Clan Carruthers

CLAN CARRUTHERS: the only Scottish name with a seraphim as its crest.

Dark or Light Wood, Carruthers crest, on Carruthers tartan. Awaiting the manufacturers listing on his site.

With the production of the new CARRUTHERS wall plaque, and the manufacturers use of the official seraphim crest, we revisit why our crest is, as it is.

The use of the seraph/seraphim as the crest of the Carruthers Chief, and therefore used on our clan badge, has led to the odd question in the past and even to some believing they have the right to bastardise it by removing the face, yet still claim it’s Carruthers.

Further why searphim which in hebrew is classed as plural, and not seraph which is singular?

Our clan crest

Our crest, as with all Scottish clan crests, is taken from the Chief’s arms. It is blazoned/described as a seraphim volant Proper. This, translated from heraldic text into plain speech means; a seraphim flying in its natural state.

In our crest the face is exposed yet according to Isaiah 6:2 the face and feet are covered, so why does our crest not reflect this?

We are not sure why the term seraphim rather than seraph was used in the blazon. It could simply be the herald’s mistake or misinterpretation when considering this celestial being, either way it has defined our crest and its portrayal for over 500 years and we are proud to have it as part of our history.

Theologians have discussed the seraphim as well as the other angels over the many centuries based on the interpretation of the same in the scriptures. The first and only real description of the seraphim is in Isaiah 6:2. During his vision he describes a six winged entity whose face and feet are covered by their wings.

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Throughout history, at least in the vast majority of cases in western religious iconography, the seraphim are portrayed with the face exposed. This again is mirrored in western heraldry and in fact in our own crest.

If we start from Genesis 1:27 which states that God made man in his own image, extrapolating this would lead to the perceived humanising of angelic beings as is often portayed.

However, based simply on Isaiah’s description there is no doubt that behind the wings sits a body, which as biblical texts and the church itself has alluded to, resembles that of a human in structure, with both a face, hands and feet.

We remain aware that the blazon states ‘proper’ ie the seraphim in their natural state, however this is not really known other than a brief depiction in the Old Testament.

The hypothesis put here is that the artists of the day, especially during the Renaissance, wished to humanise their depiction based on the concept that God made man in his own image and as such and accepting Isaiah’s description, these angelic beings were of a similar construct.

This portrayal was it seems, an attempt to depict the close relationship man and ethereal beings all had with God, and what better way than to give it an angelic human like face.

Thererfore, this depiction of a seraphim ‘with face’, is seen in so many Christian portrayals of the seraphim, as such this format which was taken up in so many depictions, literally became the norm in religious iconography.

Religion to Heraldry

Therefore the transfer from religious iconography to the portrayal of the same in western heraldry was a simple step, as the artists of the church and the control by the same on daily life would have ensured one depiction very closely mirrored the perception of the other.

As such, the description of the seraphim by Isaiah becomes the base from which the artist worked ie it had six wings, where the upper two covered the face and lower two covered the feet, with the middle two spread as in flight. However in the same vein as all other depictions of angelic beings, they were ‘humanised’ and an angelic face was added.

Was this because the depiction of a seraphim here on earth and away from God’s radiances and greatness, seems to have allowed a level of poetic/artistic licence? Who knows, but it is what it is as the portrayal of the six wings, the upper and lower-most crossed in saltire, with the middle pair extended as in flight, and in the centre an angelic face had and due to regular use become the accepted norm.

NB: Regarding the feet, scriptural Hebrew includes many euphemisms and in this instance it is suggested that “feet” are actually describing the genitalia. However, the feet may also simply be describing the feet. Either way the covering is deemed to be a depiction of humility.

So is a face, wrong or right

Accepting the regular depiction of the seraphim in Christian art with the face exposed, it suggests that and for a multitude of reasons, our Chief’s depiction of the seraphim on his crest and the painting of the same by the herald, is both accurate and acceptabe based on the era in which it was painted and recorded.

So regarding our chiefly line ie the seraphim crest with a face:

  • It has historically remained our Chief’s crest and has been depicted as such, since the early 1500’s that we know of, but it is suggested it may have been used by Holmains prior to that that.
  • It follows standard religious and heraldic depictions of the same from the Middle Ages onwards when heraldry began, and it was first added to the Carruthers arms.
  • Only a Chief can change the chiefly crest of a clan, but as it has been part of our visual identity for over 500 years and specific to CARRUTHERS, ie the only Scottish clan and family using it, why would he want to. The face therefore must and will remain

NB The Chief’s arms remain his personal property and can only be used with his permission.

So what do we know?

The bottom line is we may never fully understand why the medieval artists and iconographers moved away from Isaiah’s biblical description and exposed the face, but they did, and it has became universally accepted in its depiction.

Were they right, were they wrong, who knows but we do know that heraldry, which appeared in the middle ages, followed suit.

As such and by the time of the 1500’s heraldry was well established in Scotland but it wasn’t until 1672 that its use became organised and registered under the Lord Lyon. At that point all arms had to be put forward for inspection prior to being used recorded against an individuals name. Not all were successful, Holmains obviously were.

However as previously stated, evidence shows that the seraphim crest was used by Holmains on their arms before the demise of Carruthers of Mouswald in 1548 and that branch of the family becoming chiefs. This is based on the armorials and also we are advised, on a carving in stone on a mantlepiece previously used in old Kirkwood House.

So, the Carruthers clan crest badge remains ours in all its glory and with a face, it is historically and visually accurate and defines us as a family as it hasdone so for 100’s of years.

NB As can be seen above, the Seraphim can be heraldically depicted in slightly different ways, but to accurately represent Carruthers through the crest of our Chief, it must always have a face.

Promptus et Fidelis

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