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Sankt Gallen canton (Switzerland)

Last modified: 2024-05-18 by martin karner
Keywords: switzerland | sankt gallen | fasces | german |
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[Flag of Sankt Gallen] image by Ben Cahoon/António Martins, 31.7.2023/21.2.2024



See also:


Description of the flag

Vert, a judge's axe palewise facing dexter enfiled by a lictorial fasces of five visible shafts the two outermost reduced in width all argent, bound fess- and saltire-wise with a ribbon of the field.
On a green field, a white upright axe facing the hoist. The shaft of the axe is bound by five white staffs, the outermost ones being slightly narrower, and the bundle is bound with green ribbon. The fasces are fimbriated in black so they don't appear as a solid block.
T.F. Mills, 2 November 1997

Since the decision of August 17, 2010 (in force since March 1, 2011), which is valid today, has the ax in the St. Gallen cantonal coat of arms [and flag] now been shown without a thorn, at least officially. The shade of green used was also redefined. [For more information see below at History of the flag]
Ben Cahoon, 31 July 2023


Symbolism of the flag

The lictoral fasces was an ancient Roman symbol carried in front of magistrates as a symbol of their authority and power over life and death. According to the designer of the St. Gallen arms and flag, the fasces represented authority, justice, sovereignty and unity. Green was at the time the colour of revolution and freedom, and sometimes referred to as the "light green of the new order" (Cf. Vaud and Thurgau created at the same time). If the fasces were three-dimentional there would be eight staffs, but only five are visible. The eight represent the original districts of the Canton. The ribbon tying the fasces represents the unity and strength of the canton. According to Roman symbolism, a single stick was easily broken, but a fagot (same root as fasces) was indestructible. The flag has undergone several minor modifications, several of them provoking uproar about unnecessary bureaucratic tinkering, and leading one critic to call the fasces a "salami pinched by its lacing".
T.F. Mills, 2 November 1997


History of the flag

The monastery of St. Gallen was founded in the 7th century and was gradually surrounded by little colonies which evolved into a city-state. The city eventually gained its independence within the Holy Roman Empire, and by the 13th century the Abbott of St. Gallen had his own battle flag consisting of a bear (see Appenzell), and in the 14th century the bear became the seal of the city. The city-state became allied with the Swiss Confederation in 1412, and an "associated state" in 1454.

St. Gallen was one of eight new Cantons created in 1798 for the Helvetic Republic, patched together from eight unrelated territories of other Cantons. The Act of Mediation of 1803 restored the Swiss Confederation, and reorganised St. Gallen from eleven districts. David von Gonzenbach, governor of St. Gallen, designed the arms and flag in 1803 with no reference to any symbolism of the former city-state of St. Gallen or the other constituent territories of the new Canton. The weapon was originally a halberd, but this was changed in 1843 to a battle-axe. The flag underwent seven more minor modifications in 1848, 1925, 1931, 1942, 1951 and 1981. The 1951 "hatchet" had a spike opposite the blade providing better artistic balance, but the weapon was designated a "judge's axe" (i.e. executioner's tool) in 1981, and the spike was removed. Pre 1981 versions also included a black Swiss cross on the blade. This might have been introduced as a reaction to the adoption of the fasces as a symbol of Italian fascism.

T.F. Mills, 2 November 1997

St. Gallen's flag was most recently updated in March 2011, changing the back part of the axe and defining green color. Over time the number of rods in the fasces, the profile, the direction of the Axe, and the shape of the Axe head have all changed.
It looks like the major Government Council resolutions were: April 5, 1803; July 31, 1848; April 28, 1925; November 26, 1946; July 28, 1951; July 7, 1981 (effective January 1, 1982); and August 17, 2010 (effective March 1, 2011).
There is an excellent presentation here: Das Wappen des Kantons St. Gallen by Ernst Walter Alther gives more details (see link above), and

Fahne und Wappen des Kantons St. Gallen (Wikipedia):
(with Google Translate)
Flag and coat of arms of the Canton of St. Gallen (axe without thorn, officially used form since 2011). The shade of green used was also redefined ("For the shade of green applies the Pantone designation 355 C") – Government resolution on the cantonal coat of arms of August 17, 2010 (in effect since March 1, 2011).
The 1803 decree established a coat of arms and a seal, but no flag yet. Early canton infantry ensigns (1804) show a solid white cross in a green field, with the gold inscription CANTON SANCT GALLEN. The flag of the "Volunteer Legion", also from 1804, shows the coat of arms with a laurel wreath in the center of the white cross, similar to an infantry flag from 1817.
In 19th-century depictions the fasces is represented very differently, often the bundle was drawn in perspective so that the eight staves were visible, sometimes four in front and four behind, sometimes seven staves arranged around a central eighth. The ax was also different to the left, sometimes to the right. On the earliest representations from 1804 and 1806 as well as on the cantonal coins (from 1807), the ax appears heraldic to the left. In 1848, the cantonal government expressly decided that both directions were permissible. [Only in 1946 the government decreed that the axe be turned to the heraldic right (towards the hoist).]
Since 1946, a non-perspective representation of the fasces has been officially used, in which only five of the eight rods are visible at all. The depiction with five staffs was created by Anton Blöchlinger, who in 1942 commissioned the cantonal government to produce a plaque for the town hall of Schwyz. Its depiction was prescribed for official use in 1946. A ratio of 11:4 was also specified for the bundle of rods for official printed matter. The reason for the change was that the canton had not been divided into eight districts anymore since 1831 (only since 2002 have there been eight districts again). The ax or hatchet continued to be represented in different forms, often with a Swiss cross in the ax head, the ax sometimes with and sometimes without a thorn.
In the government council decision of 1946, the ax was re-designated as a "battle ax"; the heraldists consulted for the decision of 1981 objected to this as wrong and supported the return to the designation "axe"; the ax in the bundle of lictors symbolizes jurisdiction, and not military capability, so it should be presented as a hangman's ax [without spike], and not as a battle axe. Contrary to this recommendation, the official depictions continued to use the spike. After the government council decision of 1981 on the blazon, a series of government council decisions followed that included a graphic representation of the coat of arms for uniform official use in the sense of a logo (April 26, 1983, April 10, 1984). Only since the decision of August 17, 2010 (in force since March 1, 2011), which is valid today, has the ax in the St. Gallen cantonal coat of arms [and flag] now been shown without a thorn, at least officially. The shade of green used was also redefined (Pantone designation see above).
The ax was also different to the left, sometimes to the right. On the earliest representations from 1804 and 1806 as well as on the cantonal coins (from 1807), the ax appears heraldic to the left. In 1848, the cantonal government expressly decided that both directions were permissible.
Since 1946, a non-perspective representation of the fasces has been officially used, in which only 5 of the 8 rods are visible at all.
The shape of the axe head for 1925 was shown in a stamp and differs from the one on FOTW.

