A few years ago, an elegant, throne-like chair, moved from a sacristy side room, replaced the plainer presider’s chair in the sanctuary of our church. Much has been made of the fact that the replacement chair once belonged to a bishop, but today, the symbolism in its decorations offers a more important message.
The chair belonged to Reverend Michael J. Crane, our second pastor, who built our church. One hundred years ago, on September 19, 1921, when he was consecrated as a bishop, his new crest was carved into its back. The insignia was very personal at the time, with a bird, a sword, stars, and a motto chosen to represent his family name, his own first name, his mother’s ancestry, and his career. The elements also had another layer of meaning, though, and even when the chair was tucked away in the shadows for decades after he died, the totem remained a presence in our church.
The bird on the Bishop’s shield — a “crane ‘vigilant,’ that is, with a stone in one claw.” — represented his family name (ancestry websites suggest that the name Crane may actually have come from a tall, gawky bird-like long-ago Irish relative!). Worldbirds.org notes the bird’s religious significance: “In Christianity – especially in Christian Art, the crane is a symbol of vigilance, loyalty, good life and works, and good order in the monastic life.” Signs and Symbols in Western Art, attributes this symbolism to a fable: “Legend recounts that cranes form a circle around their king at night, holding a stone in one foot while standing on the other. Should a crane fall asleep, the stone would fall and arouse him to renew his watch.” Worldbirds.org also finds that the bird has a special Irish symbolism: “Celts believed that birds like cranes were present in the Other World as well as this one. That is why they were viewed as Divine Messengers.”
Flanking the crane were two stars, taken from the Monaghan family shield of Bishop Crane’s mother. (Interestingly, the name Monaghan is supposed to have been derived from “monk,” suggesting a family spiritual tendency!) The Bishop’s 1928 Jubilee Book states that Two “Monaghan stars have been used – one symbolic of Our Lady Star of the Sea and the other of the Bishop’s mother in her own family symbol.” Respect for earthly heritage and spiritual guidance of the Blessed Mother are twin beacons.
Above the bird, Bishop Michael Crane’s first name was represented in “the angelic sword of St. Michael. An erect sword signifies a martial purpose, but in the horizontal position in which it appears in the new coat-of-arms, it indicates Protection and Guidance.”
The shield was topped with the Catholic hierarchical “emblems common to all bishops – crozier, mitre, and hat with twelve tassles.” At the bottom, Bishop Crane chose a little local historic continuity: “The Motto – ‘Ut Sim Fidelus’ (That I may be Faithful) – is the same as that of the Most Rev. Edmond F. Prendergast, D.D., the late lamented Archbishop, who departed this life on February 26, 1918, and with whom Bishop Crane was associated for fourteen years at St. Malachy’s Church (1889-1903).”
Why is the chair important today? In recent years, we have been rediscovering our Parish story, charting where we’ve been to help guide our way forward. As we install our Seventeenth Pastor, the crane emblem on our chair peeks out above his head like an avatar, or “Divine Messenger” – ever vigilant, ever faithful; protecting and guiding, connecting our past and our future.