My Nebraska readers will see the title of today’s post and think about the small east central Nebraska village called Dannebrog. My Scandinavian readers will see the title and think about the Flag of Denmark. So, why not have a little bit of both?
Dannebrog, the banner, is an elegantly simple design of a white Scandinavian cross that extends to the perimeter of a solid red flag. Other Scandinavian countries have a similar design on differently colored flags. The Dannebrog, though, is reputed to be the world’s oldest national flag.
The legend of the Dannebrog is colored in both myth and history, with possible inspiration of Constantinian Rome due to it’s religious beginnings. Also, during that era were many accounts colored by religious legend involving angels, the Virgin Mary, St. James the Greater, St. George, and other supernatural visions.
In 1219 CE, Danish King Valdemar II was engaged in the Pope’s expansionist Northern Crusades campaign. That spring, the Archbishop of Lund, Anders Sunesen; Bishop of Estonia, Theoderik; and the Vassals Count Albert, and Vitslav sailed to the Estonian province of Revalia. The army built a fortification at Lyndanaisse. Meantime, the Estonians stalled for time when they sent negotiators to the Danish camp while they secretly assembled a large army to fight the invaders.
The Danish forces were completely surprised by an Estonian attack during the evening of June 15, 1219. The Danes panicked and scattered in several directions. During the melee, the Estonians killed Bishop Theoderik, who they believed was the Danish King.
The popular legend describes the progress of the battle of Lyndanaisse as a religious miracle. During the Estonian attack, the Danes were on the verge of collapse. Archbishop Sunesen raised his hands towards the sky in prayer. As long as Sunesen’s hands were held high, the Danes remained strong.
Then the Archbishop became exhausted and eventually lowered his arms, at that time the Estonians regained the advantage and were ready to deliver the killing blow to the Danes. It was at that moment, one legend says, that a red banner emblazened with a white cross fell out of the sky. The vision inspired the Danish forces to recoup and defeat the Estonians. Such is the prevailing legend as to the birth of Denmark’s national flag, the Dannebrog.
Meantime, if you find yourself driving through Howard County Nebraska, near Grand Island, you might enjoy a short detour to the tiny town of Dannebrog. The village of about 300 residents is mostly of Danish ancestry but there are folks with other backgrounds, too.
A party of settlers from the “Danish Land and Homestead Company” of Wisconsin arrived at the site in Howard County in the spring of 1871 to form a Nebraska “colony”. The group’s leader, Lars Hannibal, chose the territory because of its fertile soils and proximity to water. Hannibal named the town after the national flag of Denmark.
Soon a water-driven grist mill was constructed on Oak Creek and the rest of the village sprung up around it. The little village almost disbanded in the 1880s when most of the businesses relocated to other nearby towns. The arrival of a railroad line in 1885 resurrected Dannebrog. The following year, it was officially incorporated. The peak population of Dannebrog, Nebraska was recorded on the 1920 Census with 436 permanent residents.