Ben Cahoon, 31 July 2023

[Military flag after the regulation of 1804. The inscription of all flags was on the obverse "Canton Sanct Gallen", on the reverse "Eintracht und Vaterland" (concord and fatherland) (source: [ges43]). [mue91] reports that the flags from 1803 had the same design and writings, but with the cantonal CoA in the center of the cross. After [ges43] the flags since 1817 had green and white flames in the quarters. –
Flag of the Freiwillige Legion (volunteer legion) from 1804. Watercolour painting from D.W. Hartmann (source). –
Title page of an annual newspaper from 1806. In the 19th c. the emblem was often depicted three-dimensional, and the hatchet with changing directions, the latter was even allowed by a government decree of 1848. –
Stained glass pane (1961) by August Wanner. In the middle the first governor of the newly founded canton, Karl Müller-Friedberg, holding a copy of the constitution. He is flanked by a French soldier (Napoleonic order) and Gallus (St. Gall) with the bear (legend), the heraldic animal of the city of St. Gallen. Location: Government building, Frauenfeld TG (source)]


Pre-1951 version

image by António Martins, 21 February 2024

Angst (1992), "A Panoply of Colours: The Cantonal Banners of Switzerland and the Swiss National Flag" reported the axe with a black cross on the blade, introduced before WWII and kept until 1951 (to stress the "Swissness" of the symbol, avoiding connections with fascism).
António Martins, 25 October 1998


1 January 1982 – 28 February 2011 version

image by António Martins, 21 February 2024

In the government council decision of 1946, the ax was re-designated as a "battle ax"; the heraldists consulted for the decision of 1981 objected to this as wrong and supported the return to the designation "axe"; the ax in the bundle of lictors symbolizes jurisdiction, and not military capability, so it should be presented as a hangman's ax [without spike], and not as a battle axe. Contrary to this recommendation, the official depictions continued to use the spike. [For more information see above at History of the flag]
Ben Cahoon, 31 July 2023


Colour Flag

[Colour Flag SG] image by Ole Andersen

Simple rectangular cantonal flag, as shown in Kannik (1956) [So-called colour flag (Farbenfahne in German)].
Ole Andersen, 4 August 2002


Flaggen, Knatterfahnen and Livery Colours

 

[Knatterfahnen]

  [Knatterfahnen]  

[livery colours]

images by Pascal Gross/António Martins

Flaggen are vertically hoisted from a crossbar in the manner of gonfanon, in ratio of about 2:9, with a swallowtail that indents about 2 units. The chief, or hoist (square part) usually incorporates the design from the coat of arms – not from the flag. The fly part is always divided lengthwise, usually in a bicolour, triband or tricolour pattern (except Schwyz which is monocolour, and Glarus which has four stripes of unequal width). The colours chosen for the fly end are usually the main colours of the coat of arms, but the choice is not always straight forward.

Knatterfahnen are similar to Flaggen, but hoisted from the long side and have no swallow tail. They normally show the national, cantonal or communal flag in their chiefs.

Željko Heimer, 16 July 2000


Early 20th century flag design

[Flamed flag of St. Gallen canton]      [Flamed flag of St. Gallen canton] images located by Martin Karner
(reverse | source)                                                                     (source)

On an auction platform this flamed flag of St. Gallen is being offered (left image). In the early 20th century this kind of decorative flags with flames in cantonal colours and a cantonal shield in the center was in vogue until World War II. Today they are being produced again (see right image). The fasces on the old flag are drawn in perspective which was common until 1946, when the non-perspective representation of the fasces was officially introduced. As was the custom, the fasces bundle is depicted with eight staves. On this flag the axe is turned to the heraldic left (towards the fly). From 1848 to 1946 the position of the axe was expressly free to choose. In 1946 the government decreed that the axe be turned to the heraldic right (towards the hoist).
Martin Karner, 1 November 2023


[Flamed flag of St. Gallen canton] image located by Martin Karner

Postcard from early 20th century (source).

See also:   - Other examples of "Early 20th century flag design": CH, AG, AI, AR, BE, BL, BS, FR, GE, GL, GR, JU, LU, NE, NW, OW, SH, SO, SZ, TG, TI, UR, VD, VS, ZG, ZH
                 - Modern flamed flags


Logo

image located by Martin Karner (8 May 2024)
(source)


 
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