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European Union: Myths on the flag

Last modified: 2023-06-10 by ivan sache
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The myth of the "Marian seal" on the European Union flag

Debunking the myth

While Count Coudenhove-Kalergi in a personal statement maintained that three leading Catholics within the Council had subconciously chosen the twelve stars on the model of Apocalypse 12:1, Paul M.G. Lévy, Press Officer of the Council from 1949 to 1966, explained in 1989 that there was no religious intention whatsoever associated with the choice of the circle of twelve stars.

This is important because from time to time all kinds of myths (mainly by Catholic activists, some of them outspoken anti-Semitic) are being launched to "prove" that the European emblem was designed to glorify the Virgin Mary who, erroneously again, is traditionally being associated with Apocalypse 12:1.

Peter Diem, 11 June 2002

I have also seen the argument that the flag and emblem of the European Union is in fact a Catholic symbol. This argument has been put forward by Lutheran north Europeans as a contribution to the line of thought that the European Union is a Catholic (that is elitist, non-democratic etc.) project the north Europeans (that is democratic and Lutheran) ought to stay out of.

Some of the more extreme argue that the European Union is a fulfillment of the prophecies in The Book of Revelation - the resurrection of the Roman Empire etc. ("evidence": the European Union was founded with the treaty of Rome). Chapter 12 verse 1 reads:

After that there appeared a great sign in heaven: a woman robed with the sun, beneath her feet the moon, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.

In church art this crown is in the form of a circle of stars around the Virgin Mary's head (the cathedral of Strasbourg is said to have a stained glass window looking very much like the European emblem). See how Catholic this is?

Now, the argument is that the flag of the Council of Europe, which the European Union took over, was decided by a small group of representatives from the Catholic member states (in secretive meetings from which there is no written record) and without explaining the symbolism of the circle of stars. The gullible Protestants thought the design was OK and voted for it (that is, they were duped). In this way the non-Catholics have been forced into worshiping the Virgin Mary when displaying the European Union flag.

Jan Oskar Engene, 23 November 1995

An illustration of the myth

Coincidences of European Flag
Designer Inspired by Virgin's Image in Paris' Rue du Bac

Rome, 7 December (Zenit) - December 8 is a very special day for Europe: in 1955, on that day, the European Ministers' delegates officially adopted the European flag designed by Arsene Heitz, who today is an octogenarian artist in Strasbourg. The decision was taken following the 1950 European Council's (one of the predecessors of today's European Union) convocation of a competition to design the flag of the newborn European Community. Among many other artists, Heitz presented several designs, and one was chosen: 12 stars on a blue background.

Recently Heitz revealed to a French magazine the reason for his inspiration. At that time he was reading the history of the Blessed Virgin's apparitions in Paris' Rue du Bac, known today as the Virgin of the Miraculous Medal. According to the artist, he thought of the 12 stars in a circle on a blue background, exactly the way it is represented in traditional iconography of this image of the Immaculate Conception. In the beginning, Heitz saw it as a flight of fancy, among the many that run through an artist's imagination; but the idea caught his attention, to the point that it became the subject of his meditation.

According to Javier Paredes, Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Alcala in Spain, in statements sent to Zenit, "Heitz listens to God in his interior; in other words, he prays with his heart and his head. He says he is profoundly religious and devoted to the Virgin, to whom he never misses praying a daily Rosary, together with his wife. Because of this, he believes the inspiration not only from his artistic talents, but from the silent voices that Heaven always speaks to men of good will, among whom Heitz can undoubtedly be numbered. He is an artist who, virtually at the end of his life and at the zenith of his career, can proclaim with the guarantee of authenticity that he recalls that moment, that he is interested in very few but very important things, that he regards himself as a man who loves the whole world, but especially the Blessed Virgin, who is our Mother."
Professor Paredes admits that "neither the stars nor the blue of the flag are particularly religious symbols, thus respecting the conscience of all Europeans, regardless of their beliefs."
Indeed, he recalls that "when Paul M.G. Levy, first Director of the Press and Information Service of the European Council had to explain to the Members of the Economic Community the meaning of the design, he interpreted the number of 12 stars as a 'figure of plenitude,' given that in the 1950s there were not 12 members in that Council, nor in the European Community."
"However, in Heitz's soul the words of the Apocalypse were very present: 'A great sign appeared in the Heavens: a Woman clothed with the sun and with the moon at her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.' And, perhaps without realizing it, the delegates of the European Ministers officially adopted the design proposed by Heitz on the feast of Our Lady: December 8, 1955," explained Prof. Paredes. "That's a lot of coincidences, so henceforth it should not be difficult for us to discover in the folds of the Europeans' flag the smile and affection of Our Mother, the Queen of Europe, ready to lend a hand in that great challenge that St. Peter's successor has proposed to us: to re-Christianize the Old Continent with the example of our lives and the testimony of our words."

