Captain Moonlight: Written in the stars

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The Independent Online
I DON'T want to make the Rev Ian Paisley's week any worse, so I just hope he hasn't seen the official Christmas card of the European Parliament, a body to which, of course, he belongs. The card shows a floating female figure bearing a crown of 12 stars, the symbol of the European Union. The rub for those uninspired by the Church of Rome is that the figure is a detail from the magnificent ceiling of the Palazzo Barberini, one of the most celebrated glorifications of the Papacy in art. Rather worse is that the figure is about to place the crown on the head of the Woman of the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelations, model and symbol for the Virgin Mary.

So, horror of horrors, is this where the EU got its 12-star flag from? I can hear the murmurings throughout Northern Europe already. Well, you should know that the 12 stars have nothing to do with the 12 member states of the EU. The flag was adopted from the earlier flag of the Council of Europe. 'The number of stars is invariable, 12 being the symbol of perfection,' is the way the official description puts it. A number representing balance and plenitude, not just Mariolatry. But there is another reason: the Council of Europe chose 12 stars as a compromise because France and Germany, for reasons far too abstruse to go into here, each wanted a different number. A fitting symbol for Europe, after all, then.