The logo has attracted questions and compliments. So what's the difference between a single fleur de lis, and three?

We've received quite a few questions and compliments about the "trifleur" logo. I was even told that a student is considering tattooing it on his body...

A single fleur de lis is used by cities and schools across Louisiana and down the Gulf Coast to Mobile, and it is also used in France, Canada and many Francophone cultures, and even in Italy (in 1066, the Normans invaded England and Sicily). But the triple fleurs de lis is nearly unique to South Louisiana and the Cajuns, and so several people have asked about the difference between the single and triple design.

Then a Jim Bradshaw column on the Louisiana iris-- our native version of the fleur de lis-- prompted me to write an explanation.

When I lived in New Orleans in the 1980s, a local bank began using a fleur de lis as a corporate logo. One of the locals commented to me that, before the arrival of the Saints' NFL franchise, the fleur de lis wasn't nearly so common in New Orleans.

Which is interesting; the Saints began playing football in 1968, three years after Thomas J. Arceneaux produced the flag of Acadiana.  Arceneaux's flag is based on the UL seal, and so both of them contain the trifleur. Did the UL seal influence the Saints' choice of logo? We may never know.

A year or so after I heard the comment about the Saints, I was in a swank restaurant in the French Quarter. I noticed a very old painting on the wall which depicted the French army flying a flag with three fleurs de lis. A few years after that, I received a letter from the UL President's office, and at that time the University letterhead displayed the same design in the upper right-hand corner.

So I began investigating. The fleur de lis (or lys) is a version of the iris, and is a very old device revered in ancient India and Egypt as a symbol of life and resurrection. In Christianity the iris lily becomes a symbol of purity, and frequently refers to St. Mary, represented on the UL campus by Our Lady of Wisdom Chapel.

On Christmas Day in 496 St. Remigius (St. Rémy) baptized the Frankish king Clovis and 3,000 of his followers. Tradition has it that an iris was sent from heaven to Clovis at his christening. As "Louis" is the French version of the Germanic "Clovis" it is believed that "fleur de lis" may also represent "fleur de Louis." This may explain the unusual design of the fleur de lis: it suggests both a flower and a dove, for both Clovis and his baptism.

Thereafter, the fleur de lis appears sporadically as a symbol of France and the monarchy. But in 1376, Charles V-- "Charles the Wise," a patron of learning and the arts-- tripled the fleur de lis as his official device, stating that it represented the Holy Trinity. However, as this change was made during The Hundred Year's War which was fought over the English claim of succession to the French throne, historians suspect a different motive for Charles's change. English nobles had begun quartering the fleur de lis on their armor, as a way of strengthening their claim to the French crown.

So it is suspected that Charles changed his device to distinguish the true French from the "pretenders." This parallels our situation today, as so many non-French communities and universities have attempted to usurp the popularity of our Cajun culture, by using the single fleur de lis.

From that beginning in the 14th century however, the trifleur became the emblem of France, and centuries later, marked their claims in the New World. The trifleur was the flag under which the Cajuns' ancestors first arrived in the New World in 1604-- a full 16 years before the Mayflower arrived. Even today, the Great Seal of Canada is one of the few appearances of the trifleur outside of Louisiana, a recognition of the Cajuns' ancestors as the first permanent European settlers of that country.

Then in 1682 when LaSalle claimed for France all the lands drained by the Mississippi River, the trifleur became the first flag of Louisiana, and remained so until the beginning of Spanish rule in 1762. In this way, it also became the first flag for the entire middle third of the United States, and even today can frequently be seen flying in the 15 states derived from the Louisiana Purchase. In fact, it is one of the original "Six Flags Over Texas".

The triple fleur de lis appeared as part of the University of Louisiana (then Southwestern Louisiana Institute) shield in 1926. " …to gain admittance to the Association of Southern Colleges, SLI was required to design a school shield. It was designed by Ellsworth Woodward of Newcomb College: 'Quarterly, first and fourth, secure three fleurs de lys argents, for France: second and third, gules a castle with three turrets machicolated and open to the field, for Spain: in chief, argent a pelican in her piety, for Louisiana.'" (A Brief History of the University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1900 to 1960.)

As noted above, in 1965 the UL seal became the basis for Thomas Arceneaux's flag... and in 1974, the Legislature made it the official flag of Acadiana. In this way, it became representative of our region of 22 parishes and 1.4 million people.

It is fitting that the triple fleur de lis serves to represent UL, as it is not only uniquely identifies our university in the US, but it may also be unique among major college logos:  it is both masculine and feminine, and it represents both academics and athletics.  It is not clear that any other major university employs such a flexible, all-encompassing logo.

So that's how the trifleur became associated with UL, Acadiana and the Cajun culture, and as the logo it reflects that unity.