To all my British readers, the symbol of the Lamb and Flag must surely have been observed at some time or other. For example, there are no less than 27 Hotels, Inns, and Public Houses scattered around England and Wales bearing this name. Furthermore, our Cornish friends must be more than aware that the Lamb and Flag symbol is stamped on all the ingots of Tin that have been mined for centuries in what used to be called the Cassiterides, the “Tin Islands”, as the ancients called the Horn of England. Elsewhere, we find the Lamb and Flag as the emblem of the town of Witney in Oxfordshire, and the Borough of Lambeth, in South London, possibly others, but this is as far as my present search goes. The KnightsHospitallers, also known as the Knights of St. John at Jerusalem, have used the Lamb and Flag as their heraldic symbol. It is also commonly known that the symbol was associated with John the Baptist, who referred to Jesus as “the Lamb of God thattaketh away the sin of the world.” [John’s Gospel chapter 1, verse 29]
(As an aside here, the Lamb and Flag Inn, St. Giles, Oxford was where C.S.Lewis used to meet his friends in a secluded corner, after regretfully having to leave the “Eagle and Child” in 1962, due to structural alterations to the bar. Other famous names connected with the Inn are J.R.R.Tolkien, Graham Greene, and Thomas Hardy, who set part of his novel “Jude the Obscure” in the Inn.)
How far back does this go? Have we any way of determining the origin of the use of the symbol? The earliest to my present knowledge is the carving on the portico of Saint Pudenziana’s Basilica, on the Via Urbana, reputedly the oldest church inRome. Nearby is the other most ancient church, known as the Basilica of Saint Praxedes. The architecture is said to belong to the fourth century. The Catholic Encyclopedia mentions the symbol of the Lamb being found frequently in the Catacombs of Rome. This is to be expected, in view of the Baptist’s famous saying.
Who then were Pudenziana and Praxedes? Ancient records, including the New Testament, give us some useful information. In the Roman Martyrology, under 21st July we find the following entry – “At Rome, the holy virgin Praxedes, who was brought up in all chastity and in the knowledge of the divine law. Diligently attending to watching, prayer, and fasting, she rested in Christ, and was buried near her sister Pudentiana on the Salarian Way.” Under May 19th, – “At Rome, St. Pudens, senator, father of the virgins Pudentiana and Praxedes. He was clothed with Christ in baptism by the apostles, and preserved the robe of innocence unspotted until he received the crown of life.”
In 2nd Timothy 4:21 we find Paul, resident at Rome, saying to Timothy, “Be diligent to come before winter. Eubulus greets you, and Pudens, Linus, and Claudia, and all the brethren.” This gives some idea of the family connections in the first century A.D. Much more can be gleaned from ancient writings about these early Christians but that will be left for another edition of the Wayside Pulpit. Our present concern is the Lamb and Flag symbol.
A word about the “Flag”. Originally, the symbol showed a Lamb holding a long rod with a cross-piece near the top. Gradually the cross became enclosed in a square, until it assumed the shape of a flag being carried by the Lamb.
Finally, we have discovered an interesting piece of historical information. In the year A.D. 692 a Council was held inConstantinople under Justinian II, generally known as the Council of Trullo, after the name of the Palace Hall where it was held. 102 canons were discussed, relating to unfinished business from the 5th and 6th ecumenical councils, and therefore sometimes this council was termed the Quinisext Council. [Quini = 5, Sext = 6 in Latin]
One of the canons passed by this Council related to the presentation of Christ. “We pronounce that the form of Him whotaketh away the sin of the world, the Lamb of Christ our Lord, be set up in human shape on images henceforth, instead of the Lamb formerly used.”
This is important to this study, because it shows that the Crucifixes of the Roman Church only began to appear in the 8th century. Hence the Lamb and Flag (Cross) was the early symbol of the church, along with the secret sign of the fish, used in times of persecution.
This is but a brief historical sketch, and we present it in the hope that our readers will respond with further information. Any item of interest will be helpful to us, whether it be a reference in a book, the appearance of the symbol in some place known to you, or some heraldic connection. Please write to us, because we want to prepare a scholarly paper on the subject in due course.
Thank you in anticipation.
From Arthur & Rosalind Eedle, Oxleigh, Langham Road, Mumby, Alford, Lincs. LN13 9SQ England.