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The gonfalon, gonfanon, gonfalone (from the early Italian confalone) is a type of heraldic flag or banner, often pointed, swallow-tailed, or with several streamers, and suspended from a crossbar in an identical manner to the ancient Roman vexillum. It was first adopted by Italian medieval communes, and later, by local guilds, corporations and districts. The difference between a gonfanon with long tails and a standard is that a gonfanon displays the device on the non-tailed area, and the standard displays badges down the whole length of the flag.
A gonfalon can include a badge or coat of arms, or decoration. Today, every Italian comune (municipality) has a gonfalon sporting its coat of arms. The gonfalon has long been used for ecclesiastical ceremonies and processions. The papal "ombrellino", a symbol of the pope, is often mistakenly called "gonfalone" by the Italians because the pope's ceremonial umbrella was often depicted on the banner.
Gonfalone was originally the name given to a neighbourhood meeting in medieval Florence, each neighbourhood having its own flag and coat of arms, leading to the word gonfalone eventually becoming associated with the flag.
Gonfalons are also used in some university ceremonies, such as those at The College of New Jersey, University of Chicago,Rowan University, Rutgers University, Princeton University, University of Toronto, Loyola University New Orleans and the University of St. Thomas.
A Gonfalon of State (Dutch: Rijksvaandel or Rijksbanier) is part of the Regalia of the Netherlands. The banner is made of silk and it has been painted with the souvereign's coat of arms as they were in the 19th century. The Gonfalon of State is only used when a new king or queen is sworn in.
Gonfalons had great significance as Christian religious objects in Europe during the Medieval period, especially in central Italy. These religious objects consisted of a cloth, usually of canvas but occasionally of silk, supported by a wooden frame with a T-shaped support on the back, and a long pole to hold up the banner during ceremonies and processions. The banners were painted with tempera or oil paints, sometimes on both sides. Images on the gonfalons included the patron saints of cities, villages, confraternities or guilds, the Virgin and Child, Jesus Christ, God the Father, plague saints, and the Virgin Mary as Queen of Heaven, Mediatrix, Theotokos, or Madonna of Mercy. Because these banners were often associated with a particular group, highly unusual and individual iconography could appear.
These gonfalons were often commissioned and kept by confraternities, lay religious groups who gathered together for devotional purposes such as the singing of hymns (laudae), the performance of charitable works, or flagellation. The banners would be either displayed on the wall of the oratory or packed away until they were needed for their primary use, religious processions. During processions, the banner would be carried on its pole by members of the confraternity. This devotional act of carrying the banner in procession was believed to be a holy act of worship, and it was hoped that the act would gain divine favour from God, Jesus, Mary, and the saints portrayed on the banner. From the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries, plague banners were produced and carried in processions as a way to plead for divine intercession to prevent or cure the plague.
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- attested since the 14th century; it has been suggested that the gonfalon in the Tübingen coat of arms originates as a re-interpretation of the tripod symbol found on ancient coins. Hildebrecht Hommel: Antike Spuren im Tübinger Wappen. Zur Frage der Verwertung und Umdeutung numismatischer Motive. Vorgelegt am 13. Juni 1981. Sitzungsberichte der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften, Philosophisch-Historische Klasse. Bericht Jg. 1981, 9.