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Church of England

Last modified: 2020-05-31 by rob raeside
Keywords: anglican church | episcopal church | church of england | st. george cross |
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by Vincent Morley

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Church of England flag

Church of England churches fly the defaced St. George's cross. Cathedrals tend to fly a banner of arms of the diocese. The Archbishop of Canterbury (Protestant Metropolitan) and the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster (Catholic Metropolitan) both have flags for their office which are almost identical apart from the background colour.
Graham Bartram
, 18 January 2002

Can a church fly any flag it wishes at any time?
[Answer:] The Earl Marshall's warrant of 9 February 1938 reads:
'Whereas the Most Reverend Cosmo Gordon, Archbishop of Canterbury, ...hath represented unto me that uncertainty exists as to the flags proper to be flown upon Churches, in consequence whereof there is diversity of practice, and for the avoidance thereof has requested me to make such a general order as may be proper ...[I] hereby ordain and declare the Banner or Flag proper to be flown upon any Church within the Provinces of Canterbury and York to be the Cross of St. George and in the first quarter an escutcheon of the Arms of the See in which such Church is ecclesiastically situated.'

Numerous churches also have special warrants to fly other flags. I have a letter from Westminster Abbey, dated 9 March 1939, asserting its right to fly the Royal Standard, a heraldic banner of its arms, and a crossed-keys flag. Certain churches have the right to fly the white ensign, including St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London, and All Saints', Burnham Thorpe (which uses the 1707 version). But tradition also seems to be important. It would be a brave soul who tried to eradicate the plain St. George's flag from our towers.
André Coutanche, 4 November 2004

The website at shows locations of dioceses of the Church of England, and heraldry of the dioceses.
Ned Smith, 6 November 2004

Use of the flag in the Church of England

The St. George's Cross flag is the proper flag for use by Anglican churches in England. I read (I think in Boutell's Heraldry) that Church of England parish churches are frequently seen flying the Union Jack. The author points out that this is incorrect, and that the proper flag for the Church of England is St George's cross. The cross is also the basis for a good many Anglican diocesan coats of arms, some of which also appear as flags. The same book gives an example of the flag of, if I recall correctly, the Diocese of Rochester.
Mike Oettle, 14 January 2002

The question of the correct flag to fly from a flag staff on an English church was raised in February 1907, when Sir A. Scott-Gatty, Garter King of Arms, wrote that, "churches should not fly the national flag. It should be the cross of St. George impaling the arms of the See (arms in the hoist and cross in the fly ?), but until the sovereign has spoken on this matter by a Royal Warrant, there is no flag that can be flown with propriety." [HO 45/10287/109071]

The matter came up again after the coronation of George VI when according to a letter published in The Times newspaper on 18 January 1938; "Herald's College referred to this in 1911 at Coronation of George V. Cross of St George impaled with the arms of the diocese is the flag." A note in the file added that the flag did not exist and that the plain St. George's Flag was correct. [HO 144/22962]

Later in 1938 the Earl Marshall issued a warrant declaring the proper flag on churches to be St George's cross with the arms of the See in the canton. Some English churches fly, or have flown, the White Ensign of the Royal Navy. Details in a separate page
David Prothero
, 17 January 2002

By a warrant dated 9th February 1938 the Earl Marshal laid down that the flag to be flown upon any church within the Provinces of Canterbury and York was "The Cross of St George and in the first quarter the escutcheon of the Arms of the See in which the church is ecclesiastically situated". In simple words, the flag of St George with the diocesan arms in the top corner nearest to the mast. Questions have been asked about certain details and the Garter Principal King of Arms gave the following directions:-

  • The Arms of the diocese are to be placed in the first quarter only (as in the preceding paragraph).
  • The shield of the Arms should fill the space and should not be ensigned with a mitre.
  • New flags should be made to an approximate ratio of 5 x 3 which is larger than, or more square than, ordinary flags to enable the Arms to be included.
  • Shields may be added to existing flags of St George without altering their shape.
  • The shield of Arms should be of the same material as the flag and inserted. The larger charges on the shield are also to be inserted but smaller charges and shading can be applied in oil paint. All heraldry is read from the flagstaff and charges on the shield must face the same way in relation to the staff on both sides of the flag.
The Earl Marshal's Warrant had the approval of the Archbishops of the day but it does not make it compulsory for the flag to be flown. "
Source: The Archbishops' Council of the Church of England, September 2001
Colin Dobson
, 18 August 2005

On the subject of C of E flags, and when (or why) some churches fly flags with the arms of the diocese in the corner, while others do not, I asked the Revd John Hall, who is Chairman of the Flag Institute, as well as a clergyman. He told me that the decision was the responsibility of the Parochial Church Council. Often, the cost of the flag with the arms in the canton is too much, and so they opt for the cheaper plain St. George's flag. However, if it becomes a particular hobby horse of a PCC member, then sometimes the money can be found.
Ian Sumner, 10 May 2006