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Puerto Rico - Coat of Arms and Seal

Last modified: 2011-02-25 by zoltán horváth
Keywords: puerto rico | cross | lamb: paschal |
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Present official Coat of Arms, done by Blanco-Rújula
image by Blas Delgado Ortiz, 3 Febuary 2004


Modified variant by Beascoechea
image by Blas Delgado Ortiz, 3 Febuary 2004



See also:


Coat of Arms

From <www.geocities.com/TheTropics/Shores/8070/shield.htm>:
Our Coat of Arms uses symbols of our history, culture and religion. It was first recognized by the Spanish Crown in 1511, but it wasn't until March 9,1905 that al law, establishing the official Coat of Arms was signed. After numerous investigations and amendments to that statute, the final version was approved and signed into law in 1976.The green background stands for our vegetation, our hopes and courtesy. Within the background there's a lamb on top of the Book of Revelations, holding the seven seals of The Apocalypse. The lamb symbolizes peace, purity, humble, integrity, and holds a white flag with a red cross. The flag means "truce", or knowledge to stop fighting. Both, the lamb and the flag, are symbols of  "John The Baptist" or San Juan Bautista, the original name given by the Spanish settlers.
The rim is covered by 16 symbols: castles signifying the "Kingdom of Castilla" and lions, representing the "Kingdom of Leon" and a flag, with both, lions and castles, representing the unity of both kingdoms, also shows the "Cross of Jerusalem" used by the Monarchs to expel the "non christians" from the Spanish peninsula. The crown on top symbolizes the "Royalty" who authorized this shield. To the right, an "F" for Fernando, to the left, a "Y" for Ysabel, the King and Queen of the Spanish Empire. The motto reads: "Joannes Est Nomem Ejus", it means "John is it name", the original name of the island.
Our Coat of Arms is the oldest in use in America, other countries created a new Coat when they became independent, ours is the only one that remembers the Spanish presence in the "New World" or America.
Dov Gutterman, 28 December 1998

There exists a slightly different version of the Coat of Arms of Puerto Rico.  The two differences are found on the shield's border:
1) The Cross of Jerusalem has a small cross at each corner. 
2) Instead of the flag of Castile and Leon there is a flag of Aragon and Sicily.
An example can be seen at <www.angelfire.com/az2/puertorico/prescudo.html>.
Also it is interesting to note that when this Coat of Arms was granted to P.R. it included a flag based upon the same.  While the original drawing no longer exists, luckily the original description does.  Part of the description can be read (in Spanish) at <www.geocities.com/TheTropics/Shores/8070/bandera.htm>.
Marcos Obregon, 19 Febuary 2002

It is true that this version existed previous to the declaration of the present Coat of Arms as the official one.  But it was not an accurate representation of the original one given to the Island by the King of Spain.  The present and official one is thought to be the most accurate version so far.
It's a pity that the source of this information is not mention, if there exists one.  To this point, we can only say that this is a putative first flag.  What I can interpret from the description, the flag was divided in two horizontal bands, red the lower one with a white symmetrical cross in the middle (not sure what "dos a dos" or "two by two" means), and green the upper band with a golden castle to the hoist and a golden lion to the fly.
Blas Delgado Ortiz, 20 Febuary 2002

The motto on the Coat of Arms is "JOANNES EST NOMEN EJUS". It's Latin.  It means "John is his name" and is a quotation from the book of Luke in the Bible.  The elderly Zachary (also spelled Zechariah) was told by an angel that his wife Elizabeth would give birth to a son, and that they would name him John.  Zachary was struck speechless until the child was born.  When the time came to name the baby, Elizabeth said his name was John, but the rest of the family objected, wanting to name the child after his father and arguing that no one in the family had ever been named John.  They approached Zachary for instructions, and he wrote on a tablet "His name is John."  The baby was the cousin of Jesus and grew up to be known as John the Baptist, one of the most important saints in the Christian religion.  The quotation is pertinent to Puerto Rico as a reference to the island's capital, San Juan, which is Spanish for St. John.  The coat of arms, which shows a lamb with a banner resting upon a book, is also a reference to John, as he was the one who referred to Jesus with the words "Behold the Lamb of God."
Joe McMillan, 22 August 2002

