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Glarus canton (Switzerland)

Last modified: 2024-05-25 by martin karner
Keywords: switzerland | glarus | german |
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[Flag of Glarus] image by António Martins

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Description of the flag

Gules, St. Fridolin marchant gardant argent, vested shoed and crined sable, nimbused or, carrying dexter a bourdon and sinister the Gospel all or.

On a red field, St. Fridolin walking towards the hoist and turning to face the viewer; his head and hands are white; hair, shoes and vestments are black; his halo (nimbus), staff and Bible are yellow or gold. In practice the image and stance of St. Fridolin has varied considerably. Sometimes he wears a hat; sometimes his Bible is red; sometimes his vestments are brown; sometimes he carries a pilgrim's bag; and from about 1437 to 1578 his plain pilgrim's staff was replaced by an abbot's or bishop's crozier. The modern, very stiff pose with sickly white face and hands was created by Ernst Keller and officially adopted in 1959.

Symbolism of the flag

St. Fridolin is the only saint to be depicted on a cantonal banner. He is said to have christianised the area.

History of the flag

There is some question whether St. Fridolin, who allegedly lived in the 6th century, ever existed. According to legend he was a Scottish or Irish missionary (under the direction of St. Columban – not to be confused with Columba) who evangelised the German tribes with the blessing of the king of the Francs who had just converted to Christianity. He founded the monastery of Sackingen (umlaut on the a) on an island in the Rhine river, which ruled Glarus. Fridolin had evanglised Glarus after the founding of the monastery, and a Frankish count by the name of Urs bequeathed Glarus to the monastery in his last will. His brother Landolf contested the will, but Fridolin brought Urs back from the dead to prove his case. The great distance from Sackingen meant that Glarus enjoyed considerable independence, and by 1289 the town had its own seal. The seal showed a cleric kneeling and praying to the Virgin Mary. This might actually have been the prototype for St. Fridolin, whose first documented appearance on the Glarus flag is in 1388 (at the battle of Nafels). From about that time to 1792, the Glarus banner was always topped with a white Schwenkel. Real or fictitious, Fridolin remains the patron saint of Glarus. Glarus formally became a sovereign state in 1323 and joined the Swiss confederation in 1352.
T.F. Mills, 17 October 1997

The current symbols date from 1959. Until 1792, a white streamer adorned the banner.
Source: Angst (1992), "A Panoply of Colours: The Cantonal Banners of Switzerland and the Swiss National Flag"
Phil Nelson, 14 October 1998

As T.F. Mills points out above, the image and stance of St. Fridolin, the heraldic figure of the Glarus flag, has varied considerably throughout the centuries. Without regulation practically every flag maker and painter was free to design it according to his ideas.
The roots towards modern regulations were laid in the 19th century, with the stained cantonal window panes in the old canton's chamber in the national parliament in Bern. The window pane of Glarus, made in 1861 by Ludwig Stantz (He recorded Fridolin's depiction of the oldest seal of Glarus and chose the colours himself), was taken as a template by Rudolf Münger in 1931 (in a publication of the Federal Chancellery, see picture), in terms of colours, not of representation. Münger's version has the usual black coat, natural skin colour, black staff, red Bible with golden/yellow edge, still the green bag (Stantz' green bag was citicized widely, because he introduced a new tincture without historical reference) and black sandals with green thongs.
On 30 October 1941 the cantonal government of Glarus issued the very first legal regulation of the emblem. It adopted Münger's drawing, but changed some colours: The staff was now golden/yellow, the bag was silver/white, the sandals golden/yellow with black thongs (picture). If the staff looks too short on the flag, that's because the depiction was taken from the coat of arms, where there wasn't more space for it (picture).
This version lasted until 25 June 1959, when the government decreed a completely new and modernized version which is still in use today. The stylized version, drawn by Ernst Keller, leaves out all the extraneous things, as people felt at the time. Hat and bag are gone, the sandals replaced by shoes, the Bible is golden/yellow. The natural skin colour was changed to white, which got some criticism because of its unnatural look (see flag on this page). The distant effect has been improved.

