Historical and Cultural Context


Coat of Arms and Heraldry


A coat of arms or simply coat in medieval European tradition, is a design specifically created - obeying the laws of heraldry - in order to identify individuals, families, clans, guilds, cities, regions and nations.


The design of a coat is usually placed in a bracket-shaped shield that represents the homonymous defense weapon used by medieval warriors. However, the drawing can be represented on other media, such as flags, clothing, architectural elements, furniture, personal objects, etc. It was common, especially in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the coats are painted or sewn on the coats of mail, protective clothing used by armed men. Therefore, the coats are also occasionally referred to as coats of arms.


Strictly speaking, the term refers only coat the design description inserted in the coat of arms. However, in the broad sense, can be called by the description of the coat of arms set, including, besides the shell, the outer elements. By extension, the term coat, went to apply not only to describe but also described the object itself: the armorial shield or the full set.


It is not known with accuracy, when this practice began. The field of study of coats of arms is called heraldry. The arms were not delivered at random to others. Had their origins in acts of courage and bravery made by great horsemen. It was a way to honor them and their families. Over time, as it was a status icon, came to be given the noble families in order to identify the social rank them, therefore, only the heroes or the nobility had such icon and could transmit to their descendants.


From the nineteenth century, with the rise to power of the bourgeoisie and the decline of the aristocracy, the coat was losing its importance. In the twentieth century the coat reborn, but this time applied to the symbology of municipalities, corporations, states and other entities. To note that, since the nineteenth century, by tradition, many of these entities called "coats" to their distinctive emblems. However, many of these badges are fake or pseudo coats, since, despite the formal name of "coat", do not obey the rules of heraldry.


Portuguese heraldry and vexillology


Currently the coats - and pseudo coats - are very common and easy to find. Each local authority - parish, county or district - has it. As well as its flag where the coat figures a source of pride for many of the inhabitants of each parish. Several local Sports Clubs and also adopted a coat of arms as a symbol that identifies them.


The Portuguese vexillology and heraldry symbols set rules for national and subnational since its regulations in 1930. Among these measures is circulated regularization of April 4, 1930 the Directorate General of Public Administration which required the administrative committees of municipal councils to legalize the coats in the opinion of the compulsory section Heraldry Association of Portuguese Archaeologists. There are however several deviations from the standards set by the municipalities, towns and villages. Despite the Portuguese heraldry and vexillology can be considered correct and accurate, simple glimpse of a flag does not distinguish, for example, a parish of a county (although it may sometimes appear in banner), allowing only distinguish the status of the locality headquarters.


Regarding subnational flags, the rule is that the coat must be topped with five towers if the county or parish is headquartered in a city, with four towers if the county or parish is based in a town, and  with three towers if a parish based in a village or if it is an urban neighborhood.