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SLU Legends and Lore: The Oriflamme

08/22/2019

King Arthur had his Knights of the Round Table. Robin Hood had his Merry Men.

Saint Louis University has its own storied band of student leaders – the Oriflamme – whose sacred mission is to help SLU’s newest students feel at home – as they move into their new dorm rooms or need advice about life on campus.

Oriflamme members lead students to the Spirit Competition

Oriflamme members lead students into battle at the Fall Welcome Spirit Competition. Photo by Luke Yamnitz

Ori-What?

Oriflamme [OR-uh-flam/noun]:  a banner, symbol or idea inspiring devotion or courage.

Heirs to a Heroic Legacy

SLU’s Oriflamme takes its name from a storied symbol – one with “magical powers to confound the foe.”

The name comes from Latin and is a combination of aurum meaning “gold,” and flamma, the word for flag. The original Oriflamme was a holy banner carried by French kings, and was also known as St. Vermillion.

Legend has it that the banner may have been hoisted as early as the Dark Ages by royalty including Charlemagne. One especially gory tale claims that the flag’s original color – red-gold – came from the blood of St. Denis after he was beheaded in 358 C.E.

The Oriflamme’s place in history was secured when Prince Louis of France, later King Louis VI, rode under its auspices to triumph over King William Rufus of England in 1097. That victory cemented the flag’s place as the premier flag of France. The cry, “To raise the Oriflamme,” stirred hundreds to the defense their realm.

French armies carried it into battle more than 20 times. One of its most famous bearers was King Louis IX, a future saint and the namesake of both the University and City of St. Louis.

A Symbol of Solidarity

1980 Oriflamme member

A member of 1980's Oriflamme class rallies the SLU troops. SLU archival photo

Centuries after the Oriflamme rallied armies, a new generation took up the symbol, serving not a king, but their fellow Billikens.

As SLU gained prominence as a leading American university in the late 1950s and 1960s, University leaders and students recognized the need for “ambassadors” to guide visitors and new students at events including registration.

In 1963, Thomas McQueeny, S.J., assistant to SLU President Paul Reinert, S.J., recruited 16 men to help.

The group consulted renowned Jesuit scholar and SLU faculty member Walter Ong, S.J., about what to call themselves. Ong suggested “Oriflamme,” because he thought the name would inspire loyalty to SLU.

Mary Bruemmer, another leading University administrator who went on to advise the group for decades, urged them to adopt it to symbolize their bond with the University community.

SLU’s Oriflamme was born.

Oriflamme leaders rally SLU's spirit

Oriflamme members lead the cheers for the home team at Fall Welcome's men's soccer game. Photo by Luke Yamnitz

Decades of Devotion

The group’s role in SLU life quickly evolved, and today, no SLU Move-In is complete without Oriflamme members and their signature blazing orange T-shirts.

The group quickly grew beyond its original 16 male members. Oriflamme went co-ed in 1972.

Registration in the 1960s
Early Oriflamme members helped guide new students through the trials of registration. SLU archival photo

Early Oriflamme members helped students navigate a maze of class sign-up boards at registration in the West Pine Gym (now SLU’s Center for Global Citizenship).

In 1965, the group took over orientation and welcome duties for the University. Over time, Oriflamme leaders dove into the thick of Fall Move-In, hoisting boxes, carrying couches up flights of stairs and leading small groups to help new Billikens acclimate to campus.

Oriflamme members now lead new freshman in the charge to show off their SLU spirit, and urge them to jump into campus life at Fall Welcome activities from the traditional Square Dance to the newer “Paint SLU!” party.

Once a symbol rallying troops, SLU’s Oriflamme members now call the entire campus community to welcome SLU’s newest Billikens, leading by example, in word and deed.

Oriflamme members help with Move-In

Members of the Oriflamme hard at work helping with Fall Move-In. Photo by Luke Yamnitz

After 200 years, there are many legends and untold tales hiding in the nooks and crannies of Saint Louis University. Delve into the myths, fables, fantastic lives, moments and surprises you will find in its story with “SLU Legends and Lore.”

Story based on the "SLU Legends and Lore" Bicentennial Series by John Waide, University archivist emeritus.