Much as some secularists might deny it, there's little in society to which the Catholic Church hasn't already heavily and positively contributed, such as the invention of hospitals, universities, the Big Bang Theory, germ theory, the science of geology and genetics and, indeed, the internal combustion engine.
But in addition to the large-scale cultural and societal aspects Catholics have created or otherwise contributed to, there are many smaller, subtler ones. For example, the Union Jack.
I have to say that, as an American, I'm very taken by the flag of the United Kingdom. It has a wonderful symmetry and panache that the American flag simply doesn't have.
Even better, the Union Jack is completely Catholic from its hoist to its fly, because it’s a reverent tribute to three patron saints of the countries that make up Great Britain (Wales excluded).
The flag is an artful mishmash of the St. George Cross, St. Andrew Cross and St. Patrick Cross.
(I can hear the atheists howling now.)
The Union Jack, the national flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is known as the Royal Union Flag in Canada. It's also an official flag in many of the smaller British Overseas Territories. A miniature version of the flag appears in the cantons―the upper left-hand quarter―of the flags of several countries that had previously been British possessions or dominions and are now part of the Commonwealth.
The flag's design dates back to AD 1606. King James VI of Scotland had inherited the English and Irish thrones in AD 1603 as James I. On April 12, 1606, a royal decree was made regarding a new flag to represent the union between England and Scotland. This was the countercharging of England's flag (a red cross on a white background, known as St George's Cross), and the flag of Scotland (a white saltire on a blue background, known as the Saltire or St Andrew's Cross). This was meant to be used exclusively for maritime purposes. King James also began to refer to a "Kingdom of Great Britaine," although the union remained a personal one and hadn't been proclaimed officially.
The current Union Flag dates from a royal proclamation following Britain's military takeover of Ireland in AD 1801. The contemporary flag combines three crosses―St. George's red cross, representing the Kingdom of England, the white saltire of St. Andrew for Scotland and the red saltire of St. Patrick representing Ireland.
Wales isn't specifically represented in the Union Jack as such, since the English Kingdom had already absorbed Wales into it.
As to the patron saints whose crosses make up the Union Jack, Sts. George, Andrew and Patrick, representing England, Scotland and Ireland respectively, a short history follows:
St. George of England
St. George's Cross is a red cross on a white background. The first instance in the historical record of its use was by the Republic of Genoa in the 11th century.
St. George's bravery and his patronage of Crusaders got him canonized in AD 900. His red cross appeared on the white tunics worn by the Crusaders and Richard the Lionheart. The king brought the emblem back to England in the 12th century. In the 14th century, St. George was officially made the patron saint of England.
Though everyone knows St. George killed his dragon in Palestine, the English believe the monster was killed on Dragon Hill in Uffington, Berkshire. Oddly, it seems grass is incapable of growing anyplace the dragon's blood was shed.
St George’s feast day is on April 23.
St. Andrew of Scotland
The flag of Scotland, also known as St. Andrew's Cross or the Saltire, is based on the crux decussata, (Latin: "cross in the shape of a Roman numeral X")
Apostle and martyr St. Andrew was born in Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee in the early first century and died at the end of it. Just like his brother St. Peter, they were both fisherman.
According to hagiographers, St. Andrew was crucified on an X-shaped cross at Patras, (Patrae), in Achaea. Images of the saint thusly crucified first started appearing in Scotland in AD 1180 during King William I's reign.
Legend has it that the idea for the Scottish flag came from a 9th-century battle. In AD 832, the Picts and Scots, under the leadership of Óengus II, fought a battle against Æthelstan's army of Angles. The leader of the Scots made a vow the night before the battle promising that if he won the battle, St. Andrew would become the Patron Saint of Scotland.
The next morning, immediately above Óengus' army, white clouds were seen in an X-shape across a blue sky. This omen inspired the Picts and Scots rousing them to fight bravely―apparently more bravely than the Angles―as the victory was theirs. Óengus' vow was honored and St. Andrew became Scotland’s saint. A white X on a blue field became the emblem of St. Andrew and the Scottish flag.
In June, 1385, the Parliament of Scotland decreed that Scottish soldiers serving in France would wear a white Saint Andrew's Cross to better identify them.
St. Andrew's feast day is November 30th.
St. Patrick of Ireland
St. Patrick, the "Illuminator of Ireland," was born in Roman Britain of Roman parents in the 5th century. It seems his father was a deacon and his grandfather a priest. When he was 16, he was captured by Irish raiders and taken to Ireland where he was enslaved for six years in the county of Antrim working as a shepherd.
He learned the Celtic language and, despite the harshness of his life, he felt a kinship with the Irish people. He ultimately escaped from his Druid priest owner and returned to his family.
St. Patrick studied for the priesthood and returned to the country of his former slavery as a missionary. He ultimately served as the first Bishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland. St. Patrick is regard as the founder of Christianity in Ireland though there is some evidence that the Faith existed there prior to his evangelical mission.
He was proclaimed as Patron Saint of Ireland in the seventh century.
St. Patrick's Saltire or St. Patrick's Cross is a red saltire (i.e., an X-shaped cross) on a white field, and represents the island of Ireland and its Patron saint. It's likely that the symbol first appeared on the arms of the powerful Geraldine or FitzGerald dynasty.
In 1783, King George III created a chivalric order called the Order of St. Patrick which adopted the St. Patrick's Cross as its emblem. It had subsequently been used by other institutions. The 1800 Act of Union effectively destroyed Irish independence and the Kingdom of Ireland was forcibly joined with the Kingdom of Great Britain, the St. Patrick's Cross was added to the British flag to form the Union Flag currently used by the United Kingdom.
St. Patrick's feast day is March 17.
St. David of Wales
Even though Wales isn't directly represented on the Union Jack, I'd still like to give a respectful nod to St. David (the Anglicized version of the Welsh "Dewi") who was born in southwest Wales in the late fifth or early sixth century.
David is said to have been a member of the royal family. His mother was King Arthur's niece, thus St. David is Arthur's grandnephew. He was educated in a Benedictine monastery and became a missionary among the Celts. He evangelized throughout Wales, England and Brittany.
His hagiographers describe him as an exceptionally tall and gentle man who strictly abstained from meat eating only herbs and bread. It's said he lived to be one hundred years old. His relics are venerated in St. David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire.
St. David’s feast day is March 1.