Saint George’s Day

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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.


Bavarian – A New Flag Family?

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You already know these flag families: Nordic Cross, Pan-Slavic, Pan-Arab, Pan-African. Also, flags around the world have been inspired by the Stars & Stripes, the Communist red flag, the Dutch and French tricolours, and the UN flag. I ask: Will Bavaria’s flag design with the iconic lozenges spread and become a new flag family?

The German state of Bavaria has two official flags which are both white and blue, the Bavarian state colours, or Landesfarben: One with two horizontal stripes called the Streifenflagge and another with a lozengy pattern called the Rautenflagge.

A lozenge (in German: Raute) is a rhombus, a geometric shape with four equally long sides, with acute angles of less than 90°. Lozenges or lozengy patterns is a well known feature in heraldry. The lozengy flag of Bavaria is derived from the arms of the Bavarian Royal Family, the Wittelsbachs, who have used the white and blue lozenges (in strict heraldic terms: fusilly in bend argent and azure) since the 13th Century.

Both the striped and the lozengy flag are in use in Bavaria and represent the state in the rest of Germany and abroad. But the flag with lozenges, being graphically more distinct and original than the one with stripes, has become the most widespread and is seen in a wide range of versions: with or without the officially prescribed number of lozenges (at least 21), with or without the Bavarian coat of arms, etc.

The lozengy design has for a long time been a symbol of Bavaria, one might even call it an iconic brand. The white and blue lozenges can be seen on all kinds of Bavarian produce. Maybe this is the reason why the lozengy flag design has spread in resent years.

Flags with black and yellow lozenges are being used in the Bavarian capital of Munich. The city’s colours are black and yellow and come from the city’s arms: a monk dressed in black and yellow. The official flag of Munich has two horizontal stripes, but the lozengy version is popular, too.

A Bavarian style version of the Gay Pride Flag with rainbow coloured lozenges is also in use.

It is perhaps most remarkable that the lozengy flag design has spread to a region of Bavaria which is not really Bavarian. Franconia (in German: Franken) covers the northern third of the state of Bavaria and is culturally and linguistically distinct from Bavaria proper in the south. Most of historical Franconia was incorporated into Bavaria in the beginning of the 19th Century, but there are also areas in the German states of Baden-Württemberg and Thuringia where people speak the Franconian dialect.

Franconia has its own regional flag (die Frankenflagge) with horizontal stripes, red and white, and the regional arms, the so-called Franconian Rake (der fränkische Rechen). This flag is common in the region. A version of the Franconian flag with a red-white lozengy pattern is also commercially available. Will the Bavarian lozenges spread further?

Moroccan and Sahrawi flags side by side for the first time

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The African Union (AU) recently admitted Morocco as its 55th member. This was a controversial decision because of the Western Sahara issue. This conflict is still unresolved, but from now on the Moroccan and the Sahrawi flags will fly together at AU meetings.

The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic is a disputed state claiming the territory of the former Spanish Sahara, a sparsely populated area on the Atlantic coast of West Africa. Today, the area is known internationally as Western Sahara. The Sahrawi Republic was established in 1976 by the Polisario Front. However, the Polisario government only controls a small portion of Western Sahara.

Spanish Sahara was claimed by Morocco and Mauritania, too. During the “Green March” in November 1975 hundreds of thousands of unarmed Moroccan civilians and Moroccan Army units entered the territory and a treaty was signed with Spain. The Kingdom of Morocco now controls most of Western Sahara and governs the area as its Southern Provinces.

The Polisario Front, then a Communist liberation force backed by Eastern Bloc states, protested the agreement between Spain and Morocco. In the summer of 1975 the International Court of Justice, in a so-called advisory opinion, recognised the right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination.

Since 1991 a UN peacekeeping mission oversees the cease-fire between Morocco and the Polisario Front. But a definate end to the conflict is nowhere in sight. A referendum on the future of Western Sahara is blocked by the difficult question of voter rights for settlers and refugees. Morocco has established a 2,700 km line of sand walls and fences between the Moroccan and Polisario controlled territories.

