My Father, My Grandfather and St. Andrew’s Cross

Happy Feast of St. Andrew to all!

The flag of Nova Scotia
The flag of Nova Scotia (photo: Makaristos, public domain, from Wikimedia Commons)

My father’s birthday is on the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle (Nov. 30). It is also happens to be the day that my grandfather, Dr. Frank Di Camillo, died at age 91, in 2001—which makes me feel a bit bad for my dad, since his birthday is now forever connected to his own father’s death day. May St. Andrew pray for both of them.

St. Andrew, of course, was traditionally crucified on a cross in the shape of an “X”—I’m not sure if that’s meant to be any more or less painful than crucifixion on the traditional Latin “T”-shaped-cross—but it is certainly unique (which is probably why St. Andrew is always shown in art with this singular instrument of his death). And this striking “X” design has become synonymous not only with St. Andrew, but the country of which he is the patron: Scotland. Indeed, the Scottish flag is a deep blue field with a simple white X—known as a “saltire” in heraldic/vexillology (study of flags) terms.

It has been written in these pages that the Union Jack is really a medley of three crosses: St. Andrew’s (the flag of Scotland), St. George’s (the Flag of England), and the saltire-red of St. Patrick’s Cross (or Northern Ireland).

But why stop there? There are many flags in which the cross, in one iteration or another, is featured (or in a couple of cases, hidden).

Scotland may be the second home of St. Andrew, but his cross is shared by many other territories: Jamaica’s flag sports the St. Andrew’s design exactly — a yellow cross with green up and below, and black to the left (hoist) and right (fly).

In Africa, the country of Burundi sports a white St. Andrew’s cross flanked by green (to the left and right) and red (on the top and bottom) with three stars inside a center-circle.

Alabama, too, features a simple white field and a red St. Andrew’s cross—and Florida repeats this exact same motif and coloration, differing only with the state seal right smack in the middle of it.

But other types of crosses appear on many other flags, too.

For instance, there is St. Peter’s Cross—unmistakable in that it is an upside-down Latin-cross and can be found on the Vatican Flag (look at the papal tiara to see it).

There are nearly a half-dozen St. James crosses — known in flag-study as “Scandinavian crosses” — belonging to the flags of the Nordic/Scandinavian countries. The isle of Iceland sports a red cross outlined in white on a blue field, while Norway inverts this color scheme with its blue cross (with the same white outline on a red field). Denmark has a white Latin cross atop a white field — according to legend, this red flag with a white cross appeared as a sign from Heaven in 1219. In fact, the Danish cross/flag is the model for all the rest.

This includes Sweden’s royal blue field and gold cross — (Norway stole the same blue for their cross) — and Finland, which technically does not consider itself Scandinavian nor Nordic, has a simple white field with a blue cross.

Weirdly, Malta’s flag does not have a Maltese Cross as one would expect — but in the upper left-hand corner (known as the “canton”) it does contain what is known as a red-fimbriated George Cross on a white half-field.

In the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic contains a white cross (just like the flag of England) with red and white in the alternating quarters.

The tiny isle of Dominica, world-renowned for its bay-rum oil aftershave, has a tri-colored St. George’s cross: yellow/black/white, with a lime green in all four quarters.

Back on the Continent: Switzerland has a simple white Greek cross (in heraldic studies, this is known as a “crouped” cross) on a red square flag. The International Red Cross has the exact reverse of this setup of a red cross on a white field.

To absolutely no one’s surprise, Greece has a white Greek cross in its canton, while the rest of the flag sports alternating stripes à la the flag of the United States.

Speaking of the United States: New Mexico’s unique state flag is of a “Santa Fe” cross: a circle in the center with red-rays coming out from it.

The tiny island of Tonga, in the South Pacific, also has a red Greek cross in its white canton, while the rest of the field is red.

And perhaps the two flags with “hidden crosses” are nearly indistinguishable: Australia and New Zealand both feature the constellation of “The Southern Cross” of stars on their blue fields, with a Union Jack in the canton. Only a careful eye can see that Australia has an additional “Commonwealth Star” to the left while New Zealand’s stars are red with a white border. In fact, these two flags are so much alike that there has been much talk about New Zealand coming up with a new flag altogether.

But to end almost where we began: it should surprise no one that Nova Scotia—literally “New Scotland”—has a St. Andrew’s cross flag: a white field with a blue cross (the reverse coloration of the Scottish flag), with the Royal Arms of Scotland in the center.

Happy Feast of St. Andrew to all—especially my dad!