What Is The Nordic Cross

What is the Nordic cross and what does it symbolize?

The Nordic cross is a well-known component of many Scandinavian flags. But, precisely what is the Nordic cross and what does it symbolize?

While most people notice the similarities between the flags of countries like Denmark and Norway, they wouldn’t be able to answer the question “What does the Nordic cross mean”, if it popped up during a quiz. 

This is why we decided it was time to shed some light on the origins of the cross.

The Nordic cross, also known as the Scandinavian cross, appears in regions all over the world. It’s the slightly off-center cross which appears on the flags for countries like Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Iceland. 

The Nordic cross is defined by its simplistic design: a cross symbol in a rectangle of color, with the center of the cross closer to the flag post than the edge of the material. 

So, what does the Nordic cross represent?

What does the Nordic cross symbolize?

Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark all got their own version of the Nordic cross, which was hoisted by troops around the world. Many of these flags continue to be celebrated in the Scandinavian countries today. 

Most people argue Denmark was the country to bring the Nordic cross into the Scandinavian region. However, the cross may have existed outside of this space long before then.

Overall, the meaning of the Nordic cross appears to link back to Christianity. The cross looks like a religious cross turned on its side, thanks to the off-centered nature of the vertical line. During the 12th century, Nordic heathenism, and Christianity were both common within the Nordic region. 

The Danes were among the first to embrace and champion Christianity in the Nordic space. 

Sweden, which built its flag design from the Danish Nordic cross, was also an early adopter of Christianity. Eric IX of Sweden spread Christianity feverishly during his reign, prompting many people to give up worship of Odin, and convert to Christianity. 

If you agree with the suggestion Denmark was the first creator of the Nordic cross, the story behind the Dannebrog is linked to Christianity too. The Dannebrog apparently appeared first in the 1219 war against the Estonians

Tradition tells of a story when Vlad the Victorious of Denmark saw the cross in the sky and used it as a beacon to carry the Danes to victory. 

The Nordic cross and the Kalmar Union

Nordic cross flags come in a wide range of colors and styles, from the bright yellow and blue of Sweden, to the red and white of Denmark. As you might guess, there are a few different theories about where these flags initially came from. 

Indeed, the origin of the Nordic cross is believed to begin in Denmark, where it was taken from the Teutonic Knights of 1192. 

Following Denmark’s quest to unify the Nordic region and found the Kalmar Union, the emblem became the emblem of the entire Nordic environment. The Kalmar Union even has its own Nordic cross flag, which features a yellow body and a red cross. 

Today, the Kalmar Union is just a part of history, although it’s often still referenced around many Scandinavian countries. There’s currently no pictorial evidence remaining of what the Kalmar Union flag should officially look like. 

Nordic cross flags: Examples of Norse flags

Because most of the Scandinavian countries use the same Nordic cross, the flags are remarkably similar. The only difference between the flags of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, are the choice of colors for both the cross itself and the background. 

What Is The Nordic Cross

The Danish Flag

The Danish flag, or Dannenbrog is the fabled flag legend says fell from the sky during the battle of Lindainse in 1219. Just as the Danes were about to lose, the flag apparently fell from the heavens and inspired the Danish with courage. 

This flag features a white Nordic cross on a red background. While red is the color of bravery and courage, white symbolizes Christianity, faith, and purity. 

The Danish today continue to see the Dannebrog as a sign of national pride, victory, and the ability to stay strong against all odds. The red of the flag has its own name: “Dannebrog red”. 

What Is The Nordic Cross

The Swedish flag

The Swedish flag is quite different in color scheme to the Danish version. This Nordic cross comes with a yellow or gold cross on a blue background. Officially adopted during 1906, according to some accounts, the Danish flag came from the colors of the Swedish coat of Arms. 

Apparently, the Swedish flag was modelled on the Danish flag, and the two share a similar story. 

According to the Swedes, King Eric IX also saw a golden cross in a blue sky when he was landing in Finland for the Swedish crusade, and this inspired the flag. Gold often means royalty and luxury in color psychology, while blue stands for vigilance. 

What Is The Nordic Cross

The Norwegian flag

The flag of Norway is a blue cross outlined in white, on a red body. According to historians, this Nordic cross was created by the Parliament member, Fredrik Meltzer, and it originally took its place in Norwegian history in 1821. 

However, the flag didn’t begin to fly until 1899, when Norway’s union with Sweden broke down.

Many people say Norway’s flag is representative of the country’s connections with both Sweden, and Denmark, as the colors of the two countries both appear in the Norwegian flag. 

What Is The Nordic Cross

The Finnish flag

The flag of Finland also features a Nordic cross. This Nordic cross flag features a blue cross, symbolizing vigilance, and perseverance, on a white body, symbolizing Christianity, and purity. The design apparently arrived in the country in 1978. 

Before this time, Finland was using a flag created when the country gained its independence in 1917 and held a competition to create an official flag.

The final design included a coat of arms and a coronet. The design updated once in 1922, and then again in 1978, to the Nordic cross flag we know now. The Finland civilian flag still has its coat of arms. 

What Is The Nordic Cross

The Icelandic flag

The Icelandic Nordic cross flag features a red cross with a white outline, on a blue background. Officially, the flag began to appear around the country in 1944. 

However, according to experts in Scandinavia and Iceland, the design was already common as a symbol of Iceland and the growth of Christianity in the region. Some people believe this flag was in use from as early as 1913.

Though the Icelandic flag follows the same Nordic cross model as the Danish flag, the colors have their own meaning. The red, blue and white apparently represent the most important elements of Iceland. 

The red is the fire from the volcanos, the blue is the mountains, and the white is the snow. 

What does the Nordic cross mean around the world?

Flags of Nordic countries aren’t the only ones which showcase the Nordic cross, or Scandinavian cross. You don’t have to be Nordic to embrace the Nordic cross, and countless companies have a very similar design, including the United Kingdom. 

Most historians agree the Nordic cross is universally seen as a sign of Christianity, so it’s common in places where the religion has a strong presence. The Nordic cross flag appears in Estonia, Latvia, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, and countless other locations. 

Outside of the Nordic countries, the Nordic cross also appears in various regions, territories, and islands within other locations. For instance, the flags of Orkney and Shetland both have the Nordic cross design.

Depending on where you visit in the world, many people will share different stories on the Nordic cross, and what the exact colors or structure of the flag means to them. 

While the central meaning of the Nordic cross might be a reference of Christianity, the versatility of the colors means countries can add their own definition too. 

Scandification: Discovering Scandinavia.

Now read these:
Your guide to the flag of Denmark
The history of the Swedish flag
Guide to the Scandinavian flags

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