Reader Queries:

The Symbolism of CUA’s Coat of Arms


By Nathan Bartel


What is that strange moon on its back in the top left corner of CUA’s shield?


Above: CUA’s shield, also known as the coat of arms.  Below: CUA’s original coat of arms, superseded in 1935.  The eagle holding an olive branch and arrows is the U.S. coat of arms.

That was one of the things Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering Chris Kirtley asked when he suggested that Inside CUA Online run a story about the symbolism of the ubiquitous Catholic University logo.  Following is a brief introduction to the history, meaning and proper uses of the shield


The CUA shield, more properly called the coat of arms, was designed by a heraldry specialist named Pierre de Chaignon la Rose and approved in 1935 to replace the university’s original coat of arms.  (The original incorporated the entire coat of arms of the United States of America, a practice that turned out to be prohibited by federal law.)


The university’s current coat of arms emphasizes three things: our country, our faith and our university.


To emphasize Catholic University’s patriotism and national scope, its coat of arms contains colors and symbols strongly associated with the United States. The shield features a cross composed of red and white stripes placed on a field of blue and white, deliberately recalling the American flag.  Note that only the three national colors are prominently used in the shield’s design (the book in the middle is edged in gold).


The cross is indicative of CUA’s Catholic identity.  The red stripes are emblematic of the blood of Christ, while the white stripes recall the innocence of Christ.  Beneath the cross, the shield’s colors of blue and white are the heraldic colors of Our Lady, the Blessed Mother of God, who stood beneath Christ’s cross.


The open book in the middle represents the university’s primary charter as a place of learning.  The book’s inscription, “Deus Lux Mea Est,” which means “God is my light,” points to the source of all truth and enlightenment.


Finally, the crescent in the upper left quadrant — which looks like a moon on its back — is the heraldic symbol of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, who has been declared patroness of the United States and is also patroness of Catholic University.  The crescent therefore makes reference to all three elements of the shield: our country, our faith and our university.


The CUA seal. Unlike the shield, its use is limited to special purposes.

The CUA shield is considered the common property of everyone in the CUA community, and must be used to adorn university letterhead, brochures, newsletters and other such materials.  The CUA seal, however — which is the coat of arms encircled by the words “The Catholic University of America 1887” — is an official insignia of the university.  Its only proper use is the authentification of official university documents such as diplomas and may never be used for decorative purposes.


Because Catholic University has a reputation to maintain and promote as an institution dedicated to excellence, it is important that our name and logo be used consistently. This helps to solidify our identity and to raise our profile in a positive way among our many audiences — alumni, students, parents, clergy, the academic community, the media and the general public. For these reasons, the CUA Office of Publications and Services (202-319-5633) needs to review all of the university’s published materials, including ads, before they are printed and distributed.


Inside CUA Online would like to hear from you.  If you have a question about the university or a story idea, please write us at or call 202-319-6984.