Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Wednesday 12 May |
Saint of the Day: St. Pancras
home iconSpirituality
line break icon

Was the Red Cross inspired by a Catholic saint?

ST CAMILLUS DE LELLIS,RED CROSS

PD

Philip Kosloski - published on 07/18/17

Camillus de Lellis wore a red cross when helping soldiers wounded in battle. Coincidence?

Born into a military family, Camillus de Lellis joined his father in the army and fought several battles in Italy. After his regiment was disbanded, he worked in a Capuchin friary, but was struck by a war injury to his leg. Through a series of events God led him to a hospital in Rome where his wounds were eventually healed. He decided to work there as a nurse and soon became the hospital’s director.

With the consultation of his spiritual director, St. Philip Neri, he studied to become a priest and soon after founded a religious order dedicated to serving the sick.

In 1582 de Lellis founded the Order of Clerks Regular, Ministers of the Infirm (M.I.), later known as the Camillians. Having a special knowledge of the military and experience as a wounded soldier, de Lellis and his companions accompanied armies and assisted the wounded on the battlefield. To distinguish them, they wore a black cassock with a bright red cross.

According to the Camillians, “During the battle of Canizza in 1601, the Lord permitted a miraculous event to occur which manifested His approval of the red cross of St. Camillus. While Camillians were busily occupied with the wounded, the tent in which they were and in which they had all of their equipment and supplies was completely destroyed and burned to the ground. Everything in the tent was destroyed except the red cross of a habit belonging to one of the Camillians who was ministering to the wounded on the battlefield.”

However, while the Camillians could often be seen on the battlefield, their order was not large enough to accompany every army. This meant each country had different symbols to represent their military medical services. Seeing this discrepancy in the mid 19th century, along with the increase in wounded due to firearms technology, Henry Dunant proposed improvements to help alleviate the situation.

In 1862 he proposed “to set up in peacetime and in every country volunteer groups to take care of casualties in wartime; to get countries to agree to protect first aid volunteers and the wounded on the battlefield.” A committee met in 1863 to consider his proposals and to “adopt a single distinctive symbol backed by the law to indicate respect for army medical  services, volunteers with first aid societies and the victims of armed conflicts. The symbol needed to be simple, identifiable from a distance, known to everyone and identical for friend and foe. The emblem had to be the same for everyone and universally recognizable.”

In 1864 the First Geneva Convention approved the red cross on a white background as the easily identifiable symbol. The symbol drew more on the national flag of Switzerland for inspiration than St. Camillus de Lellis. As Red Cross International explains, “Since the emblem was to reflect the neutrality of the armed forces’ medical services and the protection conferred on them, the emblem adopted was formed by reversing the colours of the Swiss flag.”

Additionally, since white is traditionally known as a symbol of surrender, white on the battlefield would be protected.

So while the Red Cross and Camillians have similar emblems and almost identical missions, their inspiration differs substantially.


sign of the cross

Read more:
Why do Catholics make the Sign of the Cross before praying?

Tags:
Saints
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 seven languages: English, French, 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
Eric Clapton, Luciano Pavarotti, East London Gospel Choir
J-P Mauro
Hear Clapton and Pavarotti sing a prayer to the “Holy Mothe...
2
SAINTS
Meg Hunter-Kilmer
Saints to help if Mother’s Day is hard
3
MOTHER OF ASIA - TOWER OF PEACE
J-P Mauro
Philippines finishes construction of largest Marian statue in the...
4
MOTHER SHORT FILM
Zoe Romanowsky
Moving 1-minute film about motherhood will touch your heart
5
FIRST LOOK
Sarah Robsdottir
Dad’s priceless reaction to newborn goes viral
6
PRAY
Philip Kosloski
3 Signs of a spiritual attack on your soul
7
I.Media for Aleteia
These 30 shrines will lead the Rosary Relay for end of the pandem...
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.