The Achievement of Arms of the British Institute of Radiology
The BIR applied for a grant of arms to mark its 125th anniversary in 2022. In the UK arms are granted on behalf of the Crown in recognition of the standing and achievements of an individual or organisation.A coat of arms is evocative of history, tradition, trust and authority, which is fitting for a body with the history and reputation of the BIR. Importantly, the way in which arms are depicted is open to wide artistic interpretation, as long as it is consistent with the heraldic description or ‘blazon’ included in the grant of arms. So, arms can be used in different ways in different contexts, and use can evolve over time without a new logo having to be designed and adopted.
The arms granted were designed by Professor Stephen Keevil, at the time President Elect of the Institute and subsequently President. The agent at the College of Arms was Christopher Fletcher-Vane, Chester Herald of Arms in Ordinary. The digital version shown above has been produced by Quentin Peacock, a well-known heraldic artist.
The background to the design of the coat of arms
The design of the shield is based on a logo used by the BIR from 1927 until 2004 and still often seen as a lapel pin, see below left. The same design elements are also used in the President’s chain of office and other BIR insignia. The main colours are yellow (or gold) and blue, colours used historically by the BIR.
The ‘little owl’ is the species of owl usually identified as the owl of Minerva, representing wisdom, science and also the keen vision that is key to the role of radiologists.
The rays of the sun represent radiation in all its forms, and also symbolise healthcare and healing more generally.
The crest: stag and Rod of Aesculapius
The crest, on top of the helmet, includes a stag which is found in the arms of the Röntgen family and also coincidentally in those of Silvanus Thompson, the first President of what is now the BIR. The stag is holding a Rod of Aesculapius, a universally recognised heraldic symbol of medicine which also features in the 1927 logo. The wreath on top of the helmet and the mantling, the pieces of cloth surrounding it, are again in the traditional BIR colours.
The supporters: pioneers in our field
Supporters, the figures standing on either side of the shield, are only granted to organisations of particularly high standing. They represent two pioneers in our field: Wilhelm Röntgen (who discovered X-rays) and Marie Skłodowska Curie (whose work underpins the use of radioisotopes in nuclear medicine and in radiotherapy). Röntgen is depicted holding a Crookes tube, an early form of X-ray tube. Many photographs of Curie at work in her laboratory show her wearing a blue dress (which was originally her wedding dress) and holding a flask like the one in the arms.
“E Tenebris Lux” (Light out of Darkness) alludes to the way in which medical imaging metaphorically casts light on disease, and also to the alleviation of disease by the therapeutic disciplines within the BIR’s remit.
A ‘blazon’ is the official heraldic description of a coat of arms. The language used is a mixture of English, Norman French and Latin, with many technical terms and conventions that are found only in heraldry. For example, the terms ‘dexter’ and ‘sinister’ in the text below are Latin for right and left respectively, but defined from the standpoint of someone holding the shield.
The official blazon is as follows:
Coat of arms: per chevron Or and Azure in chief two Little Owls and in base issuant in chief a Sun in Splendour all counterchanged.
Crest: upon a helm with a wreath Or and Azure a demi stag Gules attired Or holding between the legs a Rod of Aesculapius bendwise Or the serpent Azure.
Mantling: Azure doubled Or.
Supporters: Dexter a Man representing Wilhelm Röntgen habited in a shirt Argent a suit of clothes and shoes Sable holding in his exterior hand a Crookes tube proper Sinister a Woman representing Marie Skłodowska Curie habited in a dress Azure and shoes Sable and holding in her exterior hand a round-bottomed Glass Flask proper both on a Compartment of Grass Vert.
Motto: E TENEBRIS LUX (light out of darkness).