St. Andrew’s Cross

Today is the feast day of St. Andrew, or Andrew the Apostle. Christianity holds that Andrew was one of the first two apostles called to accompany Jesus Christ, along with his brother Peter. There’s a lot going on with St. Andrew – from his origin as a fisherman, to his later adventures in Eastern Europe, including the idea that he founded the See of Byzantium, which would eventually evolve into the primary patriarchate of the Eastern Orthodox Church – but, as is pretty common with saints, I want to focus on his death. That’s where things start getting heraldically significant.

The various early accounts of Andrew’s martyrdom all pretty much agree that he was crucified at the Greek city of Patras in roughly 62 CE. As with all hagiographies, there’s not a lot of proof that any of this actually happened, or happened in this particular way, but in this case, it’s the story that’s important. Actual details of the crucifixion are sketchy, but the Acts of Andrew has him bound to a cross, the better to extend his suffering. 

However, starting in the 10th century, some depictions of St. Andrew’s martyrdom showed him crucified on a crux decussata (“cross shaped like ten,” i.e. X) or saltire. I can’t find a good or substantiated reason for the shift, but the detail of the saltire became much more popular during the Middle Ages and was solidified into Christian mythology by the 17th century. Some claim that Andrew asked to be crucified in this way because he was not worthy to die in the same way as Jesus Christ, but that particular explanation is also strongly associated with the Cross of St. Peter starting in 200 AD. Maybe it just ran in the family.

The association between St. Andrew and the saltire was well-known enough for the Parliament of Scotland to refer to “St. Andrew’s cross” in 1385. Occasionally, heraldic references from the Middle Ages will use the two terms synonymously to refer to, say, a St. Andrew’s cross gules. The most common, though, and what “St. Andrew’s cross” typically refers to today, is azure a saltire argent. The legend there is that in 832, Óengus II of Scotland prayed for help in battle against the Saxons. When he concluded his prayers and looked up, he saw the white clouds forming a saltire against the blue sky. Taking this as a sign, he pledged to make Andrew the patron saint of Scotland if he won, which he did. (You’ll probably notice the slight anachronism, but, well, legends.)

The white saltire for Scotland has been in use since at least the prior mention of 1385, and the argent-and-azure combination seems to have been well established by 1542. (A 13th-century seal of the Guardians of Scotland depicts Andrew’s off-kilter crucifixion.) Its use has been consistent ever since, including its incorporation into the Union Flag by order of James VI/I in 1606. 

The saltire also shows up in another national coat of arms due to its connection to St. Andrew – that of Barbados. The crest is “an arm of a Barbadian palewise, in its fist two stalks of sugarcane in saltire proper,” and the saltire is a deliberate reference to both the nation’s patron saint and its achievement of independence 53 years ago today.

Arms of Dürnstein, Austria


Granted 1476

Blazon: Azure on a mountainside proper a town argent roofed gules

I thought for sure this was some twentieth-century bullshit, but nope, seems like it’s fifteenth-century bullshit. It’s just very… uncreative. How should we visually represent our town? Just draw it, I guess. Honestly, I’m a little disappointed with this one. Presumably the building in the upper right-hand corner is the castle that gave the town its name at some point before the late 12th century. This was the castle where Richard I of England was imprisoned by Duke Leopold V of Austria after they fell out during the Third Crusade. The imprisonment led to Leopold’s excommunication, and Richard was moved to Trifels Castle, which makes this a very interesting and historical spot that deserves a better coat of arms, dammit!

Albanian Flag Day


Blazon: Gules within a bordure or a double-headed eagle displayed sable, in chief the helmet of Skanderberg of the second 

Happy Albanian Flag Day! The Albanian arms are, unsurprisingly, all about Skanderberg – that is, Gjergj Kastrioti, who led a massive regional rebellion against the Ottoman Empire that only ended with his death in 1468. “Skanderberg” is a corruption of “Iskender bey,” Arabic for “Lord Alexander,” a comparison with Alexander the Great, which Gjergj obviously adopted immediately, and I can’t really blame him for that. Albania didn’t achieve independence until today’s date in 1912, but by then, Skanderberg had achieved near-mythic status. (His sword had magic powers! He could kill a wild boar with a single blow! Etc.) This is very much the stuff of which national symbols are made.

The eagle is also closely associated with the Kastrioti coat of arms. They bore or (sometimes gules or argent) a double-headed eagle sable, pointe in chief azure an estoile (sometimes molet of six points) or. It’s not entirely clear to me whether their arms predated Skanderberg, or were extrapolated backwards after lifetime, but he definitely used the black double-headed eagle. It was very possibly a nod to the Byzantine Empire – given their long-standing animosity with the Ottoman Empire, and the historical cachet of the Roman legacy, I understand the appeal of positioning yourself as part of that legacy, especially if your goal is to defeat the Ottomans.

The other significant element of the arms is the helmet, which has a wealth of symbology all its own. (It’s a unique shape, which is why I specified “helmet of Skanderberg” in the blazon, rather than just “helmet.”) It’s crowned with the head of a horned goat – the double horns being another alleged connection between Skanderberg and Alexander the Great, besides the former’s name. The strip around the base is probably younger than the rest of the helmet, since it refers to Skanderberg as “King of Albania,” a title he never claimed.

The Albanian arms do technically violate the law of tincture by having sable on gules, but the legalistic nuances of heraldry tend to be much more important in Western than in Eastern Europe – and by the time the national arms were formally adopted in 2002, nobody really cared that much.

