April 23 is Saint George’s Day. The legendary Roman officer who was killed for his Christian faith became a popular saint at the time of the Crusades. Saint George, knight and dragon slayer, is the patron saint of many countries, towns and cities around the world. A red cross on white is Saint George’s flag.
Top left: England
The flag of England is the Saint George’s cross, red on white. It has been connected to England since the Middle Ages. Saint George is the patron saint of England and of the most prestigious order of knighthood in the United Kingdom, the Order of the Garter.
The City of London combines the cross of Saint George and the sword of Saint Paul in its arms and flag; the Apostle Paul is the patron saint of London. In the Midlands, the city of Lincoln has a fleur-de-lys, a heraldic lily symbolizing the Virgin Mary, on its Saint George’s flag. In the North, the city of York has five lions on its Saint George’s cross; they derive from the royal arms of England.
Top right: The Channel Islands, Germany
The Channel Islands off the coast of Normandy have been dependencies of the English Crown since medieval times. The flag of Guernsey combines the Saint George’s cross of England with a so-called Norman cross. The flag of Alderney has the island’s arms in the middle of the cross.
In southwestern Germany, the city of Freiburg im Breisgau has a red cross on a white background both on its arms and its flag. The city of Koblenz, in the Rhineland, has a similar flag, but here a golden crown rests on the cross.
The red cross on white in the arms of Koblenz derives from the arms of the Archbishopric-Electorate of Trier, one of the more important states in medieval Germany. The much smaller Prince-Bishoprics of Constance, on the border of Switzerland, and Paderborn, in Westphalia, also used a red cross on white.
Bottom left: Liguria, Sardinia, Veneto, Piedmont
For centuries the Saint George’s cross was the sign of the Republic of Genoa, one of the major maritime powers in medieval Europe. The red cross on white is still in the flag of the city of Genoa, regional capital of Liguria.
The flag of Sardinia has a Saint George’s cross and four so-called Moor’s heads. This flag also goes back to medieval times and is a reminder of the Aragonese victory over the Muslim Moors in the battle of El Puig in 1237. In Spain, the Saint George’s cross with Moor’s heads is called the Cruz de Alcoraz in memory of another Aragonese victory against the Moors in 1096. According to legend, Saint George appeared on the battlefield in both battles.
Sardinia was once one of the countries of the Crown of Aragon. Saint George’s cross also plays an important role in flags and heraldry of the Spanish regions which were under the Aragonese Crown. Saint George is the patron saint of Aragon, Catalonia and Majorca.
Saint George’s cross is in the arms and flags of numerous cities and towns in Northern Italy. In Veneto: Padua, for example. In Piedmont: Alba, Alessandria, Ivrea, Vercelli and many others. Alba spells out its name in the four corners of the cross.
Bottom right: Canada, Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna
The English Saint George’s flag travelled across the seas with English settlers. In Canada, the city flag of Montreal, capital of Quebec, has a Saint George’s cross surrounded by four symbols of the city’s heritage: a fleur-de-lys for France, a rose for England, a thistle for Scotland and a shamrock for Ireland.
Back across the Atlantic in Italy, the red cross on white features in the flags of two cities that are also regional capitals: Milan in Lombardy and Bologna in Emilia-Romagna. The Duchy of Milan which dominated Northern Italy in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance flew Saint George’s cross. In Milan, the red cross may go back as far as the 10th Century.
The city of Reggio nell’Emilia, also in the Emilia-Romagna region, surrounds the Saint George’s cross with the letters SPQR. This is a Latin abbreviation for Senate and People of Regium (Reggio, in Latin).
In both Lombardy and Liguria, the red cross on a white background is seen, at least by some, as an alternative to the official regional flags. The argument is that the Saint George’s cross link these regions more closely to their history and cultural traditions.
Read also about the Cross of Saint John the Baptist which is red flag with a white cross.