Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Oriflamme

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In verses 3093-5 of the "Chanson de Roland" (eleventh century) the oriflamme is mentioned as a royal banner, called at first "Romaine" afterwards "Montjoie". According to the legend it was given to Charlemagne by the pope, but no historical text affords us any information with regard to this oriflamme, which is perhaps fabulous. As Eudes, who became king in 888, was Abbot of St. Martin, the banner of the church of St. Martin of Tours was the earliest military standard of the Frankish monarchy. It was a plain blue, a colour then assigned in the liturgy to saints who were, like St. Martin confessors and pontiffs. The azure ground strewn with gold fleur-de-lis remained the symbol of royalty until the fourteenth century, when the white standard of Jeanne d'Arc wrought marvels, and by degrees the custom was introduced of depicting the fleur-de-lis on white ground. But from the time of Louis VI (1108-37) the banner of St. Martin was replaced as ensign of war by the oriflamme of the Abbey of St. Denis, which floated about the tomb of St. Denis and was said to have been given to the abbey by Dagobert. It is supposed without any certainty that this was a piece of fiery red silk of sendal the field of which was covered with flames and stars of gold. The standard-bearer carried it either at the end of a staff or suspended from his neck. Until the twelfth century the standard-bearer was the Comte de Vexin, who, as "vowed" to St. Denis, was the temporal defender of the abbey. Louis VI the Fat, having acquired Vexin, became standard-bearer; as soon as war began, Louis VI received Communion at St. Denis and took the standard from the tomb of the saint to carry it to the combat. "Montjoie Saint Denis", cried the men-at-arms, even as in England they cried "Montjoie Notre Dame", or "Montjoie Saint George". The word Montjoie (from Mons gaudii or Mons Jovis) designates the heaps of stones along the roadside which served as mile-stones or as sign-posts, and which sometimes became the meeting-places for warriors; it was applied to the oriflamme the sight of which was to guide the soldiers into the mêlée. The descriptions of the oriflamme which have reached us in Guillaume le Breton (thirteenth century), in the "Chronicle of Flanders" (fourteenth century), in the "Registra Delphinalia" (1456), and in the inventory of the treasury of St. Denis (1536), show that to the primitive oriflamme there succeeded in the course of centuries newer oriflammes which little resembled one another. At the battle of Poitiers (1356) and Agincourt (1415) the oriflamme fell into the hands of the English; it would seem that after the Hundred Years' War it was no longer borne on the battlefield.

GEORGES GOYAU