St George's Cross

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For the English national flag, see Flag of England.
Not to be confused with the Cross of St. George, a military distinction in Russia, or the George Cross, a UK and Commonwealth medal.
St. George's cross

St George's Cross (or the Cross of St George) is a red cross on a white background, associated with Saint George since the time of the crusades.

Historically, the cross appeared on many flags, emblems and coats of arms, such as that of the Swabian League in late Medieval Germany and it remains, or was re-introduced as, the emblem of several countries and cities which have, or had, St George as a patron saint, notably the Duchy of Milan, England, Georgia, Aragon, Genoa and Barcelona. The cross is also found, for various reasons, on the provincial flag of Huesca, Zaragoza and Teruel (the 3 provinces of Aragón) as well as the municipal flag for numerous cities, including Montreal, Almería, Milan, Genoa, Padua, Zadar and Freiburg im Breisgau. It is also the basis for the Four Moors flag of Sardinia. Guernsey was permitted to use it as its state flag between 1936 and 1985.

Origins and medieval use[edit]

Further information: Flag of Genoa
1430s depiction of Saint wearing a red cross on a white surcoat, by Bernat Martorell.
Badge of St George's Cross (representing the heraldic Crown of Aragon.

Saint George became very popular as a "warrior saint" during the Third Crusade. There was a legend that he had miraculously assisted Godfrey of Bouillon; also that Richard the Lionheart had placed himself under his protection.[1] At the siege of Antioch, on 28 June 1098, the crusaders, according to legend, received miraculous help from a great army on white horses, clothed in white and bearing white banners, led by St George, St Demetrius, and St Mercurius. There was not, however, any association of the red cross with St George before the end of the crusades.[2]

The red cross in particular was associated with the Knights Templar in from the time of the Second Crusade (1145),[3] but in 1188, red and white crosses were chosen to identify the French and English troops in the "Kings' Crusade" of Philip II of France and Henry II of England, respectively. Together with the Jerusalem Cross, the plain "George's Cross" became a recognizable symbol of the crusader from about 1190, and in the 13th century it came to be used as flag or emblem by numerous leaders or polities who wanted to associate themselves with the crusades.[clarification needed] The red-on-white combination was chosen by Genoa and Aragon, among others. Saint George was depicted as a crusader knight during this time, but the red cross had no particular association with him. A crusader-era fresco in the crypt of Trani cathedral depicts Saint George as wearing a white cross on a red surcoat. The white-on-red version was chosen as the Reichsbanner ("imperial banner") by the German crusaders in the 12th century, and as Frederick II used in his European campaigns of the 1250s after he returned from his crusades, it continued to be used as the Reichssturmfahne ("imperial war flag") of the Holy Roman Empire (eventually giving rise to the flag of Savoy and the modern flags of Switzerland and Denmark).

The association of the red-on-white cross with the Saint probably arises in Genoa, which had adopted these tinctures for their flag and George as their patron saint in the 12th century. A vexillum beati Georgii is mentioned in the Genovese annals under the year 1198, referring to a red flag with a depiction of St. George and the dragon. A depiction of this flag is shown in the annals under the year 1227. The Genoese flag with the red cross was used alongside this "George's flag", from at least 1218, known as the insignia cruxata comunis Janue ("cross ensign of the commune of Geona"). The saint's flag was the city's main war flag, but the cross flag was used alongside it in the 1240s.[4]

In the 14th century, after the failure of the crusades, the cross ceased to be a symbol directly associated with the "taking of the cross", the resolve to fight in the crusades, and with the development of systematic heraldry, there was great demand for variations of the cross symbol and assciated terminology. Juliana Berners reports that there were Crossis innumerabull born dayli. "St. George's cross" was at first associated with any plain Greek cross touching the edges of the field (not necessarily red on white).[5] Thomas Fuller in 1647 spoke of "the plain or S. George's cross" as "the mother of all the others [viz. the other heraldic crosses]".[6] In the 15th century, with the full development of classical heraldry, it became fashionable to attribute fictional coats of arms to saints and other historical characters from the pre-heraldic ages. The widespread attribution of the red cross on a white field to Saint George in western art dates to the early 15th century, but the association of the red cross used as insignia cruxata comunis by the city of Genoa and its patron saint George may have been established by the early 14th century in any case Edward III of England chose Saint George as the patron saint of his Order of the Garter in 1348, and also took to using a red-on-white cross in the hoist of his Royal Standard.

