|The Danish national flag featuring the Nordic Cross--the koffadiflaget.|
With a big tip-o’-the-hat to Dr. Sheldon Cooper and his popular cable access show Fun With Flags, today we share the story of the Nordic Cross and how it got on the flags of all of those folks with blond hair, social democracy, great health care, better sex lives than you or me, and generally the happiest people in the world. Hey, if the Cross on the flag helps, I’m willing to donate at least the field in the current Stars and Stripes.
The Nordic Cross symbolized Christianity, of course, and particularly the Lutheranism that became the state religion of the Nordic Nations. It has a long horizontal cross bar and the upright was “shifted to the hoist”—the mast or flag pole—leaving the two inner fields as squares and the two outer fields one and half times the width of the inner ones. Trust me, the design is not as complicated as the written description. In fact it is simplicity itself as the national flags using it are unadorned by bars, shields, or other devices.
Blame it all on Denmark which on June 10, 1748 adopted the Koffardiflaget as a civil ensign for use by its merchant ships. As was the case with other national flags, as opposed to the personal banners of sovereigns, the flag identifying merchant or naval vessels quickly became internationally recognized and a de facto national flag before ultimately being adopted as an official emblem.
The Danish design was simplicity itself—an off-center white cross with narrow arms and upright on a crimson field.
|A recreation of the personal banner of William the Conqueror. Some dispute the early use of the Nordic Cross.|
Of course, the Nordic Cross was far older than any national flag. The personal banner of William the Conqueror, decedent of Vikings, featured the cross on a red field with arms of two lions in the upper left field on a swallow tail pennant. It also appeared on the arms and banners of various nobles and local rulers not only in Scandinavia, but in the low countries, northern Germany and the Baltic region. The Teutonic Knights used a black cross on a white background when they held sway from Northern Germany, through Poland and up into Lithuania.
The Scandinavian nations had a complicated history with various parts uniting voluntarily, being forced to unite, sometimes sharing a monarch but not national identity, and at war with one another until the modern independent nations were established when Sweden gained its independence from Norway in 1905 and Finland split from Russia after the 1917 Revolution. But with the exception of Finland with its own unique ethnicity and Uralic language, the Scandinavian nations mostly shared a common ethnic—Norse—identity, customs, pre-Christian and Christian religious traditions, and related languages.
|Nordic flags, from left to right: the flags of Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.|
One by one each of the nations adopted national flags featuring the Nordic Cross.
· Norway in 1821 featuring a blue field with a red cross superimposed over a larger white cross.
· Sweden in 1906 featuring a light blue field and a gold cross.
· Iceland although loosely ruled by Norway until 1814 and tied to the Danish Crown from 1380-1945 adopted its flag in 1915 with a red-on-white cross on a blue field.
· Finland in 1918 featuring blue cross on a white field.
|The Inuit majority of Greenland rejected the Norse Cross but maintained the colors of the Danish flag.|
The only nation not using the Norse cross is Greenland which gained home rule from Denmark in 1975 a virtual national autonomy in 2009. It earlier flags were based on the Danish banner. Unlike the other nations of the region, the ethnic Norse are a minority in Greenland. The indigenous Inuit are the majority. When Virtual independence was achieved a flag with a white cross on a light green background was proposed, an acknowledgement of still being part of the Danish Realm. But the Inuit preferred a distinctive national banner and a proposal designed by Thue Christiansen was adopted in 1985. It features two equal horizontal bands of white (top) and red with a large disk slightly to the hoist side with the top half red, the bottom half white. The red and white colors recall the Koffardiflaget.
The Nordic cross can be found in many local flags around the incorporate the Norse Cross. In the United Kingdom the Orkney and Shetland Islands in the North Sea off of Scotland both of which were once Norse fifes use the cross on their flag, as does Yorkshire West Riding, once a part of the historic Danelaw. In the Balkans flags proposed or considered as national banners for Estonia and Latvia incorporated the Cross.
|The Nordic Cross was nearly overwhelmed on the War Ensign of Nazi Germany.|
Nazi Germany, which often looked at Norse mythology for inspiration incorporated the Cross in its War Ensign, which is now forbidden to be displayed. A black Iron Cross was displayed in the upper inside field and a large swastika medallion covered the intersection of the Norse Cross which was black on white on a red field. Leave it to the Germans to over engineer a simple concept.
For some reason the Nordic Cross shows up, sometimes highly stylized in the flags of several Brazilian states and municipalities despite it being a Portuguese speaking nation and heavily Catholic. Why is anybody’s guess.