In 1778 the portrait painter William Hamilton RA painted the portrait of John Wesley which now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London. Later that same year, an engraving of this portrait was published by James Fittler.
Beneath the portrait, Fittler added his own conception of the Coat of Arms of the Wesley family – a shield with an outlined cross, containing three scallop shells in each quarter and a wyvern as the crest, with the words, “God is love” as the motto underneath.
It is not known whether he prepared this drawing with Wesley’s permission, but the motto added an authentic touch, for Wesley did use the words, “God is love” on one of his seals.
It seems that there are as many as 15 different Coat of Arms used by various branches of the Wesley family, but the one under John Wesley’s portrait has become a fairly well-known Methodist motif, even though it cannot strictly live up to its title of being “John Wesley’s Coat of Arms”.
The Wesleys were apparently reticent about their aristocratic ancestors – the Wellesleys and Annersleys – yet when John Wesley saw the incorrect drawing of the Coat of Arms beneath his engraved portrait, he was surely reminded by the scallop shell that some remote ancestor of his had been a crusader and a pilgrim to the Holy Land.
It was during the Middle Ages that the shell “Pecten Jacobaeus” became a religious emblem, known as the badge of St James. It was worn by pilgrims visiting the shrine of St James in Santiago in Spain and the Holy Land.
There is evidence that Charles Wesley turned down an offer to inherit the Coat of Arms and a fortune belonging to Garrett Wesley, this going eventually to the Duke of Wellington.
We should remember it is through Wesley’s Coat of Arms that we are linked to the spirit of all those who joined in the “Crusade for Christ”.
1. The scallop shell comes from Wesley’s Coat of Arms.
2. The cross is central, reminding us of Christ’s one perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the world’s sins.
The whole design is done in the three traditional colours of red, black and white, which are the recognised colours of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.
Designed by Ben Matthee for the Methodist Centenary celebrated throughout South Africa in 1982, the emblem has become very much part and parcel of our corporate Methodist identity, and variations thereof have been done to meet the specific requirements of various departments and churches.
The emblem incorporates features which combine the traditions of the Church as well as its vision for the future.