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Religious orders / Flags of saints

Last modified: 2003-04-19 by rob raeside
Keywords: portugal | religious order | saint | dominican | santiago | saint james | templar | order of the temple | christ | order of christ | spain | portuguese discoveries | reconquer | calatrava | avis | order | bauceans |
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Saints' flags

As far as I know, most older saints were granted fantasy coats of arms in the Middle Ages (even God and the Devil got them!), so at least banners of arms could have been created from them. I'm not learned on the subject but I know at least that main personas of the Christian "pantheon" have regularly used colors; blue and silver for the Virgin Mary (or is it gold?) and red and green for Saint John -- these last ones being the remote cause for the current Portuguese flag colors.

These medieval coats of arms also influenced at least some later heraldic devices of Military Orders in saint's names. Today I'm sending putative banners of arms of some of them.
António Martins, 19 February 1998

In the early, less regulated days of heraldry, the designers rather took the bit between their teeth and galloped off in all directions at once. Important people in their own time all had coats of arms, therefore it was only common sense that the even more important people in the past also had them. St Wilfred's arms are seen in York Minster and St Wilfred's Church, three gold suns on blue. St Wilfred lived five hundred years before heraldry was invented! The early heralds even assigned arms to Christ and to Adam, although I doubt if even they went as far as to assign them to God and Satan. 
Michael Faul, 5 October 2001

In Christian symbolism several saints are associated with specific crosses, either of a specific colour and/or of a specific shape.

Saints associated with a cross of a specific shape:

Saints represented by crosses of fixed colours and shape: Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 17 June 2000, 14 January 2001, 17 June 2001
Santiago Dotor, 15 January 2001
Marc Pasquin, 14 January 2001
António Martins-Tuvalkin, 27 June 2001

The use of specific colours for specific saints originated from the British Isles to mirror the case of Saint George (as used by England). As a result, it's only in traditions originating there that "A Cross of Saint Andrew" is enough to indicate both shape and colour (and colour of the background). Elsewhere this would have to be "A white Cross of Saint Andrew (on a blue field)".
Though the Cross of Saint George has always been a Red Cross throughout on White, in the British Isles, under the influence of the Union Jack, it has become limited to symmetrical crosses, and this same limit applies for the other similarly shaped crosses. The result of this development is that any symmetrical cross is now sometimes defined as "A Saint George cross of such on such colours".
All those coloured crosses of the British Isles are crosses of Martyrs, with one exception. This is caused by the fact that the original Cross of Saint Patrick was a cross with a specific shape instead. The modern Cross of Saint Patrick was created to fit in with the Cross of Saint George and the Cross of Saint Andrew to allow adding it to the Union Jack. Patrick was not a Martyr.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 17 June 2001

Order of Santo Domingo (Dominicans)

[Putative dominican BOA]
Putative dominican BOA
by António Martins, 19 February 1998

On black over silver gryronny, a cross fleury counterchanged. At least these are the charges used in the 1935 Portuguese Timor coat of arms to honour the dominicans... I don't know if this particular design was used by other non-portuguese dominican congregations...

António Martins, 19 February 1998

Order of Saint James / Order of Santiago

[Putative BOA of Santiago]
by António Martins, 19 February 1998

[Putative BOA of Santiago]
Another version of the previous
by António Martins, 19 February 1998

Was created in Castille in 1175, devoted to the anti-moorish reconquer. The portuguese branch (Ordem de Santiago da Espada), autonomous since 1288, used a purple sword-like cross, wich can be found in many southwestern Portugal municipal arms. Many flags were used but most frequent and distinct were the ones with this cross, sometimes with a sun in the dexter canton and a moon in the sinister. Note that the very name of the saint himself evolved in a curious manner. Called originally Iak (a variation of Jacob?), it originated names like Jacques / Jack, Joachim / Joaquim / Joaquin, and Iago (remember Othello?); which, through the preffixation of "Santo", gave "Sant'Iago" and then "San Tiago", wich brought the name Tiago / Diego / Diogo...

