Many of the buildings and monuments in the centre of Rome are emblazoned with the coats of arms of some of the many popes who once ruled the Eternal City. Papal rule came to an end on September 20th, 1870, and a few months later Rome became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy.
A papal coat of arms is easily identifiable, as the escutcheon will be surmounted by the triregnum* (triple tiara or triple crown) and two keys. The keys, a reference to St Peter, are crossed and turned up towards heaven.
A pope who came from a family without a coat of arms would assume one upon becoming a bishop.
Many popes were great patrons of art and architecture and, as a consequence, their coats of arms proliferate throughout the city. A good example is Pope Urban VIII (r. 1623-44), who belonged to the Barberini family. The family's coat of arms is made up of three bees and the Barberini bees can be seen buzzing about all over Rome.
*In the coat of arms of Pope Benedict XVI (r. 2005-13) the papal tiara has been replaced by a bishop's mitre. The mitre's three stripes recall the three crowns of the tiara.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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