Saint George's Cross

The Cross of Saint George as a rectangular (3:5 ratio) flag, used as the contemporary flag of England.

In heraldry, the Saint George's Cross, also called Cross of Saint George, is a red cross on a white background, which from the Late Middle Ages became associated with Saint George, the military saint, often depicted as a crusader.

Associated with the crusades, the red-on-white cross has its origins in the 12th century. It may have been used as the ensign of the Republic of Genoa as early as during the 13th century. The symbol has since been adopted by the Swabian League in the pre-Reformation Holy Roman Empire, and it is used extensively across Northern Italy and is the symbol of Bologna, Padua, Genoa, Reggio Emilia, Mantua, Vercelli, Alessandria, and most notably of Milan, where it is often called the "Cross of Saint Ambrose".

Saint George also rose to the position of "patron saint" of England after the English reformation, and since the early modern period his flag came to be identified as the national flag of England. Saint George is also the patron saint of Georgia, and the national flag of Georgia (2004) displays a combination of Saint George's cross and the Jerusalem cross.

Origins and medieval use

Miniature of Saint George and the Dragon, ms. of the Legenda Aurea, dated 1348 (BNF Français 241, fol. 101v.)
Saint George as a crusader knight, miniature from a ms. of Vies de Saints, c. 1340 (BNF Richelieu Manuscrits Français 185)
Miniature of Saint George and the Dragon, ms. of the Legenda Aurea, Paris, 1382 (BL Royal 19 B XVII, f. 109).

Saint George became widely venerated 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] According to legend, the crusaders received miraculous help at the siege of Antioch on 28 June 1098 from a great army on white horses, clothed in white and bearing white banners, led by St George, St Demetrius, and St Mercurius. However, there was no 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, 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 red-on-white became a recognizable symbol of the crusader from about 1190, and in the 13th century it came to be used as a standard 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 shows Saint George 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 Emperor Frederick II used it in his European campaigns of the 1250s after he had returned from the 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 present-day flags of Switzerland and Denmark).

A vexillum beati Georgii is mentioned in the Genovese annals for the year 1198, referring to a red flag with a depiction of St George and the dragon. An illumination[clarification needed] of this flag is shown in the annals for the year 1227. The Genoese flag with the red cross was used alongside this "George's flag", from at least 1218, and was known as the insignia cruxata comunis Janue ("cross ensign of the commune of Janua"). The flag showing the saint himself was the city's principal war flag, but the flag showing the plain cross was used alongside it in the 1240s.[4]

The cross ceased to be a symbol directly associated with the "taking of the cross", the resolve to fight in a crusade, after the failure of the crusades in the 14th century. With the development of systematic heraldry, there was great demand for variations of the cross symbol and associated terminology. Juliana Berners reports that there were Crossis innumerabull born dayli. The term "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 wrote of "the plain or S. George's cross" as "the mother of all the others" (that is, the other heraldic crosses).[6][not in citation given]

Early representations of Saint George as a crusader knight with bearing a red-on-white cross still date to the late 13th century,[7] and become widespread as the saint's attributed arms in the 14th and 15th centuries. 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.

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