Use of the Sahrawi flag is prohibited in Moroccan controlled territories. The flag of both the Sahrawi Republic and the Polisario Front is a horisontal tricolour of black, white and green with a red triangle and a red crescent and star. This design resembles those of other pan-arab flags.

The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic is neither a member of the Arab League which backs the Moroccan claim to Western Sahara, nor is it a member of the UN. But the UN officially accepts the Polisario Front as a legitimate representative of the Sahrawis and around 40 UN member states have diplomatic relations with the Polisario government. The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic is a member of the African Union (AU).

The decision to admit the Sahrawi Republic as a member of the AU predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), led Morocco to leave the OAU in 1984. However, on 30 January 2017, at the 28th AU Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the Kingdom of Morocco was welcomed back as a full member of the AU. African leaders were deeply divided before the vote in the AU Assembly which ended 39-9 in favour of Morocco.

The Polisario Front is traditionally supported by Algeria and South Africa. Other African leaders have expressed satisfaction with the fact that the Sahrawi Republic remains a member of the AU at the same time as the economically strong Morocco, the last remaining non-AU member on the African continent, rejoins the union.

“It is better to have Morocco inside the house, inside the family, and to try to reach African solutions to African problems,” one diplomat explained.

A Busy Flag Day

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In Denmark, April 9 is an official flag day. It was on this date in 1940 that Denmark was invaded by Nazi Germany. To commemorate the beginning of the German occupation and mourn the Danes who died in World War II, Dannebrog is flown at half mast – but only until 12 o’clock. After noon the flag is flown at full mast to symbolize that Denmark became free again.

In Denmark, flags are fown from 8:00 a.m. but no earlier than sunrise. Flags may not be flown after sunset. For at little over two months in the winter, the sun rises later than 8 o’clock in the morning. Anyone in charge of hoisting a flag will have to check the astronomical data in an almanac or calendar.

In Copenhagen on April 9, the sun rises at 6:20 a.m. and sets 13 hours and 45 minutes later. The person in charge of hoisting the Dannebrog on April 9 should to do so at 8:00 a.m. The flag must be taken down no later than 08:05 p.m.

Whenever the flag is flown at half mast it should first be hoisted to the top of the flagstaff for an instant before being lowered. At half mast the distance between the upper edge of the flag and the top of the flagstaff is about one third of the total height of the flagstaff.

On April 9, the day of commeration of the Wehrmacht invasion of Denmark, the rule is to first fly the flag at half mast, then to hoist the flag to full mast at noon. This is done to celebrate the eventual liberation of Denmark from German rule in 1945 and to honour the heroes of the Danish Resistance. If a two-minute silence is observed at noon, the flag is hoisted to full mast at 12:02 p.m.

In 2017, April 9 is Palm Sunday. Unlike Easter Sunday, Palm Sunday is not an official flag day in Denmark. In 2023 Easter Sunday will fall on April 9. Therefore, in six years time something unusual will occur on April 9 in that the flag will be flown at full mast all day. The reason for this is that official ecclesiastical flag days supersede other flag days.

In the Church of Denmark it is customary for the Dannebrog to be flown outside churches during services. The flag is flown at full mast unless their is a funeral service in which case the flag is flown at half mast. So, if a service is conducted on Palm Sunday between 10:00 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. (for example) the flag needs to be hoisted to full mast during that time. For the person in charge of flags outside a Danish church April 9 will be quite a busy day!


IN DANISH: I Danmark hejses flaget kl. 8.00, dog ikke tidligere end solopgang. Flaget nedhales senest ved solnedgang. Når der flages på halv stang, hejses Dannebrog først helt til tops, hvorefter det nedhales til halv stang. 9. april er en officiel flagdag i Danmark til minde om den tyske besættelse i 1940 og de faldne under krigen. Der flages på halv stang til middag, hvorefter der flages på hel stang resten af dagen. Palmesøndag er ikke en officiel flagdag. I folkekirken er det kutyme i forbindelse med gudstjenester at flage på fuld stang foran kirken.