornments

Crown: Saint-Malo, famous for its ramparts, could not use a simple mural crown. The proposed design shows the two big towers of the Grand'Porte flanked by two pieces of rampart.

Tenants: The first coat of arms used by Saint-Malo was "Argent a guard dog gules". Since the times of the Crusades, guard of the port has been provided by guard dogs. The dogs were removed when an officer who had attempted to scale the barriers of the port was torn to pieces by the dogs.
It was necessary to recall in the greater municipal arms the oldest blazon of the city. The two fierce-looking dogs shall guard the white ermine.
Their meaning is supplemented by the anchors whose ropes they hold.

Support: A composition of urban heraldry must be reproduced both as a painting and a sculpture. Therefore, too easily damaged cut-outs must be avoided. The thick granite verge recalling the quays of Saint-Malo is the support for the whole composition and especially the decorations.

It seems, however, that the municipality no longer use Louis' arms described above. There is also discrepancy among the sources about the history of the coat of arms, although everybody agrees that the city used two different kinds of coats of arms (one with the ermine and the portcullis, and one with the guard dog).

Ivan Sache, 16 April 2005