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Episcopal Church

Last modified: 2003-04-19 by rob raeside
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Episcopal Church

[Christian Flag] by Blas Delgado Ortiz, 15 November 2000

See also:

The "stars" are not just "Swiss" crosses, they are crosses crosslet. See "The national Episcopal Church has a shield and flag: Argent, a cross gules, on a canton azure nine cross-crosslets argent in saltire. The red cross on white is for the Church of England, of which the Episcopal Church is the American representative, the white cross-crosslets represent the nine originial dioceses and the blue canton with the crosses in saltire is a reminder of the Episcopal Church of Scotland from whom the first American bishop Samuel Seabury received his consecration as bishop."
Al Kirsch, 28 October 2000

The flag of the Episcopal Church - white field with red "St.George's Cross" and a blue canton with a St. Andrews cross of 9 white stars - is indeed the flag of all Episcopal churches, as well as its shield.

It is a 20th Century creation in the current incarnation, but the church has used other shields in its history. These could be at the discretion of a bishop or state diocese.

I recently spent time at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, which is the Episcopal Church school and where their official church historian is located, trying to learn of their heraldry as it might have related to early Confederate flags (since the bulk of the upper class white Southerners in 1861 were Episcopalian).

This is, in particular, related to St. Andrews cross battle flags that I was seeking to disprove the mythology of these flags being designed due to purely Scottish heritage that was in the South (if you check immigration figures the South was about as English as the North - but that's another story). Never in my years of study of Confederate flags have I ever seen anything written by contemporaries that stated the St. Andrews cross flags were designed purely to honor Scottish ancestry!

The key to this is William Porcher Miles of South Carolina. He was the chairman of the Provisonal Committee of Flag And Seal for the Confederacy. One of his first submissions to review - via Christopher Memminger and his friend Gilchrist who designed it - was a flag with a St. George's cross and 15 white stars. This was based on the South Carolina secession flag - red field, blue St. George's cross and 15 white stars. Miles was an Episcopalian and his brother James was in the hierarchy of the church in South Carolina. The St. George's cross was part of much of the heraldry of the church.

This flag received complaints from two religious groups - fundmentalist Christians who viewed it as a misuse of their cross and, Jewish sects who did not want a sectarian symbol on their national flag.

So Miles offered a variation of that flag - a red field with a St. Andrews cross and 7 white stars (for the seven seceeded states of that time). It would be rejected by the committee but come back later on as the basis for the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia and several other related flag types for the Confederate Army (Bragg pattern, Army of Tennessee pattern, Dept. of Alabama, Mississippi & East Louisiana pattern).

Now, much Southern literature will state that this flag was from Scottish heritage. I reject that as being entirely without foundation - at least being directly influenced. I think that Miles went back to the crest of the Episcopal Church of South Carolina and used its St. Andrews cross. Designed in 1790, this crest featured crossed staffs in a St. Andrews cross position (there is no record that has turned up a later state symbol - but it is possible that a later bishop did alter the shield. It was at their discretion to do so). While the St. Andrews cross portion of the church shield is from the Church of Scotland and the St. George cross from the Church of England (the ancestor churches of the American Epsicopal Church), this makes Miles use of the St. Andrews cross an indirect tribute to Scotland rather than a conscious, direct tribute in my book. It was only after the rejection of the St. George's cross flags that Miles used the St. Andrews version - which later was the basis of the battle flags I detailed above.

I hope that I have been clear in this discourse as I would welcome any and all comments on this topic.

Greg Biggs, 9 June 1998

See also:
Heraldry in Episcopal Church in USA

A St. George's Cross in a Scandinavian format?

[Christian Flag] by Chris Pinette

Part of the problem about determining the correctness of a flag's design is due to the fact that the precision that we seek so fervently may not only be lacking elsewhere, but be lacking for *good reasons*. Among the features of an "official" flag not to often replicated precisely are the exact shades of color and the exact proportions of the flag itself. The former may be lacking because of the difficulties of specifying and copying the color shades; the latter, for a number of good reasons. One such is the desire to display a number of flags together with matching proportions for aesthetic reasons. We've all seen even the Swiss flag as a non-square rectangle in such circumstances.

