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Posted on 04/04/2013

The serpent occurs quite often in coats of arms (Family crests) from England and Ireland. Some believe the snake was used as a symbol of wisdom, however it may well have been a reference to medicine and doctors. To this day, the Caduceus, a metal rod (sometimes with two wings) entwined with two snakes, is a common heraldic symbol used by hospitals and surgeries as a trade mark. In continental European heraldry, the serpent is more often depicted like a dragon or other heraldic monster. It is not uncommon to find a snake shown with wings and a crown. In Italian heraldry, serpents are shown “nowed” meaning they are eating their own tails. The arms of Visconti, from Italy, show a serpent swallowing a man, legs first. In Irish heraldry, the snake is often shown wrapped around a sword, such as in the arms of O’Donovan, and on the crest of O’Donoghue. It seems strange that the snake should be so commonly used in Irish coats of arms (Family Crests) owing to the fact that Ireland does not have any snakes. The legend of St. Patrick banishing serpents from The Emerald Isle is just that, a legend. There have never been snakes in Ireland. This seems to reinforce the theory that snakes were a primary indication of medicine, and the medical arts.

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