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How the Episcopal Flag was Created

by Don Palmer of St. Paul’s Episcopal Chapel, Magnolia Springs AL

It is 1918 and the Diocese of Long Island was going to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Bishop Frederick Burgess, the second Bishop of Long Island, asked William Baldwin, a lay member of the Cathedral Chapter, to head a committee planning the occasion. Baldwin planned a great procession, through the grounds of the cathedral (there’s that word again) and even arranged with heraldic experts to design colorful banners to be carried. What pomp! There was a diocesan banner, one for each of the three archdeaconries, 20 for diocesan societies, and one for each parish and mission. A total of 170 banners, described by an observer as “fine and picturesque.”

There was no banner, no flag, for the Episcopal Church. The national church had never made one, never conceived of a design. The Diocese of Long Island persuaded the next General Convention to establish a commission for the purpose and Mr. Baldwin was appointed its secretary.

Mr. Baldwin presented his proposed flag at the next General Convention, but it was too small to be exhibited. He was asked to (quickly) make a larger, full-size one. Story has it that he went shopping in Kansas City (convention site) and purchased some “Turkey red” cotton, some pale blue material, a crib sheet, scissors, needles and thread. The Dean of the Kansas City Cathedral, the Very Rev. Hubert Wood, and Mr. Baldwin stayed up late that night in a hotel room and made a full size proposed Episcopal Church flag.

Mr. Baldwin declined a request from the National Cathedral that he give them the proposed flag that he had made, to be put in the church archives. Instead, he gave it to his own diocese. He made a flag from another crib sheet for the archives. When William Baldwin died, his flag fittingly draped his coffin.

Mr. Baldwin described the flag’s symbolism thus: “The red cross is the oldest symbol, dating back to the third century. The white represents purity and the red, the blood of the martyrs. The blue is ecclesiastical blue, light in color and used in the clothing of the Blessed Virgin Mary and, on this flag, represents the human nature of our Lord which he got from his virgin mother. The nine cross crosslets or Jerusalem crosses represent the nine dioceses that convened in Philadelphia in 1789, when the Constitution of the Protestant Episcopal Church was adopted. The nine cross crosslets are set in the form of a St. Andrew’s cross in memory of the fact that, to avoid swearing allegiance to the British Crown, Bishop-elect Seabury of Connecticut (the first bishop of the Episcopal Church) had to go to Scotland to be consecrated by Scottish bishops.” The large red vertical-horizontal cross, St. George’s cross, is in recognition of St. George, the patron saint of England, as Andrew is of Scotland.

Mr. Baldwin delivered the striking Episcopal flag to the General Convention about 1923. This remarkable church of ours adopted it 17 years later, in 1940.

On July 4, 2004, the Rev. Canon F. Anthony Cayless wrote:

In the undercroft of the Cathedral of the Incarnation, Garden City in the Diocese of Long Island in a show case is what is claimed to be the original Episcopal Flag, It was designed by a member of the Cathedral William M. Baldwin who was a diocesan delegate to General Convention.

To my recollection the story is that Mr. Baldwin on the night before a General Convention thought that the Episcopal Church should have a flag – so he designed and made one. I was on the staff of the Cathedral from 1984 through 1999 – first as Chaplain at St. Paul’s School, then as Canon Pastor, and finally as Provost. William Baldwin’s flag is framed and was in the Cathedral House until I moved it to the undercroft. It might be as legendary as Betsy Ross but it would be nice to check the historicity.