St George's Cross in England[edit]

St George's flag flying on Leeds Town Hall (2009).
Main article: Flag of England

There used to be a claim that the red cross worn as an emblem was brought to England as early as the 1190s, by Richard the Lionheart, but this cannot be substantiated.[7] The red cross was introduced to England by the late 13th century, but not as a flag, and not at the time associated with Saint George. It was worn by English soldiers as an identification from the early years of the reign of Edward I (1270s),[8] and perhaps originated a few years earlier, in the Second Barons' War (specifically in the Battle of Evesham of 1265, during which, according to chronicler William Rishanger, Simon de Montford observed that the king had taken the idea of having his soldiers marked with a cross from him).[9]

Saint George rose to the position of "patron saint of England" in a process beginning in 1348 with the foundation of the Order of the Garter and culminating with the abolition of all saint's banners except for the St. George's banner in 1552. From 1348 and throughout the 15th century, the St. George's Cross was shown in the hoist of the Royal Standards of the Plantagenet kings of England.

After the dynastic union of England and Scotland in 1603 (the so-called "Union of the Crowns"), a combined British flag was created in 1606, initially for maritime display, later restricted to the King's ships, by combining St George's Cross with the St Andrew's Cross (the flag of Scotland). Afterwards St George flag remained the flag of England for other purposes until the Acts of Union 1707. At the union, the first Union Flag become official for all purposes in the new Kingdom of Great Britain. From this time, the St. Georges Cross came to be seen as a symbol of England and Wales when used alongside symbols for Scotland or Ireland; so in the flags of the Commonwealth of England during 1649 to 1660.

The flag of St George is also the rank flag of an Admiral in the Royal Navy, and civilian craft are forbidden to fly it. However, ships which took part in the rescue operation at Dunkirk during World War II are allowed to fly it as a jack.

Churches belonging to the Church of England (unless for special reasons another flag is flown by custom) may fly the St George's Cross. The correct way (since an order from the Earl Marshal in 1938) is for the church to fly the St George's cross, with the arms of the diocese in the left-hand upper corner of the flag.[10]

The flag of St George has since the late 20th century enjoyed a resurgence in popularity partly due to football-inspired nationalism, and also in response to the devolution movements in Scotland and Wales.[11]

During the 2010 World Cup the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, told Parliament that the flag would fly above his official residence at "no extra cost to the tax payer" whilst England played in the contest.

St George's Cross in Italy[edit]

The Cross is used extensively across Northern Italy. It is the symbol of Bologna, Padua, Genoa, Reggio Emilia, Mantova, Vercelli, Alessandria and most notably of Milan where it is often called the "Cross of St. Ambrose".

St George's Cross in Canada[edit]

The coat of arms of Montreal, first used in 1833, had a Saint Patrick's cross with the floral emblems of England, Scotland, Ireland and France in its four quarters. The cross was changed to a Saint George's Cross, representing England's dominating influence over Canada, in 1938, and a city flag in the form of the arms was adopted the following year. The city of Nanaimo in British Columbia also uses a Saint George's Cross with a ship and pieces of coal, its former main export, on its flag and arms.

Three Canadian provinces use the Saint George's Cross on their coats of arms; Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario, again reflecting England's influence in Canada.

St George's Cross in Georgia[edit]

The flag of Georgia with St George cross in middle

The flag with St George (who is the patron saint of Georgia) cross was supposedly used in the 5th century by the Georgian king Vakhtang Gorgasali.[12][dubious ] In 13th century Queen Tamar of Georgia used the St. George flag during her campaign against Seljuk Turks. The four Jerusalem crosses were later added by King George V of Georgia who drove out the Mongols from Georgia in 1334. The flag fell out during the Russian annexation of Georgia and abolition of the Georgian monarchy. However the flag was revived by the Georgian patriotic movement in the 1990s. A majority of Georgians, including the influential Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II of the Georgian Orthodox Church, supported the restoration of medieval flag of Georgia. The flag was finally adopted by the Georgian parliament on January 14, 2004. It was formally endorsed by a presidential decree signed by Mikheil Saakashvili on January 25, following his election as President of Georgia.

