why do 5 nordic countries have crosses on their flags

In nowadays, Nordic countries particularly refer to Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland. All of these countries have well developed social welfare system, and most of their people are Lutherans, therefore, all of their national flags feature crosses (commonly known as the Nordic cross).

Who designed the pattern of national flags of Nordic countries?

During the 12th century, Christianity and Nordic heathenism co-existed in the Nordic region at first. But the Eric IX of Sweden strongly spread Christianity during his reign; soon his people gave up their worship to Odin and converted to Christianity. More importantly, Erik IX was the designer of flag pattern of national flag of Nordic countries.

Christianity in the Nordic region

The native people of the Nordic region were Vikings who lived mostly in the Scandinavia. During the early middle ages, Vikings were appalling pirates to Europeans as they pillaged across the European continent in “Viking ships”. At that time, Vikings were not Christians, but polytheists. In the 9th century, French missionary Anskar went to the Nordic region for preaching, and lived with the locals for over forty years. Although he did not succeed in proselytizing them, but the foundation of Christianity was laid. Since then, Christianity had been spread over the Nordic countries. In 1015, Olaf II, the King of Norway, converted to Christianity.

The origin of Nordic cross

”Nordic cross” (or “Scandinavian cross”) was derived from the emblem of Teutonic Knights in 1192. After Denmark unified the whole Nordic region and founded the Kalmar Union (Kalmarunionen), this emblem became the symbol of Nordic region. As the royals of Nordic countries in later times were all descendants or kinsfolk of the Danish royal family, the cross pattern of the Teutonic Knights emblem was adopted by all Nordic countries.

The Kalmar Union

The Kalmar Union was a personal union in Scandinavia composed by Denmark, Sweden (including Finland) and Norway (including Iceland, Faroe Islands, Greenland, Shetland and Orkney Islands) between 1397 and 1523. After the founding of the union in Swedish city Kalmar in the June of 1397, Norway, Sweden and Denmark became under a single monarch. The three countries handed over their sovereignties without compromising their respective independent status and interests. They maintained a close relationship with each other even after the dissolution of the union. And the five countries (Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Iceland) did not completely separate until 1944 when Iceland became independent from Denmark.

The national flag of Sweden

According to legend, Eric IX of Sweden led his army to invade Finland in 1157. He prayed to God for blessing before setting off. All of a sudden, he saw a cross shining golden light in the blue sky. He took that as a revelation from God, so he used the golden cross on a blue background as the symbol of Sweden. But Sweden did not adopt this pattern on their national flag until 1906.

The national flag of Denmark, the earliest one in the world

The first Nordic country that added cross to national flag was Denmark, meanwhile, the Danish flag was also one of the oldest national flags in the world (some academics believe the Danish flag was the earliest one in the world, and the flags of other four Nordic countries were developed from the Danish flag). In 1219, Valdemar II of Denmark (Valdemar the Victorious) declared war on the Baltic state Estonia. During the Battle of Lindanisse, the Danish army was in trouble. Suddenly, a red flag featured a white cross fell from the sky. A Danish soldier raised it up and shouted out loudly:”The flag will lead us to victory!”. Motivated by the flag, the Danish army defeated their enemy. And the red flag featured a white cross had become the national flag of the Kingdom of Denmark since then. There is another theory that this flag was adopted as national flag because it was given by the Roman Pontiff.

The national flag of Norway

Norway had formed a union with Denmark (The Kalmar Union co-founded by Norway, Denmark and Sweden in 1397, which was dissolved in 1524. After that, Denmark and Norway founded a new union.), and adopted the Danish national flag. However, Denmark was defeated in the Gunboat War (between Britain and the Danish-Norwegian Union in 1807-1814) in the Napoleonic era, the union collapsed and Norway gained independence. The newly-independent Norway added a blue cross to the Danish flag, thus creating their national flag. The three colors on the Norwegian national flag (blue, white and red) respectively represented liberty, equality and fraternity.

The national flag of Finland

Finland had been ruled by Sweden and the Russian Empire for ages till its independence in 1917. The Finnish flag was influenced by two countries: by Sweden, the cross; and by Russia, the blue and white colors. This flag was designed and made around 1860, and was officially designated as the national symbol of Finland on May 29th, 1918. The white background on the flag represents the land covered by snow, and the blue cross symbolizes lakes, rivers and oceans (in another theory, the blue sky).

The national flag of Iceland

The Icelandic flag features a white cross, a red cross and the blue background. The first Icelandic flag, which features a white cross and the dark blue background, appeared in a demonstration in 1897. The currently used Icelandic flag appeared in 1915, a red cross which represented the Christian faith was added to the original flag. This flag was designated as the national flag of Iceland in 1918 when Iceland gained independence from Denmark. For Icelanders, the colors on this flag symbolize the sceneries in Iceland. They respectively represent three elements that compose Iceland: red symbolizes the flames in volcanoes; white, the snow that covers the country; and blue, the Atlantic.