"Dos o dos" refers to a equally divided cross.  I believe it describes a white greek cross over a red background.  This is a design used by the order of St. John the Baptist also known as the Knights of Malta. This makes sense because the island was then known as San Juan Bautista.
Marcos Obregon, 21 October 2002

One of the explanations of the Coat of Arms of Puerto Rico refers to the "Jerusalem Cross" on the border. In fact, as is correctly pointed out elsewhere, the Jerusalem Cross contains four smaller crosses in each corner.
The cross on the Coat of Arms of Puerto Rico is, in fact, the Templar Cross that decorated the ships of Christopher Columbus. Columbus and members of his family belonged to a knightly order that was a reconstituted Templar Order that took root in the Iberian Peninsula following the suppression of the Templars and was known as the "Order of Christ."
In every which way it resembled the Templars and bore the same insignia and "pattee" style of the Templar Cross.
Alexander Roman, 17 April 2003

First, the Order of Christ was Portuguese, not Spanish.
Second, the crosses on the Puerto Rico Coat of Arms are not crosses of the Order of Christ.  The cross of the O of C is voided white. 
Third, I don't believe Columbus was a member of this order. I never saw it mentioned in his biographies., and I believe that at the time the knights of the order were required to be celibate.  Columbus was not.  I'd want more documentation on this.
Fourth, Columbus's voyages were undertaken in overt competition with the explorations being conducted at the same time by Portuguese mariners under the sponsorship of the Order of Christ.  It's highly unlikely he would have used the O of C emblem on his ships.
Fifth, neither the cross of the Order of Christ nor the crosses on the Puerto Rico CoA are "patee."  The crosses on the Puerto Rico Coat of Arms and seal are crosses potent.
Joe McMillan, 18 April 2003

You may well be correct on your second and third points, but on the first you are mistaken. The Portuguese and Spanish kings (not sure whether this was Aragon or Castile, perhaps both) both chose to nationalise the Templars, and in both (all three?) instances the name used translates into English as Order of Christ.
On your second point, the white voiding was applicable to the Portuguese order, but not necessarily the Spanish.
Mike Oettle, 19 April 2003

Let me explain the significance of the flags and crosses in the bordure of the shield of Puerto Rico. Ferdinand V of Castile was also Ferdinand II of Aragon and Ferdinand III of Sicily, and heir to the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. Therefore, the bordure portrays the kingdoms of the monarchs who granted the arms: Castile and Leon (Joanna I), and Aragon, Sicily and Jerusalem (Ferdinand).
Hijodel Cid, 24 October 2003

Only one version has the Aragon/Sicily flag; some have the Castille/Leon flag with the separate symbols. Either way is odd- why separate Castille and Leon but keep Aragon and Sicily together as a flag (and Jerusalem separate)? Or why not have two flags? Alternatively, why have both separate Castille and Leon and combine them as well?
Nathan Lamm, 24 October 2003

