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Vexillopedia

Flag of Switzerland

Switzerland
Ratio 1:1
Adoption 1889
Design A red square with a white Greek cross in the centre. [0]
Colors
#D52B1E
#FFFFFF

History

The ultimate origin of the white cross is attributed by three competing legends: To the Theban Legion, to the Reichssturmfahne (Imperial War Banner) attested from the 12th century, and to the Arma Christi that were especially venerated in the three forest cantons, and which they were allegedly allowed to display on the formerly uniformly red battle flag from 1289 by king Rudolph I of Habsburg at the occasion of a campaign to Besançon.

Use of a white cross as a mark of identification of the combined troops of the Old Swiss Confederacy is first attested in the Battle of Laupen (1339), where it was sewn on combatants' clothing as two stripes of textile, contrasting with the red St. George's cross of Habsburg Austria, and with the St. Andrew's cross used by Burgundy and Maximilian I. The first flag used as a field sign representing the confederacy rather than the individual cantons may have been used in the Battle of Arbedo in 1422 (notably without the participation of the Canton of Schwyz). This was a triangular red flag with an elongated white cross.

The white cross was thus in origin a field mark attached to combatants for identification, and later also to cantonal flags. The Lucerne chronicle of 1513, in battle scenes of the Burgundy wars of the 1470s shows cantonal flags with an added white cross. In this context, the solid-red war flag of Schwyz with the addition of the white cross appears much like the later flag of Switzerland. Other depictions in the illustrated chronicles show a flag of Schwyz with an asymmetrical white cross, drawn in greater detail. The symbol of the confederation as it developed during 1450-1520 was thus the white cross itself, not necessarily in a red field, but attached to existing flags, so that it appeared before a red background in those cantonal flags that contained red, notably the solid-red flag of Schwyz. [0]

Meaning

See History.