Nov. 14 (Thursday)

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According to the Bible, Jesus was crucified on a cross. Easy to draw, it isn’t hard to understand why the cross has become such an important Christian symbol, one that is commonly depicted on flags and other emblems.

However, many flag crosses don’t really represent Christianity. For example, red crosses are commonly used as a symbol of England, even if the original English cross had religious roots. And since a cross is such a simple geometric shape, some flag crosses may not be meant to be perceived as crosses so much as simple elements of flag design.

Crosses on flags take a number of forms, particularly in Europe, which might be considered the birthplace of flag crosses. Conventional crosses grace the flags of (below, left to right) England, the Republic of Georgia, Greece, Guernsey and Switzerland. A more unusual cross appears on the flag of Slovakia, on the far right.

England Republic of Georgia Greece Guernsey SwitzerlandSpacerSlovakia

Scandinavian Cross

An asymmetrical design known as the Scandinavian cross characterizes the flags of (below, left to right) Denmark, Faroe Islands, Finland, Norway, Sweden and distant Iceland, an island in the North Atlantic Ocean discovered by Nordic seafarers.

Denmark Faroe Islands Finland Norway SwedenSpacerIceland


A heraldic symbol in the form of a diagonal cross is called a saltire. It’s sometimes called St. Andrew’s cross because he is said to have been martyred on such a cross. The white saltire of Saint Andrew distinguishes Scotland’s flag (below left). Next to it is Jersey’s flag.

Scotland Jersey

Union Jack

United Kingdom

Combine the red cross of St. George from England’s flag, Scotland’s St. Andrew’s cross and the red saltire of St. Patrick to represent Ireland, and you get the flag of the United Kingdom (left), popularly called the Union Jack.

The former British Empire is recalled by a seemingly endless series of flags with a canton consisting of a Union Jack. Such flags represent Australia and six of its states (New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia), New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Fiji, Niue, Pitcairn Islands, Tuvalu and the U.S. state of Hawaii in the Pacific; the Atlantic islands of Anguilla, Ascension, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Montserrat, Saint Helena, South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands, Tristan da Cunha and Turks and Caicos Islands; British Indian Ocean Territory; and the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Ontario. That’s twenty-eight flags!


Most of these flags have dark blue fields with a Union Jack canton and a badge, generally from the coat of arms, like the flag of Anguilla (left). Below (left to right) are some exceptions – Cook Islands, Western Australia, Fiji, Bermuda and Manitoba.

Cook Islands Western Australia Fiji Bermuda Manitoba

The Cook Islands replaces the badge with stars, as do the flags of Australia, New Zealand and Tuvalu. The flags representing Australian states replace the badge with a design inside a circular disk. The flags of Fiji and Tuvalu have lighter blue fields, while Bermuda, Manitoba and Ontario have red fields. In addition, the badges on the flags of Manitoba and Ontario feature a red English cross.

Most unique are the flags of (below, left to right) British Indian Ocean Territory, Hawaii, Niue and British Columbia. The Union Jack on Niue’s flag is modified. British Columbia’s flag doesn’t have a canton; the Union Jack, which has also been modified, spans the flag.

British Indian Ocean Territory Hawaii NiueSpacerBritish Columbia

More Non-European Crosses

Still more non-European flags feature crosses (or geometric shapes resembling crosses), many of them displaying European influence. Below (left to right) are the flags of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Quebec and the Caribbean states of Martinique (unofficial), Dominica, Dominican Republic and Netherlands Antilles. The fleur-de-lis (stylized lilies) on Quebec’s flag betray the province’s French origins, and it’s hard to miss the similarity between the flags of Quebec and Martinique.

Saint Pierre and Miquelon Quebec Martinique Dominica Dominican Republic Netherlands Antilles

A lot of symbolism is packed into the cross on Dominica’s green flag. According to the website of the President’s Office, “The yellow, black and white stripes from a triple colored cross representing the Trinity of God. The cross itself demonstrates belief in God since the Commonwealth of Dominica is founded upon the principles that acknowledge the supremacy of God.” The yellow stripe further represents sunshine, the island’s main agricultural produce (citrus and bananas) and the island’s first inhabitants, the Carib and Arawak people. The white stripe represents “the clarity of our rivers and waterfalls and the purity of aspiration of our people,” while the black stripe represents the island’s rich black soil and its African heritage.

Red crosses representing England adorn the flags of several Canadian provinces, including Alberta (below left). Next to it is the flag of Tonga, which recalls the Red Cross’ flag (second from right). On the right is the flag of Maryland, with its ornamental red-and-white crosses. (The crosses are legally defined as Greek crosses with arms terminating in trefoils.)

Alberta Tonga Red Cross Maryland

There are also some non-European flags bearing some very European saltires. Pictured below (left to right) are the flags of Nova Scotia, Jamaica, Burundi, Alabama, Florida and Mississippi.

Nova Scotia Jamaica Burundi Alabama Florida Mississippi

Congratulations if you noticed a similarity between the flags of Scotland and Nova Scotia (“New Scotland” in Latin). It thus resembles the Confederate battle flag, which was also inspired by the St. Andrews cross. Did you also notice the Confederate battle flag on Mississippi’s flag? The flags of Alabama and Florida feature red saltires that some believe are also inspired by the Confederate battle flag.

Swastika: The Twisted Cross

One of the most famous crosses is known as a swastika, which has a strange story to tell.

Of course, the swastika is regarded as one of the most powerful symbols of evil imaginable. It’s even illegal to display a swastika in some countries.

Yet the swastika was a symbol of life, sun, power, strength and good luck long before the Nazis came to power. In fact, swastikas were in use over 3,000 years ago. Many cultures around the world have used swastikas, including some Native American groups. Some U.S. soldiers even wore shoulder patches with swastikas during World War I! The irony is that, though billed “the war to end all wars,” World War I actually paved the way for the rise of the Third Reich, led by Adolf Hitler.

Another irony is that some see a correlation between the swastika and the Star of David on Israel’s flag. I like to think of the two emblems as the twisted cross and twisted star.

Flag of Nazi Germany Israel
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