It has reached my hands in the form of photocopies some very interesting and important information about the understanding of the Puerto Rican Arms. Pitifully, the source is nowhere identified but appears to be sections of a chapter of a somewhat recent publication:
The Coat of Arms of Puerto Rico, created by Royal Cedula or Decree, in 8 November 1511, is the second National Arms given by Spain in the New World. The first to be given was that of The Hispaniola -which today includes the Dominican Republic and Haiti- given in 1508. The primitive shield of Cuba was given in 1517. Being the Puerto Rican Arms so old and the longest in having official validity notwithstanding, it has only been used in the XVI century and since 1905 to date. This lack of use was due to three causes: the colonial government was using the Arms of Spain, which it represented; until the XIX century, there were no political organizations representing the whole island of Puerto Rico that might have used the shield; and, when those organism were finally created (Provincial Deputation, Autonomic Parliament), Puerto Rico was wrongfully using as his the Shield of the City of San Juan.
The original of the Royal Decree, in which appeared the description and the drawing in colors of the shield, is not preserved. There is at least a certified copy or memorandum of the Decree's text in continued existence at the Archives of the Indies, in Seville, Spain.
It is mentioned in the description of the shield done by the Royal Decree that among the pieces and figures that make up the orle -today known as the bordure- some "flags", the identity of which are not determined, were present. It is also stated that the shield "carries a label roundabout.", without specifying the text but suggesting the reader to see the given label painted below the shield.
A facsimile or image of the shield is known only from a XVI century seal, dated 12 August 1568, which authorizes a document from the San Juan Municipal Assembly, preserved in the Archives of Seville.  This seal follows faithfully the heraldic organization described in the Royal Decree except in two details, which are omitted: neither the "flags" nor the "crosses of Jerusalem" appeared anywhere in or outside the shield. In the circle where the seal label should be, it rather appears a phrase written in Latin and identified by Monsignor Vicente Marga as the shield label and saying: "Gobernatores Inter Nos Rex Et Regina", which means "The King and Queen govern us on a par" ("El Rey y la Reina Nos Gobiernan a la Par"), where its meaning has to do with the presence of both the letters F and Y, crowned, beside the shield.  Today, the label reads "Joannes est nomen eius", which means "John is his name" ("Juan es su nombre".)

San Juan City Coat of Arms - The city of San Juan started using a shield by the end of the XVI or the beginning of the XVII century in which the Pascal Lamb (named sometimes the San Juan Lamb) appeared as the main image. The shield differed in many ways to the Puerto Rican Arms: its background was blue instead of green; it has no orle or bordure; the lamb was standing in it over the book and this placed over a green isle rising from the sea; and, neither the F and initials, uncrowned, the ox-yoke nor the arrows appeared in or outside the shield. The differences may have been the result of either giving the capital city its own shield, dissimilar to the Island's, or an unfruitful effort in reproducing by way of memory the original shield of Puerto Rico. We have to remember that the city of San Juan was once called Puerto Rico of San Juan Bautista.
As time went by, the differences between both shields were being accentuated. In the XVIII century: the book was concealed from the San Juan shield; the isle presents a bay or a spring flowing out, a symbol of baptism; the motto "Joannes est nomen eius" is added; and, the F and I (Latin I) initials are placed in or outside the blazon field, sometimes joined by the ox-yoke and the sheaf of arrows.
The city of San Juan will keep using the shield during the XVIII and XIX centuries, and the same shield will be used officially since the beginning of the XIX century as the Arms of Puerto Rico. It was not until 1899, following the war between Spain and the United States and the occupation of the Island by the latter, that several versions for a Puerto Rican Arms were presented to the Military Governor, Brigadier General Geo W. Davis, as means to appeal to the resurging idea to restore the primitive shield of the Island. [Unfortunately, the page ends with an unfinished sentence stating that one of the designs, from an unknown author, merged the original San Juan City shield with. probably the XVIII century one?]

