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Saint George V: Georgia's Past and Present Flag

This is the fifth installment in our Saint George Special.  If you missed any of the previous articles, click the following: Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IV.

In this article we are looking at why the nation of Georgia flies the banner of Saint George and why it has led to some misconceptions about the country's name.

Flag of Georgia.svg
(Flag of Georgia)

Medieval Flag
(Flag of the Kingdom of Jerusalem)
Traditions and legends hold that hold Georgia's Saint George flag was adopted as far back as the fifth century reign of King Vakhtang I, but the legendary accounts of his rule make it hard to sort fact from fiction. A more plausible date for the adoption of a red-cross-flag dates to the 1184-1213 rule of King Tamar (who was a queen, but because she was so great, was given the title, "King").  However, there is nothing definitive that connects her red-cross flag to that of Saint George.  Other historians have pointed to the reign of King George V (1299-1302 & 1314-1346).  His flag was a red-cross flag with a red cross in each corner.  Credited with driving the Mongols out of Georgia and financing churches in Jerusalem, it makes sense that George V would adopt a flag modeled on Jerusalem's 5-cross flag.  

Wolves, Not Saints
Many monks and crusaders that visited Georgia made the assumption that the nation was named after Saint George.  During the time of the Crusades, with abundant visions of Saint George, it was an easy connection to make. Even today, many assume Georgia is named after its patron saint. However, the name likely derives from the Persian word, "gurğān" (wolf), meaning Georgia was the "land of wolves."  That said, Saint George is the patron saint of Georgia and his banner was most recently used to bring the country closer to Western Europe.

Flag of Georgian SSR.svg
(Flag of the Georgian
Soviet Socialist Republic)
What's Old is New Again
Once Russia took over in the early 1800s, and especially after the domination of the USSR, Georgia was forced to change its flag numerous times.  Even after the end of the Soviet Union, the Russia-friendly government did not change to Saint George's flag. In 2004, however, in an effort to remove corruption and create stronger ties with Western Europe, the opposition party used Saint George's flag (with 4 other crosses) as a rallying symbol.  It reminded citizens of a strong past, their patron saint, and the hope of a bright future. The peaceful "Rose Revolution" led to a new Georgian government and the adoption of a new national flag - the Saint George flag.

Thanks for reading!

For more on the Caucasus region and religious symbolism, check out our article on Armenia's connection to Noah's Ark.

Want to test your knowledge on famous churches - see if you know the city where these five churches are located.

For more on the USSR, read our article on the Aral Sea disaster.

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