Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Thursday 21 January |
Saint of the Day: St. Agnes
home iconNews
line break icon

Is the EU's Flag Really A Marian Emblem with the Central Figure Removed?

Patrick Hertzog/AFP

Philip Jenkins - published on 08/27/14

Despite official denials, the truth

At least in terms of its elites, the European Union has developed a strongly secular identity. European authorities strive to enforce policies that are anathema to the churches, and European courts try to enforce strict public secularism. The irony of all this is when they issue these decisions, European officials usually stand under a flag that bespeaks a militant Catholic piety, almost a crusading character. The clash between the symbol and the statements is so enormous as to boggle the mind.

The European flag is visually attractive, with twelve gold stars on an azure background. It’s a lovely piece of design. Officially adopted as the EU symbol in 1985, the design dates back to 1955, and it had been used extensively in the intervening years. If they ever discuss the flag’s origins, EU bureaucrats sternly dismiss the myth that the symbol is in any way religious, or that it has something to do with the Virgin Mary. What pious nonsense! The problem is that this interpretation is exactly correct, and can easily be demonstrated to be so. The story also takes us back to a time when the European ideal was quite definitely a Catholic dream.

In the early 1950s, Europeans were in despair about the prospects for ever restoring peace and prosperity to their continent, and reasonable observers warned of a new dark age. Communist dictatorship prevailed across the Iron Curtain, and Western Europe’s independence often seemed tenuous. The best and most successful political alternative was the work of Christian Democratic politicians who envisioned a united Europe, democratic and anti-Communist, and founded on Catholic social principles. The new union would rise above the nationalistic claims inherent in the familiar dream of church-state alliances.

All these activists owed their worldviews to their First World War experiences. Germany’s Konrad Adenauer served as mayor of Cologne in the hungry years of 1917–18, successfully navigating the city through the time of despair and chaos. His great allies in the cause of European unification were Robert Schuman and Alcide de Gasperi, who both found their national identities changed by post-1918 border shifts, which suddenly made Schuman French and De Gasperi Italian. This experience gave them a strong sense of just how temporary and malleable Europe’s current political boundaries could be.

Their political outlook was profoundly rooted in religious attitudes. All were faithfully Catholic, and Schuman is currently under consideration for beatification and potential sainthood. A devotee of French philosopher Jacques Maritain, he was deeply influenced by his vision of integrating Christian values into a democratic Europe. In their European vision, they were pursuing ideas that had been regularly proposed by successive popes from the time of Benedict XV onwards. (It was Benedict who had so earnestly denounced the divisions of the Great War). Since the 1930s, popes had spoken in terms of a United States of Europe.

The European movement that actually emerged in the 1950s—the ancestor of today’s European Union—inevitably had a strong Catholic and Christian ideology at its core. More specifically, its Catholic leaders were inspired by the devotional upsurge that followed the 1950 proclamation of Mary’s Assumption to Heaven. Coincidentally or not, the crucial diplomatic agreement that serves as the charter for the modern European Union is the 1957 Treaty of Rome.

And that story provides the background to the EU flag. When the Council of Europe designed a new flag, it chose an assemblage that in the context of the time frankly evoked the image of the Virgin Mary, according to the interpretation of the twelfth chapter of Revelation: “A great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” Throughout Western art, moreover, the Virgin was usually portrayed in blue garb. The EU flag looks as if it represents a traditional image of the Virgin, with the central figure herself omitted, in a natural bow to Europe’s Protestants, Jews and Muslims.

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
Tags:
Virgin Mary
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in eight languages: English, French, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
1
LUXOR FILM FESTIVAL
Zoe Romanowsky
20-year-old filmmaker wins award for powerful 1-minute film about...
2
DAD, HOW DO I?
Cerith Gardiner
Meet the dad who's teaching basic skills on YouTube for kids with...
3
MARTIN LUTHER KING
Jorge Graña
Did you know Martin Luther King appreciated the Rosary?
4
Philip Kosloski
What are the corporal works of mercy?
5
couple
Anna Gębalska-Berekets
Couple praises Padre Pio's recipe for a happy marriage
6
Fr. Patrick Briscoe, OP
Reasons Catholics should read the Bible
7
EMOTIONAL
Bret Thoman, OFS
Need healing? An exorcist recommends this 12-word prayer
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.