António Martins, 19 February 1998

Order of the Temple

[Putative flag of the Templars]
Putative flag of the Templars
by António Martins, 19 February 1998

I have heard mention (how accurate, I don't know) of a cross like the St. George's cross, but with two of the four quarters (I think the lower two) black rather than white. Whether it was ever turned into a flag, or for that matter if it was ever truly used by the templars, I don't know.

James Dignan, 2 May 1997

[Putative BOA of the Templars]
Putative BOA of the Templars
by António Martins, 19 February 1998

A totally different cross was used by the Templars, at least in Portugal, consisting of the intersection of circumferences, in a pattern full of mystical hidden meanings. This cross can be seen in a number of contemporary chapels, churches and castles as well as in paper documents, ant it is a very often motif in central Portuguese (Beiras) municipal heraldry, usually in red on white.
António Martins, 19 February 1998

As a fortunate coincidence with Antonio's postings, I found a site in Portuguese, belonging to a Brazilian magazine (Super Interessante) I used to buy a few years ago. This issue of the electronic version is on the history of the discovering of Brazil and the stories behind it. Some very interesting stuff (on the Tordesillas treaty, the knowledge of Portuguese navigators at the time, and the religious orders of the Temple and of Christ), and some vex-stuff also: references to the symbols of both orders:
Jorge Candeias, 20 February 1998

[Symbol of the Templars]
from the website of the SUPER INTERESSANTE magazine

The seal of the Templars, featuring two knights in one horse with shields divided black over white.

Jorge Candeias, 20 February 1998

[Templar cross]
from the website of the SUPER INTERESSANTE magazine

The Cross of the Templars, a narrow and non-hollow Cross of Christ. Note that this cross and not the hollow variation currently in use was often used in the sails of the first Portuguese seafaring ships. The article says that when the Portuguese branch of the Templars turned into the Order of Christ, they kept their original symbols, so this symbol was the original symbol of the Order of Christ. The article also says that the Templar's cross was adopted in 1119 and was derived from the cross of the Copta Church.

Jorge Candeias, 20 February 1998

[Copta cross]
from the website of the SUPER INTERESSANTE magazine

The Copta cross, adopted by this sect (at the time) in the II sec.

Jorge Candeias, 20 February 1998

Order of Temple: Bauceans flag

[Bauceans flag]          [Bauceans flag with cross] by Ivan Sache

According to the site at the banner of the Templars was a 3:2 vertically divided black-white flag named the "Bauceans".
Ivan Sache, 25 April 2000

I usually see the Bauceans (many spellings) flag with a red cross over all - usually a templar cross, pattee, but sometimes also throughout. I'd sure like to have a definitive and authoritative light on this issue, including the supposed Portuguese templar cross.
António Martins, 27 April 2000

I've been mulling this over ever since I saw Ivan's posting and trying to check against other sources. It seems to me, given the nature of sources, that the most that can be said is that the Templars used a black-over-white flag. I've seen lots of depictions over the years that could be blazoned anywhere from "per fess sable and argent" to "argent a chief sable," as well as versions with a red cross surmounting the black and white field in some fashion, as others have noted.

It has also been my distinct impression that fixed proportions for flags are a relatively recent (18th-19th century) development, so citing proportions of 3:2 (or any other ratio) for the flag of an organization that was abolished in the 14th century seems a little risky. To be perfectly clear, none of this is intended as criticism of Ivan, who quite clearly said "according to the site..."

By the way, my French is not good enough to delve too deeply into the text on other pages of the site, but there seems to be an implication in it that the Masonic bodies and other modern groups using the name of the Templars actually have some legitimate relationship to the original order. If that's really what the site says, it's nonsense. As I understand it, there is a reasonable but not continuous link between the Templars and the Portuguese and Papal Orders of Christ and, a little less directly, with the Aragonese Order of Montesa, but not with the others.
Joe McMillan, 3 May 2000

Grand Larousse Illustré du XXe Siècle (1932) has an entry for Beaucéant (or Beauçant), which clearly refers to the same flag:
    Beaucéant (ou Beauçant).
    n.m. (du provençal, bausan, balzan). Etendard des anciens Templiers, mi-parti noir et blanc.

    n.m. (from provençal, bausan, with white stockings [horse]).   Standard of the ancient knights of Temple, divided black and white.

