A saltire is a heraldic symbol in the form of a diagonal cross, the word coming from the Middle French saultoir (stirrup), possibly owing to the shape of the triangular areas in the design.
The Saint Alban’s Cross is a yellow saltire on a blue background and there are many divided views on the origin of this symbol.
It may well be the cross of martyrdom given to St Alban, the first recorded British Christian martyr, who came to his demise in the 3rd or 4th century, during Roman times. He was beheaded not crucified, which may explain why he has a diagonal cross rather than a typical vertical/horizontal one.
There are also suggestions that it may be due to a link with St Andrew, the first disciple of Christ, indeed some people do refer to it as a yellow Saint Andrew’s Cross. There was, indeed, a chapel of Saint Andrew attached to the Abbey of Saint Alban, possibly dating back to the original Abbey plans, so the influence of his cross may be a valid supposition. Interestingly, St Andrew’s cross is diagonal because he was crucified on one of the same shape, in Greece, in around 70AD.
The blue and yellow saltire is also the recognised flag of the Kingdom of Mercia. King Offa of Mercia was the founder of St. Alban’s Abbey, but there is much dispute over who owned the flag first. Did Mercia bring it to St Alban’s, or was the saltire already there as a tribute to the martyr and then get absorbed from the saint to Mercia?
Whatever the history, the saltire now decorates many fences in the Abbey area and flies brightly over the city.
Copyright Debbie Smyth, 24 March 2016
Linked to Good Fences