The Current Coat of Arms - It was been in used, from 1905 to 1976, a circular shield as a representative of the Puerto Rican Arms. This round shield, our actual Puerto Rican Seal, is a design of one of our most important historian in the XIX century, Salvador Brau Asencio (1842-1905), who held the post of Official Historian of Puerto Rico from 1903 to his death.
The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico of 1952 gives the adjective "round" immediately after the phrase "a green shield" to our official coat of arms, appellative that does not appeared in the Royal Decree of 1815. This addition made legally obligatory the representation of our shield exclusively in the circular form, like Brau's design. This disposition was contrary to any universal heraldic tradition and limitative to the artistic freedom, making it impossible to give the shield the type of opening outline that it originally had.
Twenty four years after, and giving attention to these concerns, the word "round" from the Law of 1952 was suppressed by way of Law No. 142, of 3 June 1976, which additionally amended it resolving that Queen Isabella the Catholic's initial, which appeared as a Latin I in the Law of 1952, be changed to the Greek Y, as it was in the Royal Decree.
The approval of the Law of 1976 implied the recognition of the existence of another version of the Puerto Rican Arms different from Brau's. Two variants were presented from this new version. (The article, named "Better Understanding Our Coat of Arms", is written in present tense, so I may infer that it was created very recent to the adoption of the Law of 1976.)
The first variant takes the concept of the shield done by the Puerto Rican historian and heraldic Enrique T. Blanco and by the Spanish heraldic José de Rújula, Marquee of Ciadoncha. Spanish artist and resident of Puerto Rico Ismel D'Alzina made the original drawing in 1952. (By the way, this is our current official Coat of Arms.)
The second variant, very similar to the previous one, except in some minor details, takes the concept of heraldic Roberto Beascoechea Lota. Artist Lorenzo Homar made its original illustrational drawing in 1958.
Both variants have been in continuing use (up until the late 1980's), even by official organizations like the Government, The State Department, and the Puerto Rican Institute of Culture, the first one since 1973 and the second one since 1958.
Let us see the points in which these variants (from a version that is fundamentally the same) rectify and improve the pattern of the shield (or seal) by Salvador Brau:
1.. The opening outline of the shield is not circular, like Brau's, but "semi-round" (rectangular above and semicircular below), as it pertained to the times in which the shield was originated (especially the longer type, like Blanco-Rújula's.) (This type of arrangement is also known here as the Spanish Shield contour or outline; the shorter version of Beascoechea to be more precise.)
2.. The flag carried by the lamb is not totally white but has a red cross, unlike Brau's.
3.. The elements in the bordure follows the order pattern originally established by the Decree, e.g., a. castle, b. lion, c. flag, d. cross (or crosses) of Jerusalem, and not as Brau places them: a. castle, b. cross, c. lion, d. flag.
4.. The bordure elements (of different colors) do not appear over a uniformly colored surface, like Brau's, instead each one has a distinct background color. Therefore, the castle, golden, goes over a red field; the lion, red (or purple), over an argent field; the flag, presumably over a red field; the crosses of Jerusalem, red or golden, over an argent field.
5.. The F and Y initials, with their crowns, the ox-yoke and the sheaf of arrows go outside the shield, by its sides, not inside it, unlike Brau's.
6.. The motto (below the shield) goes also outside it.
7.. Over the shield lays a royal crown, uncovered.
There exist the following discrepancies among the supporters of each one of the variants:
1.. Blanco, following Brau, places as the bordure flag one that consists of 19 quarters, with the Arms of Castile, Leon, Aragon, Sicily, and Granada. Rújula proposes the (swallowtail) quartered flag of Castile-Leon. Beascoechea proposes the "bisected" one of Aragon-Sicily. (I asked Santiago Dotor a long time ago if he knew something about the historical validity of any 19 quarters Spanish flag, to which he answered in the negative. I still wonder where Salvador Brau got this flag version).
2.. Brau, Blanco and Rújula place as the bordure cross a sole red potent cross (a reduction of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher ensign, that consists of a red potent cross joined at its angles by another four smaller, simple crosses.
3.. Beascoechea proposes the quintuple cross of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem as the bordure flag, of identical design to the Holy Sepulcher ensign, with golden, not red crosses.
4.. Brau, Blanco and Rújula accept as motto the phrase "Joannes est nomen eius", which is no other than the motto of the San Juan Cathedral, as stated by Torres Vargas, in opposition to Monsignor Vicente Murga's motto, described previously.
5.. The Pascal Lamb appears looking backward in Beascoechea's version over the book that has all the seven seals in its frontal side (my addition.) It was not until the late 1980's that a new Law made the Blanco-Rújula version the official Coat of Arms of Puerto Rico, during the Governorship of Rafael Hernández Colón.
Blas Delgado Ortiz, 3 Febuary 2004

It was Joanna I who granted the arms along with her father, Ferdinand the Catholic; the PR arms were granted in 1511, so obviously they could not have been granted by Isabel I, since she had died in 1504.
The Cross of Jerusalem has nothing to do with the Reconquest, but is instead the symbol of the Kingdom of Jerusalem established by the crusaders of the First Crusade. The rights of succession passed to the Crown of Sicily, which eventually came to belong to the Crown of Aragon. Its presence in the Coat of Arms is therefore due to the fact that Ferdinand II of Aragon and V of Castile was also Ferdinand III of Sicily.
Juan Jose Morales, 8 March 2009 and 9 April 2009