Wappen und Fahnen der Schweiz (1991), [mue91]
Die Farben und Fahnen der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft und der Kantone (1942), [mro42]
Die Wappen der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft und der Kantone (1931) (not yet in our bibliography)

Martin Karner, 21 November 2023

[Oldest existing banner of Glarus, used in the Battle of Näfels (1388), with white Schwenkel. Location: Museum des Landes Glarus, Näfels (source). See also stamp. –
Banner of Glarus, carried during the Old Zürich War (1440–50), with white Schwenkel (b/w photo, source: [b7b42]). –
Julius Banner (1512), dedicated from pope Julius II for the support in the Pavia campaign, the Zwickelbild showing Christ resurrecting from the tomb. The augmentation consists of St. Fridolin being rendered in gold instead of black. With white Schwenkel (source). See also photo from 1928 (source: Glarner Fahnenbuch, 1928). –
Stained glass plate (1590), banner carrier with Swiss sabre and Swiss dagger, holding the symbolized Julius Banner with a white Schwenkel. In the left upper corner a scene from the Fridolin legend. It shows Fridolin with the deceased Ursus (see above at T.F. Mills). Location: Vitrocentre & Vitromusée Romont (source). –
Stained glass plate (1593), banner carrier with symbolized Julius Banner (also with white Schwenkel). Location: Reding-Haus, Schwyz (source). –
Military flag (photo, flag from 18th c.) (source)]

Colour Flag

[Colour Flag GL] image by Ole Andersen

Simple rectangular cantonal flag, as shown in Kannik (1956) (So-called colour flag [Farbenfahne in German]).
See also huissier's plaque (Weibelschild) from 15th century with coat of arms and cantonal colours (source: [mue91]).
Ole Andersen/Martin Karner

Flaggen, Knatterfahnen and Livery Colours




[livery colours]

images by Pascal Gross

Flaggen are vertically hoisted from a crossbar in the manner of gonfanon, in ratio of about 2:9, with a swallowtail that indents about 2 units. The chief, or hoist (square part) usually incorporates the design from the coat of arms – not from the flag. The fly part is always divided lengthwise, usually in a bicolour, triband or tricolour pattern (except Schwyz which is monocolour, and Glarus which has four stripes of unequal width). The colours chosen for the fly end are usually the main colours of the coat of arms, but the choice is not always straight forward.

Knatterfahnen are similar to Flaggen, but hoisted from the long side and have no swallow tail. They normally show the national, cantonal or communal flag in their chiefs.

Željko Heimer, 16 July 2000

Early 20th century flag design

[Flag of Glarus canton] image by Martin Karner

A decorative flag of Glarus canton with flame-design (56x52 cm), early 20th century (reverse side). The flag is fixed on a wooden staff. The flag seems to be made before 1941, the year when the cantonal government issued the first regulation for the design of the figure of St. Fridolin (See "History of the flag" above).
Martin Karner, 9 March 2024

[Flag of Glarus canton] image located by Clayton Horner

This postcard is circa 1910s and shows a flag of Glarus canton, Switzerland. I am not sure if there is a mistake on the postcard, or if it is historical.
Clayton Horner, 29 January 2014

At the beginning of the 20th century, flamed flags were still in use, with the white cross replaced by a (baroque) shield in the centre of the flag. These decorative flags had been used until WWII and then somewhat forgotten in preference of the current cantonal flags. [Today they are being produced again, see below]
Pascal Gross, 30 June 2002

image #1 (wrong colours) located by Russ Adams

"At the beginning of the 20th century, flamed flags were still in use, with the white cross replaced by a (baroque) shield in the centre of the flag. These decorative flags had been used until WWII and then somewhat forgotten in preference of the current cantonal flags." (Pascal Gross, 30 June, 2002). The unidentified flag of Glarus canton, Switzerland, appears to be a flamed "war flag" version of the canton flag.
I have also located a currently marketed flamed version of the Glarus canton flag (#1). The flames on the postcard shown above are actually closer in configuration to the modern flamed flags shown on the FOTW page [where the above quote by Pascal Gross comes from], incorporating white flames into the design. [The colouring of the flames on image #1 is not correct. The cantonal colours are red, black and white, which should be reflected in the colours of the flames, as on image #2.]
Nevertheless, it appears likely that the flag on the postcard is a rendition of the pre-WW2 Glarus canton war flag.
Russ Adams, 23 February 2014

image #2 located by Russ Adams

And here is another commercially available version ( > choose Glarus canton) (#2), this one incorporating white in the flame design.
Russ Adams, 24 February 2014

See also:   - Other examples of "Early 20th century flag design": CH, AG, AI, AR, BE, BL, BS, FR, GE, GR, JU, LU, NE, NW, OW, SG, SH, SO, SZ, TG, TI, UR, VD, VS, ZG, ZH
                  - Modern flamed flags


image located by Martin Karner (8 May 2024)

    images located by Martin Karner (8 May 2024)