Did you know the European Union’s flag is a tribute to the Blessed Mother?

I sure didn’t.

Days after the EU won the Nobel Peace Prize, this “rest of the story” anecdote has emerged:

Mario Mauro, leader of the Italian People of Freedom Party (PDL), one of the parties that form part of the the European People’s Party (EPP), stressed that the EU flag has twelve golden stars that form a circle set against a blue backdrop. The number of stars has nothing to do with the number of EU states but is an ancient numeric symbol that stands for harmony and solidarity. A competition was held in order to choose the flag and French Catholic designer Arsène Heitz won. The meaning of the flag’s symbolism can be found in an image of Marian devotion which appears in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Revelation: “The a huge sign became visible in the sky – the figure of a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars upon her head.”

The President of the competition commission was Belgian Jew who had converted to Catholicism and was acutely sensitive to the biblical symbolism of the number 12. In ancient symbology, this number stood for completeness and perfection: the 12 tribes of Israel, the 12 months of the year, the 12 Apostles, the 12 Tables of Roman Law. Heitz was inspired by the “Miraculous Medal” he wore around his neck: a medal named after apparition of the Virgin Mary to St Catherine Laboure in 1830. It was the Virgin Mary who told the nun to have twelve stars struck on the medal, in representation of the the stars on the crown worn by the woman in the Book of Revelation. Saint Bernadette Soubirous also had a necklace made of tin and string around her neck when the Virgin Mary appeared to her on 11 February 1858, dressed in white and blue.

Arsène Heitz did not reveal the symbol’s biblical origin (he only did so later on), but claimed the number twelve was meant to symbolise ancient wisdom, a “symbol of completeness”. This interpretation stuck and the number was confirmed in the constitutional treaty. So the European flag has a powerful Christian and Marian significance.

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