The green background stands for our vegetation, our hopes and courtesy''. 'tis very likely that the vert=green comes from Revelation 4: 2-3, where the throne of God, which is where the Agnus Dei and the Book of the Seven Seals will appear later, is described as being surrounded by a rainbow of emerald. The flag with the red cross is no emblem of truce, but rather the Banner of Victory, originally symbolic of Christ's triumph over death.
The Cross of Jerusalem was never used by the Spanish monarchs to expel the non-christians; rather it's the symbol of the Kingdom of Jerusalem created in the first Crusade, whose inheritance passed to Ferdinand of Aragon through his possession of the Kingdom of Sicily. If the PR arms had the intention of symbolising the Reconquest, then they would have used the crosses of the Orders of Santiago, Alcantara, Calatrava and Montesa.
The crown that serves as crest does not symbolise the royalty that granted it, but rather the fact that PR is an Spanish kingdom, one of the many united under the successors of Ferdinand and Isabella. Which leads to my main objection: since Isabella died in 1504, and the arms were granted in 1511, 'tis unlikely that the initial Y stands for YSABEL; 'tis more likely that they stand for YOANNA, who succeeded her mother as Queen Regnant of Castile and Leon. Look at the arms of Lima, Peru; the initials I and K symbolise the monarchs who granted those arms: Juana I and her son Karolus=Carlos I. Why would the arms of PR be different in this respect to those of Lima and other Latin American cities that were also granted arms by Joanna I and Charles I?
Finally, I should point out that Puerto Rican heraldry still suffers from the total lack of heraldic knowledge of Salvador Brau, the designer of the seal. Those who appointed SB to design the seal did so because they had the screwball notion that the fact that Brau was an historian also made him an expert in heraldry. The result of his labours definitely proved otherwise; among other notable mistakes, he confused the insignia of the Kingdom of Jerusalem with that of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, and by omitting the halo from the Agnus Dei, he turned it into an ordinary commonplace lamb--a very inappropriate symbol for PR, where nobody eats lamb or mutton.
Juan Jose M, 21 May 2010


Historical Coat of Arms (1899-1900)


image by Blas Delgado Ortiz, 2 January 2005

From the chapter “To Better Understand Our Shield”, from the softbound book “Los Símbolos Oficiales de Puerto Rico” (“The Official Symbols of Puerto Rico”), by Editorial Cordillera: “Two designs have reached us. The first one, whose author is unknown, combined the San Juan City original shield (the one with the standing-over-the-book Lamb, and this over an island) with the bordure of Puerto Rico’s Arms, heraldically very badly conceived, in which, aside the castles and lions, a yellow flag charged with the Castile-Leon shield also appeared (See the image above).
The second version is owed to investigations made by historian Salvador Brau many years before in Seville. He saw the minute draft or copy of the Royal Cedula of 1508 (without the drawing) at the Archives of the Indies. He also discovered an “ecclesiastical document” from 1580 with the Puerto Rico blazon, which he copied and brought back with him to the island. Both elements helped him to formulate his interpretation regarding the content and organization of our coat of arms. His circular version and a brief were submitted to the Governor in 18 November, 1899. ”This version became later our Seal. Incredibly, this seal was made finally official by Law No.7 of 8 August 1952.
Blas Delgado Ortiz, 2 January 2005


