Jun 17, 2014

León (Spain)

In many posts from this blog, I've written about flags inspired by coats of arms. On this review, we'll look how curious can be the opposite phenomenon: a coat of arms based on a flag!

The kingdom of León's name comes from "legion", but the pun with "lion" was quickly noticed. While many European kingdoms were fughting the Crusades, the kingdom was fighting against the Moors in its own homeland. For use on the battlefields, the legions used a flag with a purple lion passant on white or light gray cloth, something like this:

As the use of the purple lion by León (first half of 12th century) predates the adoption of the fleurs-de-lis by France, lions by England and the pales by Aragon/Catalonia, it may be, possibly, the oldest royal symbol documented.

With the birth of heraldry, the purple lion would, naturally, fill a coat of arms. And here comes the most interesting part of this story! According to a study by Ricardo Chao Prieto, the Mediaeval idea of horror vacui ("fear of the empty") made the lion passant be rotated 90º degrees, what eventually made it a lion rampant. Look at the image:

Prieto's thesis has some merit: while the lion passant roughly feels one third of the escutcheon, the lion rampant occupies the full shield; England addopting three lions passant guardant may not be coincidence. And, although it may sound unintuitive, a lion rampant looks a lot like a lion passant rotated.

Currently, the flags most commonly used by Leonese nationalists have the coat of arms (the one with the, usually crowned, lion rampant) in a purple or crimson background. This flag arrangement wasn't used during Middle Ages, what points to a more recent origin. Similarly, the Spanish province and city of León currently use the silver shield with the purple lion rampant on background from red to purple.

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