Many people today have images and symbols that are particularly meaningful to them and to their families. Perhaps this is the reason why some families are researching their genealogy and creating family symbols or seals which embody their history. Since the twelfth century, the tradition of personal symbols in a seal or coat of arms has been associated with Catholic Bishops. These Episcopal seals consist of a gold Episcopal processional cross, the traditional bishop¹s hat or gallero with its six green tassels on either side over a shield containing specific symbols. The symbols on the left side represent the diocese in which the Bishop serves. Those on the right are his personal and family symbols. The scroll under the shield contains the Bishop¹s personal motto.
The left side of Bishop Braxton¹s shield contains symbols of the Diocese of Belleville, Illinois in which he was installed as Eighth Bishop on June 22, 2005. Belleville is symbolized by a blue field with a green mount or hill rising from the base of the design. This hill has a dual significance. It refers to Compton Hill, the name of Belleville until 1814, and to Cahokia Mounds near which Bishop Laval of Quebec established the first mission serving the Cahokia Native Americans in 1699. On the top of the hill is a castle which is the traditional symbol for a city (³ville²). It is rendered in the precious color of gold for beauty (³belle²) which identifies the See City, Belleville. Rising above the castle is a gold cross with arms that end in fleur-de-lis to honor the French missionaries who served the Native Americans of Southern Illinois. Above the castle is an arched bar which is taken from the Coat of Arms of His Holiness, Pope Leo XIII who erected Belleville as a Diocese in 1887. Just above this bar are the symbolic ³keys to the Kingdom of Heaven² given by Christ to Simon Peter, the rock on which He built the Church. This is in recognition of the diocese¹s Cathedral Church of Saint Peter. The recognition of St. Peter holds special significance for Bishop Braxton. His confirmation name is Peter. He was appointed to Belleville during the last months of the pontificate of the 263rd Successor of St. Peter, Pope John Paul II, and he was installed during the first months of the pontificate of the 264th Successor of St. Peter, Pope Benedict XVI.
The right side of the shield contains personal symbols that Bishop Braxton used in his Coat of Arms as Auxiliary Bishop of St. Louis and on the right side of his Lake Charles Coat of Arms. The design recalls the Bishop¹s personal history, his family, especially his parents, Cullen and Evelyn Braxton, his diverse experiences as a priest and theologian, and his vision of his ministry as a bishop.
Bishop Braxton¹s personal insignia is inspired partly by the arms of the late Archbishop of Atlanta, James P. Lyke, O.F.M. (1939-1992), who was one of his dearest friends. The design is dominated by a red cross, which signifies Faith, the gift by which a person becomes a Christian. The cross is outlined in white or silver to signify that the Bishop was ordained to the episcopacy during his Silver Jubilee Year, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of his First Mass. The cross creates four quarters in the design. In the quarters are symbols of significant elements in the Bishop¹s ministry. In the upper left quarter is a silver Chi-Rho, the first two Greek letters of the word Christ. This Christ-centered symbol is taken from the arms of the His Eminence, Justin Cardinal Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia, who was Bishop Braxton¹s principal consecrator. The Chi-Rho also reminds him that everything he does should be in Christ. In the upper right quarter is an open book that bears the Latin word for truth, Veritas. The book is used to signify the Bishop¹s life as a scholar, writer, and theologian, especially his years as Personal Theologian to his mentor, His Eminence, James Cardinal Hickey, late Archbishop of Washington. The book is placed within the design opposite the Chi-Rho to stress that as a pastoral theologian Bishop Braxton¹s scholarship has always been in the service of the Church.
In the lower left quarter of the design is a star for Mary, Mother of the Lord, the Patroness of Saint Mary of the Lake Seminary, in Mundelein, Illinois, where Bishop Braxton studied and was ordained to the priesthood. She is also the Patroness of The Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, where Bishop Braxton¹s critical formation as a theologian took place during his doctoral studies. The star also honors the late Pope John Paul II (in his devotion to Mary), who appointed him Auxiliary Bishop of St. Louis, Bishop of Lake Charles, and Bishop of Belleville. Opposite the star is a small bird, a martlet, taken from the coin of the realm of England at the time of Saint Edward, King and Confessor, and Bishop Braxton¹s baptismal patron.
Rising from the base of the shield is a gold phoenix, a bird coming forth from fire. The phoenix, charged with the IHS, the monogram of the Holy Name, is taken from the arms of the Archdiocese of Chicago. By the use of this symbol, the Bishop recalls the twenty-five years that he spent as a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago and his work as a theological advisor and writer for the late Archbishop of Chicago, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin.
The background of the entire design is rendered in red, green and black. These traditional African colors represent his personal family, especially the Christian witness of his dear parents, Cullen and Evelyn Braxton. The colors also represent the larger African-American family and his appreciation of the peoples and the Church of Africa. Black stands for the rich soil of the South, once worked by the Bishop¹s brave ancestors brought low by the sin of human slavery. Black also celebrates the beautiful dark complexions of a proud people and the ³gift of Blackness² which Pope Paul VI declared was needed by the Church. Red represents redemption and liberty won for all by Christ and struggled for by those who shed their blood for freedom during slavery and amid the strife caused by the racism that endures in our own day. Green calls to mind the Hope nourished by Faith symbolized by the vibrant new life springing up in the Church in Africa and African-American communities.
With his appointment to Belleville, Bishop Braxton has changed his motto from Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope), the opening words of the Second Vatican Council¹s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World to Mane Nobiscum Domine (³Stay with us, Lord²) the words of the disciples who encountered the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:29). This is also the title of John Paul II¹s Apostolic Letter designating 2004-2005, the year in which the Bishop was appointed to Belleville as the Year of the Eucharist. This gives expression to the centrality of the Mass and the Eucharist in his life.