Article #ZE99120707 from Zenit News Agency, kindly forwarded by Mark Polo, 7 December 1999

According to the above article, Pr. Paredes said: "when Paul M.G. Lévy, first Director of the Press and Information Service of the European Council had to explain to the Members of the Economic Community the meaning of the design [...]" Firstly, this was not the "European Council" but the Council of Europe. Secondly, Paul M.G. Lévy did not met "the Members of the Economic Community", since such "members" never existed, but the delegates representing the Ministers of the Council of Europe. This happened in November 1955, therefore before the treaty of Rome which created the European Economic Community.

A bit further, Paredes is reported to have claimed: "However, in Heitz's soul the words of the Apocalypse were very present". An Austrian journalist already asked me if I knew more on this, because she had done an extensive search to no avail. J.M. Lévy confirmed me that Heitz's feeling reported by Paredes and elsewhere are apocryphal. Heitz was asked by the Council of Europe to propose a flag because of his designer's skills, and submitted several of its own proposals, which were rejected.

Ivan Sache, based on comments by Jean-Michel Lévy, Paul M.G. Lévy's son, 15 January 2003

Another illustration of the myth

The Times (London) runs a regular daily feature entitled Questions Answered, which invites readers to submit questions on different topics, and then invites other readers to answer them. Today's edition (11 May 2004) carries the question 'Will the eu flag change to reflect the number of newcomers?' Three replies were received.

This is the third response to the question:

The number 12 is a symbol of cosmic order and salvation. It is the number of the signs of the zodiac, the hours on a clock face, the months of the year, the Christian apostles, the knights of the Round Table, and the lictors of Rome.
Five-pointed stars represent aspiration and education. Gold is the colour of the sun, and symbolises glory and enlightenment. Blue is the colour of the sky, and symbolises the Virgin Mary, truth, and the intellect. Arranged in a circlet, a dozen stars represent the constellation of Corona, and are seen as a crown in paintings of the Virgin Mary as Stella Maris, to signify royalty and thus the structures of government (as in a Round Table). In short, the symbols of the flag are purely metaphorical.

Paul Murdin
Royal Astronomical Society

Ron Lahav, 11 May 2004

I don't think this is quite correct: the 12 stars are portrayed surrounding the head of the Virgin Mary not as a sign of royalty as such but as an allusion to the the biblical book of Revelation (Ch. 12, verse 1): "And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars." Catholic tradition identifies the woman of the Apocalypse with Mary.
In any case, the twelve stars are not generally typical of the Virgin as Stella Maris (Star of the Sea). They are more often associated with her portrayal as Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, although also used in some other representations as well.
As Stella Maris, the Virgin's symbol is a single star.

Joe McMillan, 12 May 2004

Myths on the number of stars

Several cases exist where people assumed that the number of stars would increase when new members join the European Union.

However, the number of stars (12) is not to alter if the number of members changes.

Ivan Sache, 20 July 2003

Myths on the change of the European flag

I am not sure if there ever was a real attempt to change the European Union flag. The Koolhas flag (also known as the "barcode flag") was never meant as a real flag, at least not by any European Union officials. In spite of this the media reports on this "flag" were copied by other newspapers without any attempt to verify the information; even Flagmaster [flm] reported this flag. I think that there currently is a tendency to take any "silly European Union proposal" for granted, even without counterchecking available info. So I think any report about another proposal for a new European Union flag should be handled with extreme care.

Marcus Schmöger, 19 November 2002