Historical Coat of Arms (1902-1905)


image by Blas Delgado Ortiz, 3 Febuary 2004

In 1901, under the government of William H. Hunt, a commission was created to choose a new Coat of Arms for Puerto Rico. The new shield was approved in March 1902 and designed by Tiffany Jewelers of New York. This shield should represent the historical and political condition of Puerto Rico in those times.
The public opinion reacted against that shield because, happening to be a very religious people and having the same Spanish roots, they do not accept that the Puerto Rican shield, given by the Catholic Sovereigns in 1511, should be changed, because it represents that same fervent character. There were also those who think that the shield was praising our political condition with the United States.
Regis H. Post, President of the House of the Executive Counsel, presented, in 1905, a project to reestablish the old Coat of Arms given by Spain in 1511, but it was rejected. José de Diego presented a similar project in the House of Delegates that was approved and made law in the Executive Counsel and signed by the current Governor. The shield used between 1902 and 1905 was known as the Intruder Shield.
Probable meaning of this shield First, it has to be made clear that this shield was obtained in black and white in the web page <www.boricuazo.com> and that its colors were given according to some facts found in poems and in heraldic data describing how these colors should be. Therefore, it could be possible someday to find this shield with some differing details.
Crowning the shield is a Spanish schooner that symbolizes the Spanish conquest as well as the fact that Puerto Rico was once a Spanish territory.
The chief has a blue rectangle with red and argent stripes running downward that represents the United States of America. The shield outline, a Federal Shield, also reminds the USA. The base represents Puerto Rico, an island from which the sun arises and the sea. This conveys our tropical location, and the sun tells of a new dawn for Puerto Rico.
Below the shield appears a scroll with the Latin motto: "Prospera Lux  Oritur", which means "Prosperity, Light and Dawn."
Defacing the chief is a caduceus, considered a Banner of Peace, Harmony, Commerce and Health, which means keeping peace by exercising power with prudence and fruitful activity. It stands for the power and force to continue on.
The olive wreaths and the three wheat boughs beside the caduceus stand for peace, and abundance, prosperity and progress, respectively.
The Hermes wings above the caduceus stands for peace, harmony and friendship.
The Liberty Cap between the wings means liberty flying over all beings.
Blas Delgado Ortiz, 3 Febuary 2004


The Seal


image by Blas Delgado Ortiz , 4 March 2000

I have this book, which I have mentioned before, with the information that I think is mistaken. The book is titled: "FLAGS OF ALL NATIONS" by Cleveland H. Smith and Gertrude R. Taylor, pub. by Thomas Y. Crowell Compnay, NYC, NY, 1946, 1947.
The book shows the rounded shield of Puerto Rico on a white field, in the center, as the Governor-General's flag.
Steve Stringfellow, 12 August 1997

This is regarding the seal appearing in the Puerto Rico home page and wrongly designated the Governor General’s Seal. There is no such thing as a Governor General in Puerto Rico, as in the British Commonwealth of Nations. Just simply Governor.
The round seal is in fact the Seal of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, or Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico, instituted in 1953, and not to be confused with the Coat of Arms. The Governor of Puerto Rico put it in display in front of him every time he gives an official speech. In those instances, the seal circunscribed with the inscription "GOBERNADOR DE PUERTO RICO" is used. In official documents, the seal circunscribed with "GOBIERNO DE PUERTO RICO" in a white circular band is used today. The inscription originally read "ESTADO LIBRE ASOCIADO DE PUERTO RICO."
Blas Delgado Ortiz, 4 March 2000

This is the official seal of Puerto Rico given by Spain in the early XVI century. In Latin it says "John is its name" since Puerto Rico was initially the name of the city 'rich port', and the island was called Saint John the Baptist, thus San Juan. The city and island names were flipped later since travelers
would always say they were traveling to Puerto Rico when going to the island.
Wesley Rosario, 31 October 2007


Seals of Branches of Government

The seal of the Senate of Puerto Rico is the same one that the one of the government of Puerto Rico. Just that in the upper part, the word Senado (Senate) is written and in the lower part is written Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico (Commonwealth of Puerto Rico).
The seal of the House of Representatives is just as the same of the Senate, but its color is yellow and above of the seal it says Camara de Representante (House of Representatives) and below is written Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico (Commonwealth of Puerto Rico).
The seal of  the Judicial Branch - above of the seal is written Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico (Commonwealth of Puerto Rico) and in the lower part: Tribunal General de Justicia (General Court of Justice).
Nelson L. Roman, 6 November 2003