What’s in a Motto?

Over the past seven years I have been a tour guide at the Salisbury House. In all that time, I am still finding objects that I have questions about. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, with over ten thousand artifacts in the museum!

The other day I was looking at the Weeks family crest or coat of arms. The Weeks crest is located in several places in the museum. They appear on the main stair runner, the Great Hall, in the Library on the light sconces, and also on the family’s finest dinnerware on display in the Breakfast Room.

The crest has three battle axes on a field of crosses. At the bottom of the crest is a motto: Cari Deo Nihilo Carent. At first I thought that the first and last words started with G’s. But on closer inspection, I realized that the words started with C’s. 

crest 1

Weeks crest on the family’s dinnerware

crest2

Weeks crest on a wall sconce in the Library

crest4

Weeks crest on stair runner

 

crest3

Detail the Weeks crest on the stair runner

 

I had heard that Carl Weeks had made up his own family crest in the 1920s, but was this actually true? I had a real mystery to solve.

Did Carl, in fact, create his own Weeks family crest and motto? Or was there an existing Weeks family crest and motto that had been historically associated with the Weekses? Finally, what did the motto actually mean?

When I was in grade school I had taken Latin so I recognize some of the words. Also while being an altar boy, I had to learn all the payers for the Catholic mass in Latin – which, to this day, I can still recite. My next step was to go online and see if I could translate the Latin to English. 

I knew that Deo was God and Nihilo meant nothing. If you strictly translate the words the motto reads, Dear God Nothing Lacking. But Latin is not that easy. The position of the words can make that sentence mean something completely different. Additionally, certain prefixes or suffixes can give the word a different meaning and change the overall interpretation of the motto. 

During my search online, I came upon a site called “House Of Names,” and searched for the Weeks family crest. It was there that all my question were answered.

According to this website, the motto Cari Deo Nihilo Carent has long been associated with the Weeks family. In fact, the crest pictured on the website matches the crests included in the Weeks family collection.

from site

Here was the answer! Carl did not make up his own crest or motto – he used the historical Weeks family logo and crest in his design of Salisbury House. The full meaning of Cari Deo Nihilo Carent reads, “Those dear to God want nothing.”  

As you can see we are constantly learning new things about Salisbury House. Sometimes what we thought was true is, in fact, not the case. 

About David Ross
David Ross is a tour guide at Salisbury House in Des Moines, Iowa.

One Response to What’s in a Motto?

  1. Sharon Foltz says:

    Very interesting! Thanks for the info. One does not truly know history until you study it.

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