Saint Piran's Flag

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Flag of Cornwall
Other namesSt Piran's Flag, Baner Peran, An Gwynn ha Du
UseCivil flag Small vexillological symbol or pictogram in black and white showing the different uses of the flag
Adopted19th century
DesignA white cross on a black background.
(Sable, a cross argent)
Souvenir flags outside a café
Saint Piran's Day celebrations in Penzance
Flying the flag in Portloe

Saint Piran's Flag (Cornish: Baner Peran) is the flag of Cornwall. The earliest known description of the flag, referred to as the Standard of Cornwall, was written in 1838.[1] It is used by all Cornish people as a symbol of their identity.[2]

The flag is attributed to Saint Piran, a 5th-century Cornish abbot. But the white cross and black background design is also the coat of arms of the Saint-Perran (or Saint-Pezran) family from Cornouaille in Brittany, recorded from the 15th century.[3]


The earliest known evidence of this flag was recorded by Davies Gilbert in his 1838 work: The Parochial History of Cornwall, in which he gives reference to

a white cross on a black ground [that] was formerly the banner of St Perran and the Standard of Cornwall; probably with some allusion to the black ore and the white metal of tin[1][2]

The fact that Gilbert identifies it as being "formerly" a standard of Cornwall implies that he believed it to have been used before 1838.[1] However, Gilbert did not leave a record of his background research, and referred only to his "recollection".[2]

One of the oldest depictions of the flag can be seen in a stained glass window at Westminster Abbey. It was unveiled in 1888, in memory of the famous Cornish inventor and engineer Richard Trevithick. The window depicts St Michael at the top and nine Cornish saints, Piran, Petroc, Pinnock,[4] Germanus, Julian, Cyriacus, Constantine, Nonna and Geraint in tiers below. The head of St Piran appears to be a portrait of Trevithick himself, and the figure carries the banner of Cornwall.[5]

Clues to its origin[edit]

Saint Piran's Flag has similarities to the old Breton flag and the flag of Saint David. The cultural links between Brittany, Wales and Cornwall are well recorded. Saint Piran's Flag is the negative image of the old Breton flag, a black cross on a white field. The flag of Saint David shares a black background with Saint Piran's Flag, but is surmounted by a gold, rather than a white, cross.

The Standard of the Army of the Breton Duchy (An Kroaz Du)
The Welsh flag of Saint David

It has also been suggested that it may have been based on the arms of the Earl of Cornwall, or the later Duchy of Cornwall; based on the arms of other Cornish families; or be linked with the black and white livery of the Knights of St John.[2]

French and Breton family arms[edit]

The arms of the Saint-Peran family in Brittany, show a white cross pattée on a black field.

Several other French and Breton families also had coats of arms that bear a striking resemblance to the St Piran's flag:

  • Saint Peran or Saint Pezran (= Piran) of Brittany (from Glomel, in Cornouaille), is described as, sable a cross patée argent.
  • Geoffroy le Borgne of Brittany is described as de sable à croix d'argent.[7]
  • Rossillon de Gex, coat of arms described: De sable à la croix d'argent.
  • Brunet, de la Besse, coat of arms described: D'azur, à la croix d'argent.[8]
  • Arnèke Family coat of arms.[9]
  • Rouvroy de Saint-Simon of Picardy, described: De sable à la croix d'argent chargée de cinq coquilles.[10]

Myths about the origins[edit]

There are a very large number of modern legends about the origins of the flag.[11][2]

An article in the old Encyclopaedia Britannica on "Cornish Wrestling" stated that the flag was carried by the Cornish contingent at the Battle of Agincourt (1415).[12][13] However, the reference given by the Encyclopaedia Britannica seems to have been confused with one that comes from a 1590 poem entitled Poly-Olbion by Michael Drayton. It states that the banner carried by the Cornish men at Agincourt depicted two Cornish wrestlers in a hitch.[14]


The flag is often displayed on bumper stickers, and flying from buildings, including those of Cornwall Council.[15] It is flown at most Cornish gatherings, such as the Gorsedh Kernow, St Piran's Day (5 March), Camborne's Trevithick Day (April), Padstow's 'Obby 'Oss festival (May), Helston's Flora Day (May), and at Cornish rugby matches. It is regularly seen around Cornwall on car stickers with the word Kernow (Cornish for Cornwall), and is used around the world as a symbol of the Cornish diaspora or overseas Cornish associations. It has been adapted for use in the logos of a number of organisations, such as the Cornwall district of the Methodist Church, is used by a variety of Cornish businesses such as Ginsters, and is seen on the design of the Cornish All Blacks rugby shirts as well as the Cornish Pirates rugby logo.[15][dead link]

At the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant in June 2012, the flag was flown on the Royal Rowing Barge alongside the flags representing England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and the City of London. One of the largest flags in the pageant was also St Piran's Flag, flown by the St Ives mackerel lugger Barnabas.[16][17]

The flags of Smith Island, Maryland and Tangier, Virginia incorporate St. Piran's cross in the upper-left canton in recognition of the early settlers who came to the islands from Cornwall and Devon.

The flag can be seen in Doc Martin, which is set in the fictional Cornwall fishing village of Portwenn and filmed in the real-life one of Port Isaac.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Gilbert, Davies (17 November 1838). "The Parochial History of Cornwall: Founded on the Manuscript Histories of Mr. Hals and Mr. Tonkin; with Additions and Various Appendices". J. B. Nichols and son – via Google Books.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Phil Rendle, Cornwall – The Mysteries of St Piran, The Flag Institute" (PDF).
  3. ^ P. POTIER de COURCY, Nobiliaire et armorial de Bretagne, A. Aubry, 1862, p390
  4. ^ Online, Catholic. "St. Pinnock - Saints & Angels". Catholic Online.
  5. ^, PixelToCode. "Richard Trevithick". Westminster Abbey.
  6. ^ Guide des drapeaux bretons et celtes (English: Guide of Breton and Celtic flags) by Divi Kervella and Mikael Bodlore-Penlaez, published by Yoran Embanner (in French), (2008) ISBN 978-2-916579-12-2
  7. ^ "Bretons". Archived from the original on 22 April 2006. Retrieved 21 January 2006.
  8. ^ "visu_armes_p".
  9. ^ La page du généalogiste fou ... L'héraldique Archived 29 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ "rouvroy".
  11. ^ "Cornwall (England)".
  12. ^ Heraldry Society Flag Section Newsletter, Autumn 1969
  13. ^ "Cornwall (England)".
  14. ^ Poly-Olbion by Michael Drayton
  15. ^ a b How far has the “Cornish Revival” affected modern Cornwall? Archived 8 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ "St Ives lugger flies the flag at Jubilee river pageant". Falmouth Packet. 6 June 2012. Retrieved 7 June 2012.
  17. ^ "Mystery over Cornish flag on jubilee boat is solved | This is Cornwall". Archived from the original on 5 May 2013. Retrieved 17 November 2020.

External links[edit]