St George's Cross in New South Wales[edit]

The state badge of the Australian state of New South Wales features St. George's cross with a golden lion passant guardant in the centre of the cross and a golden eight pointed star on each of the cross limbs.

St George's Cross in Sardinia[edit]

The flag of the Italian Region of Sardinia, popularly known also as the Four Moors flag, consists of a red cross on a white background, with a maure (moor's head) in each quarter. The Flag of Sardinia, according to the Iberic tradition, was created by King of Aragon Peter I after the victory of Alcoraz (1096) in the city of Huesca, Aragón. The battle was won with the help of St. George, therefore the red cross, who abandoned on the battle field the heads of the four defeated Moorish kings.

Nordic countries[edit]

Extended Swedish definition of a St George's cross

In Nordic countries the term "St George's cross" is used to refer to the Cross pattée.[13] (Elsewhere this is often but not always considered a variation of.) For example, the cross of the Swedish Order of Freemasons was defined by the King of Sweden in 1928 to be a "red St George's cross with triangular arms".[citation needed] In Finland the Cross pattée is called Yrjön risti "George's cross", while the red cross on a white background is called Pyhän Yrjön risti "Saint George's cross".[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ William Woo Seymour, The Cross in Tradition, History and Art, 1898, p. 387.
  2. ^ Perrin, British Flags, 1922, p. 20.
    "they imagined that they had seen a great army on white horses, clothed in white and bearing white banners in their hands, issue from the neighbouring mountains and come to their assistance. The leaders of this ghostly army, recognised by their names written on their banners, were St George, St Demetrius, and St Mercurius. If at this time the red cross had become the distinctive sign of St George one or other of these writers would surely have mentioned it, but all agree that the banners were white."
  3. ^ Barber, The New Knighthood, p. 66: "According to William of Tyre it was under Eugenius III that the Templars received the right to wear the characteristic red cross upon their tunics, symbolising their willingness to suffer martyrdom in the defence of the Holy Land." (WT, 12.7, p. 554. James of Vitry, 'Historia Hierosolimatana', ed. J. ars, Gesta Dei per Francos, vol I(ii), Hanover, 1611, p. 1083, interprets this as a sign of martyrdom.)
  4. ^ Aldo Ziggioto, "Genova", in Vexilla Italica 1, XX (1993); Aldo Ziggioto, "Le Bandiere degli Stati Italiani", in Armi Antiche 1994, cited after Pier Paolo Lugli, 18 July 2000 on Flags of the World.
  5. ^ William Woo Seymour, The Cross in Tradition, History and Art, 1898, p. 363
  6. ^ Fuller, A Supplement tu the Historie of the Holy Warre (Book V), 1647, chapter 4.
  7. ^ "I have been unable to find any solid ground for the common belief that the cross of St George was introduced as the national emblem of England by Richard I, and am of opinion that it did not begin to attain that position until the first years of the reign of Edward I." Perrin, British Flags, 1922, p. 15
  8. ^ Perrin, British Flags, 1922, p. 20.
  9. ^ "when Montfort saw the advance of the royal troops [wearing a red cross as their distinguishing mark], he exclaimed that 'They have not learned that for themselves, but were taught it by me.'" M. Prestwich, Plantagenet England: 1225-1360 (2005), p. 51.
  10. ^ Church of England - Use of the flag; Flags of the World; 23 October 2008
  11. ^ Michael McCarthy (23 April 2010). "Identity parade: What do flags say about nations – and human nature?". The Independent. Retrieved 2012-01-12. 
  12. ^ Theodore E. Dowling, Sketches of Georgian Church History, New York, p 54
  13. ^ Nationalencyklopedin. "Georgskors" retrieved on 2010-08-12.
  14. ^ Kimmo Kara, Vaakunaselitys, Helsinki 1989, ISSN 0784-7602, p 49-51

External links[edit]