Our Coats of Arms Explained

In Poland, heraldic symbols began to be used in the 13th century. A single coat of arms could appear in slightly different versions – typically in different colours, depending on the custom of the family using it. Such variations are still considered as representing the same coat of arms.

Many Polish coats of arms feature so-called variations, which are peculiar to Polish heraldry. In many cases, variations are simple errors; sometimes the family wished to make a distinction within the clan and in other cases coats have been called variations of a particular family’s coat just because they look similar, which all together create a unique heraldic clan organisation in Poland. 

Pomian – coat of arms of the Dudziński family

Blazon: Or, a buffalo’s head caboshed, sable, pierced with a sword, proper.
Mantling: Sable, doubled Or. Crest: Out of a ducal coronet, an arm embowed in armour holding in its hand a sword, proper.

This coat-of-arms can be traced back to 1279. Chroniclers of old disagree as regards the origins of the Pomian coat of arms; some claim that a certain Łastek Hebda of Grabia, having killed his brother Jaranda, a cleric from Gniezno, suffered a different punishment, and that from the Wieniawa coat of arms, of which his ancestors boasted, a circle was removed, and a sword was shown thrust through the head of a bison, which was called Pomian – me, in the sense of something to be remembered (keep the Wieniawa coat of arms in mind). Damalevich mentions, that one of the Wieniawa people, while out hunting with the prince, killed a bison that had been plaguing the village of Lubania by sinking his sword into its head. Parisius, on the other hand, has it that one of the Sarmatians captured from the Romans, and who it was intended should fight in the amphitheatre with wild animals, stabbed the released bison in his hands with the sword handed him, so that the animal died on the spot, for which feat he was granted his freedom and the right to display this image on his coat of arms. During the reign of Ludwik II, King of Poland, the bison head was placed on the shield and the arm with a sword was placed above the crown and was named Pomian. This is a communal coat-of-arms and is shared by other great Polish families.

Ostoja – coat of arms of the Staszewski family

Blazon: Gules, between an increscent and a decrescent a cross in pale point downwards, all Or. On a helmet a dragon Sable, exhaling fire Gules, on two crescents pointing up, Or. Mantling Sable, lined Or.

The origins of this coat of arms date back to the times of Bolesław the Bold when, because the enemy invaded the Polish border, a knight by the name of Ostoja was sent against him with a small detachment of armed men who, having sneaked up to the camp of the attacking enemy, overcame their sentry. One of the captured men, hoping for mercy, promised the commanding officer of the Poles under oath to help him achieve an even greater victory. Upon his release, he returned to the camp where, without saying anything about his earlier failure, he persuaded his chieftain to send out new sentries. More numerous than the first previous detachment, they too fell victim to the swords of the Poles and were all killed, apart from Ostoja. For this deed he was granted this coat of arms together with much land and property. 

Coat of arms of the Pellizzaro family

The above coats of arms and the document below were discovered in Danuta Ombach’s Warsaw flat following her death in 2001. Unfortunately, these documents were not accompanied by any explanation. The inscription below the coat of arms on the left says: “Cavata dalli veri Libri Antichi di Antonio Bonacina nella Contrada di S. Margherita al Segno del Crocifisso in Milano” [Extracted from the authentic ancient books of Antonio Bonacina in the District of S. Margherita al Segno del Crocifisso in Milan]”, which really doesn’t get us any further. The Internet has just two hits for this, both of German origin and both unhelpful.

The above document, issued by the Tsarist authorities in Warsaw at a time when that part of Poland was under Russian domination, states (in Polish) as follows:

“The above drawing being the coat of arms of the Pellizzaro family, corresponds to the image found in Siebmacher’s Grosses Wappenbuch, volume IV, plate 140, drawn on paper without stamp, which I duly certify after carrying out a comparison. Done in Warsaw on 25 October 1848. Signed by the Head of the Central Archives of the Kingdom of Poland.”

The good thing is that the Siebmachers Grosses Wappenbuch does still actually exist; the bad thing is that there is more than one edition or version, it consists of multiple volumes, and can probably only be consulted at major libraries. It can be consulted on the Internet, but that’s easier said than done. Another avenue to explore, at the risk of being strangled by Italian red tape, is to consult some Italian heraldic specialists. Unfortunately, the Consulta Araldica (equivalent of the English College of Arms) was dissolved in 1948, though some of the Consulta Araldica’s functions are still performed by the Heraldic Office within the Office of the Prime Minister. It would be interesting to have a look at the Consulta Araldica’s approved official directories – the Libro d’Oro della Nobiltà Italiana.