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The Coat of Arms of Spello

[image ALT: A coat of arms (version 1) depicting a tower supported on either side by two lions reared up on their hind feet. On either side of the tower, an odd standardized geometric representation of a rose. A legless bird sits on the battlements of the tower, while a small cross hovers in midair above it.]

Gules a tower supported by two lions rampant, a martlet on the battlements, between two roses all argent; in chief a cross sable à enquerre; a point vert.

20c tile on the façade of a house in the via dei Cappuccini.

[image ALT: A coat of arms (version 2) depicting a tower, nominally supported on either side by two absurdly small lions reared up on their hind feet. On either side of the tower, a square mirror. A bird stands abstractedly on the battlements of the tower, while a cross hovers in midair above it. The escutcheon is inserted in an exuberant baroque frame imitating wooden sculpture, and beneath it a banner nestled in foliage bears an unreadable phrase.]
[image ALT: A geometric cross with a round mirror hovering over each arm.]

Azure a tower proper supported by two lions rampant or on a mount also proper, a bird argent statant on the battlements, between two square mirrors of the second bordured of the first; in chief a long cross of the first.

I've been unable to determine what kind of bird; it would apparently be standing on the tower, though, and is therefore not a martlet.

The crown in the crest is that of a count; in lieu of a motto, the banner reads: Hispellum Urbs Flavia Constans Ac Romanorum Municipium.

Azure a cross argent, two mirrors of the same bordured or in the first and second quarters.

Both of these older coats of arms, as painted in the Sala del Consiglio of the Palazzo Comunale, were at different times those of Spello, although properly the one on the right is that of the Baglioni family, once lords of the town, whose name is still borne by the Pinturicchio-frescoed chapel in the church of S. Maria Maggiore. Of the three elements they have in common, two are gone from the modern arms: the sky blue field and the mirrors.

[image ALT: The same coat of arms as version 2 above, except much better executed.]
	Although Italian heraldry has always been less strict than its French and English counterparts, this cerulean blue, possibly attributable to fading, is not heraldic, and the particularly fine example on the right, from the 18c doors of the library in the same Palazzo Comunale — the only heraldically correct coat of arms on this page — does in fact have the proper azure.

The mirrors, now replaced by roses, are a punning indication of the name of the city: specchio (mirror) for Spello. This is usually stated in this form: the mirrors were added because it was actually believed that Spello derived its name from Latin speculum; but I don't believe this because it is unnecessarily complicated, and would then require an explanation, never so much as hinted at anywhere, of why the town of Antiquity might have been named after mirrors. Their 19c replacement seems to stem from embarrassment at this supposed bad etymologizing, but why specifically roses remains unclear to me.

Some of the difficulty might be removed by taking a cue from a passage of the Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, in which, speaking of the names of Jerusalem, he says ". . . Sion, which in Hebrew means speculatio (something to gaze on), because it is built on a height, and can be seen from far away." (XV.I.5, my trans.) At some point in the early Middle Ages — when exactly, I don't know — the Hi- of Hispellum having been slurred out of the name by common speech, the gleaming white walls of the Roman city, still more or less intact and sharply visible since the statutory right-of‑way next to them would not have been drowned in more recent constructions, would have made the town a definite speculatio and encouraged *Spellum to be thought of as *Speclum. The mirrors complete the process a few centuries later, as a slightly off-mark explanation. I don't believe a word of this, but it's possible.

The bird is sometimes shown holding a key in its beak. This too seems to be a modern refinement.

The basic heraldic item is clearly the tower constituting the central charge, and I wouldn't be surprised that the original arms of Spello were merely Azure a tower or. The origin of the cross seems to lie partly in the arms of the counts Baglioni, partly in the miracle of the Cross that appeared over Spello, now commemorated by this fresco in the church of S. Ventura:

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Page updated: 8 Mar 03