Arms of Immenhausen, Germany


Granted 1958

Blazon: Vert three bees volant or

Unfortunately, I don’t have any information on the arms themselves, but the village itself is very old. It was first mentioned in 1098, and then sold to the monastery of Bebenhausen in 1379. Over the next five centuries, the village served as a bank and became incredibly wealthy, to the point where the district of Tübingen owed it money. Unfortunately, due to inflation, its fortune had entirely disappeared by 1918.

Arms of John de Balun


From the Dering Roll (c. 1270-1300)

Blazon: Barry dancetty of six argent and gules

The father of this John de Balun, who has exactly the same name, because of course he does, was evidently a participant on the wrong side of the First Barons’ War. After he died in 1235, his son (who is probably the John de Balun referenced here, just based on dates) paid a fine to rehabilitate his father’s name and claim his inheritance. This evidently didn’t stop John Jr. from participating in the Second Barons’ War, though. His name is mentioned in one old chronicle at the capture of Gloucester Castle. Apparently he and Sir John Giffard managed to talk their way into the castle by posing as wool merchants, and then promptly opened the doors for the rest of the barons’ army. Apparently, he managed to survive the civil war, but died about ten years later. He had married Auda Paganell, sister and heiress of William, baron of Bahanton, but it seems like they didn’t have any children; the Balun inheritance went to John’s brother William, and the Paganell lands to a cousin.

Arms of Creuse, France


In use since at least 2006

Blazon: Azure semé de lis or, on a bend gules three lioncels rampant argent

Again, I’m unsure of the official status of these arms, but they are a reincarnation of the arms of the county/province of La Marche. The boundaries of the former county and the current department are nearly identical, so it’s understandable the two would end up conflated. La Marche kept ending up in the hands of the French crown and/or the Bourbons, so I’m guessing that’s where both the fleurs-de-lis and the bend gules come from; compare the arms of the Dukes of Bourbon. The lioncels were probably added for difference.

Arms of George I

George I

From Encyclopedia of Heraldry by John Burke and John Bernard Burke (1844)

Blazon: Per quarterly, I gules three lions passant guardant in pale or armed and langued azure (England) impaled with or a lion rampant within a tressure flory counter-flory gules (Scotland); II azure three fleurs-de-lis or (France); III azure a harp or stringed argent (Ireland); IV tierced per pale and per chevron I gules two lions passant guardant or (Brunswick), II or semé of hearts gules a lion rampant azure (Lüneburg), III gules a horse courant argent (Hanover/Westphalia), in the fess point an escutcheon gules the crown of Charlemagne or (Archtreasurer of the Holy Roman Empire)

George preserved the first three quarters of Anne’s arms, but the fourth quarter represents a very condensed version of his previous arms as Elector of Hanover. Brunswick and Lüneburg were part of his personal holdings which he received from his father; the white horse is the ancient symbol of Hanover and Westphalia, of which he was the Elector. (Not that the arms of the Elector of Hanover are actually that simple, but including all of them seems to have been a bridge too far even here.) The crown of Charlemagne is not connected to any particular piece of land, but it is instead the heraldic representation of the purely ceremonial title of Arch-Treasurer of the Holy Roman Empire.

I swear to God, I don’t think the Burkes actually know what Saxony is. In their version of this blazon, they specify the white horse is for Saxony. It’s not. It’s Westphalia, or Hanover, or potentially Lower Saxony, but that is not the same thing as Saxony at this point in history. Given the Burkes’ previous fumbles on the Saxony arms, I’m really starting to question their grasp on this. Their British heraldry seems fairly solid, especially once they hit more recent history, but I’m really not confident in their grasp on Continental arms.

Arms of Abia de la Obispalía, Spain

Abia de la Obispalia

In use since at least 2013

Blazon: Per bend sinister azure a crown proper and or a croizer in bend sinister surmounted by a mitre purpre, all within a bordure gules charged with sixteen bezants

The name of the town evidently derives from avia, Latin for “grandmother.” This is apparently in reference to the antiquity of the town, which was well established even before Reconquista. I don’t have much in the way of information on the arms, but it seems reasonable that they’re at least partly canting – obispo is “bishop” in Spanish, and the mitre and croizer are essential parts of a bishop’s regalia. (Also, the name of the town might translate to something like “the bishop’s grandmother, which amuses me.) There’s a slight possibility that the bezants were intended to represent some of the archaeological finds in the area, which include gold rings and several coins, but it’s a very slight possibility.

Arms of Dünserberg, Austria


Granted 1969

Blazon: Argent an ibex rampant azure, armed sable

We’ve seen the ibex as a charge for Austrian villages before; it was the emblem of a small collection of villages founded by Swiss settlers from the canton of Valais. “Valais” was corrupted to “Wallis,” and later “Walser,” which became the name of this group. The ibex is native to Valais, so I’d speculate that that’s why it was adopted.

Arms of Molise, Italy


Granted 1970?

Blazon: Gules a bend sinister, in the dexter chief a molet of eight points argent

The star is derived from the former arms of the County of Molise. They may have gotten it from the Del Balzo family, a cadet branch of the House of Baux, which evidently held a number of fiefdoms in the region. Gratifyingly, there are a couple of entertaining legends about where the star of Baux came from: in the most common, they purportedly descended from Balthazar – as in the Magi Balthazar, who gave myrrh to the infant Jesus – and the star represents the Star of Bethlehem. Another tradition holds that they were descended from the first kings of Armenia, the Artaxiads, and the star indicates that they personally knew Jesus. The latter explanation has a tiny bit more historical grounding than the former, but that’s really not saying much.

The bend is somewhat less exciting; it’s apparently derived from the arms of Rodolfo di Moulins, Italianized to di Molisio. He was the first Count of Molise in the mid-eleventh century; the del Balzos don’t appear to have ever held the title of Count. The bend sinister still appears in the di Molisio coat of arms, albeit as azure on or.