“The Double Cross is featured in yellow (gold) on a blue shield and is an integral part of the Lithuanian national coat of arms.” From the Law on the National Coat of Arms, Emblems, and Other Insignias of the Republic of Lithuania.
The Double Cross was portrayed on a knight’s shield for the first time in the seal of King Jogaila (Pol. Jagiello) of Poland in 1386. At first, it was used in the personal insignia of Jogaila, and later on, when it was taken over by other brothers of the king and his successors, it became the emblem of the Jagiellonian dynasty. Usually depicted on a blue field, the golden Double Cross used to be occasionally presented with a longer lower horizontal crossbar in the early stages of its usage. Since the second half of the 16th century, the Cross would sometimes be portrayed in silver with the crossbars of equal length on a red shield or in red on a golden shield. Since the Double Cross came into being right after the baptism of the king, it is likely that the symbolism of the Double Cross was connected with this event significant for both Jogaila and the entire land. A similar cross in Western heraldry is called the patriarchal Cross of Lorraine, and it is used by archbishops while the cross itself symbolises baptism.
In Lithuania, the Double Cross has usually been portrayed on the shield of the knight in the national coat of arms. At first, it used to represent the ruling dynasty. In 1572, after the death of Sigismund II Augustus, the last male descendent of the Jagiellonian dynasty, the Double Cross remained as a symbol in the national coat of arms. Having lost the connection with the dynasty, it started to be referred to as simply the Cross of Vytis. The Double Cross, as the symbol representing Jogaila and his dynasty, was sometimes used independently or in combination with other symbols as well. One can find the Double Cross used in isolation on the Lithuanian coins of the late 14th century and on the banner of the royal court referred to in Lithuanian as ‘Gončia’ (the chaser). King Jogaila of Poland had given permission to use it to several Polish towns as well as to the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, in the coat of arms of which the Double Cross was used to decorate the top of a trimmed tree held in the hand of Saint Christopher.
The Double Cross was particularly widely used in the first half of the 20th century after the restoration of the independent state of Lithuania. The symbol, as a distinctive sign, was adopted by the Lithuanian army, aviation and other public authorities. It was used to decorate Lithuanian orders, medals, and insignias and became an attribute of numerous public societies and organisations. In 1919, the Double Cross was named the Cross for Homeland and turned into one of the highest-ranking state decorations. On 3 February 1920, upon a decree of the President of the Republic of Lithuania, the Cross for Homeland was renamed the Cross of Vytis. The Law on the Cross of Vytis was adopted on 1 April 1927, followed by approval of the Statute of the Cross of Vytis on 31 August of the same year. The Cross of Vytis was eventually named the Order of the Cross of Vytis on 1 September 1930. The Double Cross was also used in the emblems of the armed forces to signify military aviation, as well as on the helmets of the war disabled of Lithuania and as the main symbol of the Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union.
All symbols of statehood were banned when the Republic of Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union on 15 June 1940. Severe punishments were imposed for their usage up until the national reform movement. However, these symbols were not abandoned in public life and were further used in the underground. For instance, Lithuanian partisans used the symbol of the Double Cross in the press of the resistance as well as on decorations, uniform emblems and weapons in 1944–1953. After the restoration of Lithuania’s independence in 1990, the Double Cross was once again adopted as a state symbol in the emblems of the military aviation and the police. The Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union also uses the Double Cross as its symbol.
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The usage of the historical Lithuanian national symbol of the Double Cross is regulated by the Law on the National Coat of Arms, Emblems, and Other Insignias of the Republic of Lithuania. The standard of the symbol is approved by the President of the Republic of Lithuania on the recommendation of the Lithuanian Heraldry Commission.
Lietuvos heraldika, t. 1, sudarė Edmundas Rimša, Vilnius: Baltos lankos, 1998.
Lietuvos heraldika, sudarė Edmundas Rimša, Vilnius: Baltos lankos, 2008.
Rimša, Edmundas. Heraldika. Iš praeities į dabartį, Vilnius: Versus aureus, 2004.
Lietuvos Respublikos valstybės herbo, kitų herbų ir herbinių ženklų įstatymas, Vilnius, 1990 m. balandžio 10 d., I-130, (galiojanti suvestinė redakcija nuo 2020-07-01), Teisės aktų registras, https://www.e-tar.lt/portal/lt/legalAct/TAR.55B9E4E382B3/asr
Prepared by Vilma Akmenytė-Ruzgienė,
Office of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, Unit for Historical Memory of Parliamentarianism