This page contains information about the Cathedral parish’s coat of arms and principal works of art.
COAT OF ARMS
The Cathedral of Saint Paul has a coat of arms, which communicates something of our history and identity using traditional heraldic devices and symbols. In short: the palms refer to our parish patron and principal diocesan patron, St. Paul (traditional symbol of martyrdom), as well as the sword (the cause of St. Paul’s death and also a reference to the “sword of the Spirit” – Ephesians 6:17); the blue and gold coloring is both Marian and relates to the coat of arms of the village of Ars, France, where our secondary diocesan patron, St. John Vianney, was renowned for his holiness; the crown also refers to martyrdom and picks up on imagery used in County Roscommon, Ireland, where Fr. Coyle, our former pastor, was from; the “X”-shaped cross in the background refers to St. Andrew, on whose feast the current church was dedicated in 1893; finally, the anvil is a reference to the city of Birmingham, famous for its steel industry, where our Cathedral is located. A more complete description, using the traditional terms of heraldry, follows below:
ARMS OF THE CATHEDRAL OF ST. PAUL, BIRMINGHAM
Blazon: Azure, on a saltire or, two palm branches vert, over all a sword argent palewise, enfiling an eastern crown of the second, the crown and sword lined and gripped gules, in chief an anvil of the fourth.
The new coat of arms of the Cathedral of St. Paul, Birmingham pays tribute through its symbolism to the Catholic faith professed by its members and the parish’s long history in the state of Alabama. The tinctures (colors) selected, azure and or (blue and gold), were selected because they also appear in the municipal arms of Ars, where the diocese’s auxiliary patron St. Jean Vianney spent much of his life as the town priest. The principal charge (element) of a saltire or X-shaped cross is a discreet reference to the church’s initial dedication on the feast of St. Andrew (November 30), 1893.
Atop the saltire are placed two crossed palm branches in vert (green), symbols of the heavenly victory of martyrdom, and an argent (silver) sword set palewise (upright). These recall St. Paul, who died a martyr’s death under the blade of a sword, and who wrote of the “Sword of the Spirit” in his Epistle to the Ephesians. The crown or (gold) enfiled (bisected) by the sword also recalls the promise of an “imperishable crown” in the First Epistle to the Corinthians. This type of crown is known as an eastern crown in heraldry, and here also recalls the parish’s late pastor Fr. James Coyle (1873-1921) who was assassinated on the steps of the rectory. County Roscommon, where Fr. Coyle’s birthplace of Drum is located, has a similar crown on its arms.
Lastly, the city of Birmingham’s industrial heritage is recalled by the argent (silver) anvil in chief (at the top of the shield). The anvil can also be seen as symbolic of God shaping us through His Providence.
We are grateful to Mr. Matthew Alderman, K.M., of Matthew Alderman Studios, for his fine work in designing and executing our Cathedral coat of arms.
STAINED GLASS AND OTHER PRINCIPAL WORKS OF ART
The Cathedral’s beauty is enriched by its many stained glass windows, reflecting 19th century Catholic piety and devotional practices. The ten large windows in the nave were completely restored in the 1990s, right around their 100th anniversary.
Closest to the front are images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The image of the Assumption of the Virgin reflects the Catholic dogma that Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven; a special honor for the sinless Mother of God.
Two apostles are honored: Saint Paul is shown with the traditional symbol of his martyrdom, his sword, and Saint John the Evangelist faces him across the nave, holding the book and quill of a Gospel writer.
Saints popular at the time or with the founding congregation were also honored. The strong Irish heritage of the parish and its pastors would account for the choice of Saint Patrick. Saint John Berchmans, a Jesuit who died in 1621, was canonized, or officially recognized as a saint, in 1888, just before the Cathedral’s dedication; he is the patron saint of altar servers. The Good Shepherd stresses the protection afforded by Jesus as a loving Savior, and the importance of following his example.
The image of the Holy Family in Nazareth related to the social and economic context of Birmingham in the 1880s. Early parishioners were mostly railroad construction workers and miners. Joseph, the carpenter, is set at the apex of the scene. His presence, with the tools of his trade prominently displayed, creates a protective envelope encompassing both the child Jesus and His Mother, engaged in the domestic labor of spinning wool, illustrating both the dignity of labor and the value of family solidarity.
The value of children is further seen in the image of Christ and Children, donated by a couple in fond memory of their daughter Catherine. The Savior gathers the children in His arms, as they hope He has done with their own child.
Above the nave windows are ten clerestory windows; in the facade of the church is a large modern window depicting St. Paul, and currently obscured by the pipe organ. Four small windows in the sanctuary area portray images of the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple, the Holy Family, Jesus and the Children, and the Annunciation; these windows are in a much different style and likely came from another church or convent.
Looking up at the dome over the sanctuary, you will see a circular window with a dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit. Note also the beautiful stained glass transoms over the main doors from the narthex into the nave.