Two points deserve discussion:
    - The description refers to a flag divided black and white, but does not give the arrangement of the parts.
    - The etymology differs from the most often cited reference to 'beau séant', 'looking nice'. 
The word 'balzane' (from Italian, balza, border) is still used in French for a spot of white hairs on the lower part of the legs of a dark-coated horse. The adjective 'balzan' is used to describe such a horse. From the etymology, it seems evident that the flag was horizontally divided black over white, exactly like the leg of a horse with white stockings. However, the etymological reports given in Larousse, especially in the ancient editions, have to be considered with extreme caution. Robert would be a much more authoritative source, but has unfortunately no entry for 'bauceant'.
Ivan Sache, 7 November 2001

The beauseant or VAU CENT (= value hundred) is the long and thin standard with small penon of the Templars, not just as a sign of war, but of the almighty presence of Jesus Christ himself in his glory as a risen God on Easter Sunday morning. Its penon is a symbol of the holy and famous cornerstone of the temple
of Jerusalem. The whole area of the temple can be domed over by two imaginary domes 2 : 3 totally measuring 480 cubits - the famous Cloud of Jahweh. They form together a Pythagorean triangle with sides of 120, 160 and 200 cubits - the height = 96 cubits. This is the reason why the vaucent is divided in 2 : 3. On the top of the great Pythagorean triangle can be placed a cornerstone of equal size i.e. 3 : 4 : 5 cubits. You can "move" the vaucent 3 cubits to the front and 2 cubits backwards. If the vaucent is "in function" and is put 3 cubits to the front it raises at the same time its height to 100 cubits (100 - 96 = 4 cubits). In that way you will get the same remarkable proportions on the axes: 75 : 100 : 125 cubits. Just try it out and just make a sketch.

I searched the temple plan of Jerusalem for 12 years now according to the original sources (old Hebrew and old Greek) and I know now for certain, because it's all mathematic.

Albert Jansen, 14 July 2002

The flag or banner that you display, if turned 180 degrees, is the current banner of the Grand Priory of England and Wales, OSMRH (Knights Templar). It is a beauseant (top half black, bottom half white) surmounted by a Cross of St. George.

William Hearter, 21 January 2003

Order of Calatrava

[Putative BOA of the Calatrava Order]
Putative BOA of the Calatrava Order
by António Martins, 19 February 1998

This is a castillian reconquista order, whose cross (bleu, a cross fleury gueules, outlined in gold and hollow of the field) can be found on some portuguese family coats of arms.

António Martins, 19 February 1998

Portuguese templars

[Portuguese templars]
Possible flag of the Portuguese Order of the Temple
by Jorge Candeias

A couple of months ago, I found in a magazine an article on the activities of secret and semi-secret societies in Portugal. In this article, there was a photograph of an ordering of a new knight of the religious Order of the Templars (Ordem dos Templários), an order with a long history in Portugal. I was quite surprised to see it still existed. The interesting thing to us is that behind the person that was in charge of the ceremony (a priest?), there was a small flag, perhaps with about 40 cm of height. I'm sending separately a picture of this flag. The picture is probably not very accurate, since the flag was folded. Anyone knows more on this and if this flag is the flag of the Order?
Jorge Candeias, 1 Feb 1998

There is a very well known banner of the templar, it was regarded with the highest respect due to a relic and always kept near the Grand Maitre de l'Ordre. It was a black over white horizontal tricolour and it was named Bausséant or Bauceant, spelling being not fixed at these times.This banner was lost to the Saracens at the battle of "The Horns of Hattin" in Holy Land in 1187 if I recall correctly.
Philippe Bondurand, 2 Feb 1998

The double-barred red cross on white is taken from the patriarchal cross or cross of Lorraine. It is the current representative cross of the Supreme Military Order of the Temple of Jersusalem, alternately OSMTH (Ordo Supremus Militaris Templi Hierosolymitani). The Grand Master of the Order currently resides near Porto, Portugal.
William Hearter, 20 January 2003