Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Unlike his fellow saints Andrew, John, and George, St. Patrick doesn’t actually have a specific type of cross associated with him. The term “St. Patrick’s cross,” while it does appear from time to time, could refer to a few different figures.

The most famous, perhaps, is argent a saltire gules, which is also (and more accurately) called St. Patrick’s saltire. This is more British than it is specifically Irish, since its use originated with the Order of Saint Patrick in the 1780s. The order was established by George III, and tended to be awarded to supporters of his administration. The saltire might have been drawn from the house of FitzGerald, but that’s not certain; I’m not sure if the family arms predate those of the order. There was controversy over this even at the time, with some Irish commentators pointing out (correctly) that the saltire had a much longer association with Scotland and St. Andrew than it did Ireland and St. Patrick. Nonetheless, the red saltire is still often used to represent Ireland in a British context, most notably in the Union Jack

An older, and less well-documented, version of St. Patrick’s cross is the cross paté. It’s not completely clear why it’s associated with him, though it might be due to his role as the first bishop of the Irish church. (The cross paté is often the symbol of bishops in ecclesiastical heraldry.) It’s still used today in the arms of both the Catholic and Church of Ireland’s archdioceses of Armagh, which was thought to be Patrick’s diocese.

Finally, “St. Patrick’s cross” sometimes refers to representations or versions of Irish high crosses. You know what those look like – they’re the Latin crosses with a circle around the intersection of the two lines, and then heavily decorated with knotwork, vines, and/or mythical creatures. While there were some high crosses at sites important to Patrick’s life, and the knotwork and interlace motifs are strongly associated with Irish art, there isn’t any inherent connection between these crosses and St. Patrick.

Arms of Foggia, Italy


Granted between 1806 and 1808

Blazon: Azure a mountain chain and field, thereon the Archangel Michael crushing a snake, all proper, in his dexter hand a sword argent, in his sinister a shield or a cross of the last

This is one of the worst snake depictions I’ve ever seen! It’s supposed to be proper, and it is really not, and for some reason, it has a dog head? And a very weird tail loop? It’s terrible! Ahem. Anyway. I assume that St. Michael the Archangel was chosen as the heraldic emblem of the province as a reference to the Sanctuary of Monte Sant’Angelo, which is the oldest European shrine devoted to the saint. It has been a pilgrimage destination since the mid-600s. I can’t date the grant of arms exactly, which irritates me, but it was apparently granted by Joseph Bonaparte. This would had to have been in his role as King of Naples and Sicily, which at least narrows it down to a two-year window.

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 Sankt Georgen im Schwarzwald, Germany

Sankt Georgen

Granted 1958; in use since 1900

Blazon: Gules a representation of St. George proper armored or, mounted on a horse saliant argent, caprisoned of the second, slaying a dragon in crescent vert

The earliest depictions of the municipal arms show the arms of Baden (or a bend gules) in the chief, with the St. George and the Dragon motif in base. The Baden arms were dropped after Sankt Georgen became a city in 1891.

Arms of Schonach im Schwarzwald, Germany

Schonach im Schwarzwald

In use since at least 1989

Blazon: Argent issuant from a crescent or a figure of the Virgin proper, habited azure, mantled gules, crined, crowned, nimbed, and bearing in the dexter hand a staff of the second and in the sinister the Christ Child also proper, habited of the third, crined, nimbed, and bearing an orb of the second

The use of the Virgin Mary in the municipal arms is likely a reference to the town’s staunch Catholicism, even post-Reformation.

Arms of Hinojosas de Calatrava, Spain

Hinojosas de Calatrava

In use since at least 2011

Blazon: Argent in dexter a cross of Calatrava gules, in sinister two branches of fennel in saltire proper; pointé in base or a representation of St. Bernard of Clairvaux nimbed and bearing in the dexter hand a shepherd’s crook and in the sinister an open book also proper, robed gules

Like so many other municipalities in the region, Hinojosas de Calatrava belonged to the Order of Calatrava after Reconquista. As well as the symbol of the Order, the arms also include a canting element (“hinojo” meaning “fennel” in Spanish) and a representation of the patron saint of the town.

Arms of Wisbech Town Council, England


Granted 1929

Blazon: Azure representations of St. Peter and St. Paul standing within a double canopy or

Crest: On a wreath of the colors a three-masted ship in full sail or, sails azure, the center charged with two keys in saltire and the others with a castle of the first

Mantling: Azure lined or