As far as the flag of the Episcopal Church of US is concerned, discussion originates from the existence of a number of flags with a Scandinavian-style St. George cross on the flag instead of a symmetrical one. The (perhaps) hidden problem there, is the fact that most of us perceive the crosses in two ways, symmetrical and non-symmetrical (short arm noticeably nearer the hoist). There is esentially only *one* symmetrical presentation but an infinite number of possibilities for the non-symmetrical ones. Examining the proportions of the existing Scandinavian-cross flags, one can find a myriad of possibilities.

The flag shown above, like several Scandinavian-cross flags, shows a square canton defined by the cross. The mathematics of the design would force the St. George cross to be assymetrical in a non-square flag in order to create a square canton. The point may be that, although one can find online specifications for the Episcopal Church flag, in practice the people who design the flag are not so concerned about it as we, and are content to create an display a flag that's *recognizable* for what it's supposed to be...
Lewis A. Nowitz, 16 November 2000

This letter is part of the discussion about why the "St. George's cross" on the flag is frequently shown as a Scandinavian cross. After checking flags and coats of arms of local churches, the website, and recently contributed images on the mailing list, here are my conclusions.

As I surmised above, the designer of an individual flag may not consider the inherent asymmetry of a Scandinavian cross to be significant; to such a person, any reasonably unadorned red cross on a white field might be perceived to be a St. George's.

Why create an asymmetrical cross in the first place? The coat of arms shown above, gives a hint. (In fact coats of arms of Episcopal churches in the area do look like the image here.) The canton is *square*. If the creator of an individual flag considers a square canton important, the only way to produce one is to design a Scandinavian St. George's cross (or a square flag instead of oblong).

In fact, looking at the coat of arms, one can see that the St. George's vertical arm is longer at the bottom, which most people do not consider signficant. However, if the coat of arms were rotated to the position of the flag, the St. George's cross would become Scandinavian. Transforming the coat of arms to the flag can be done, for example, by a mirror reflection, followed by a 90 degree rotation to the left.

In summary, it may well be that the frequent use of "Scandinavian" St. George's crosses in US Episcopal Church flags originates from a desire to maintain, as closely as possible, a square canton. More specifically, if the coat of arms is rotated to become a flag, the St. George's cross on the shield would become "Scandinavian". Perhaps the Dannebrog itself was created from a vertical flag or a coat of arms in this manner...
Lewis A. Nowitz, 25 November 2000

I reported earlier that the Episcopal flag at Christ Church in Alexandria, VA, had the cross centered rather than set toward the hoist. This observation was based on a flag hanging from the front of the parish hall on a 45-degree wall-mounted pole. On closer examination, judging as best I could given that the fly of the flag is therefore hanging in folds, I must admit that the cross is set slightly toward the hoist--it looks as if the flyward edge of the vertical arm of the cross is at about the midpoint of the flag.

Last night, however, I was walking by the other side of the church and could see a flag hanging vertically inside the parish hall. It shows the cross distinctly set toward the hoist, but not as much as most of the Scandinavian flags.

The notable point, however, is that the light blue canton is not square, or even close to it, on either flag. It (like the white rectangle in lower fly, of course) appears to be about 2:3. I would judge the arms of the cross to measure about 1/6 the hoist. I wonder if the design might specify these proportions but not the ratio of the flag itself? If so, the degree of offset would depend on the ratio of the flag.

For what it's worth, the Episcopal Church resolution defining the seal of the General Convention of the Church recites the official blazon of the arms, which reads (I'm doing this from memory) "argent a cross gules, on a canton azure nine cross crosslets in saltire of the first." The key point is that it is simply a "cross", not a "Latin cross," which would require the horizontal arm to be higher on the shield.

I'm not sure how much further along any of this pushes the discussion, but thought it was worth adding to the mix.

Joe McMillan, 6 December 2000