in the emblem of the Church of Melanesia
The Southern Cross in the emblem of the Church of Melanesia
As mentioned on our page about the Southern Cross, the stars are reproduced on several national flags, the most well known being those in the southern hemisphere, such as Brazil, Australia and New Zealand. The actual number of stars in the constellation is unknown, so if such nations chose to show different number of stars in their flag, none can claim to be any more correct than the three stars adopted by the Church of the Province of Melanesia. (The significance of three is, of course, a reference to the Holy Trinity.)
Just as there are an unknown number of stars in the constellation, there are an unknown number of islands in Melanesia. Therefore it's not surprising that a seagoing vessel has been an essential part of this Anglican mission since its founding in 1849. The first, a 70-ton schooner, was named 'Southern Cross', as have all eight replacement ships since that time.
Most people reading this page will be living in a society where Christians have in the past (and perhaps the present), been marginalised, threatened, and even persecuted. Very few, however, have been subject to the treatment suffered by early missionaries to this remote part of Oceania. Martyrs include Bishop John Coleridge Patteson, killed in 1871, and Charles Godden, killed in 1906.
Where the threat to Christianity today in most parts of the world may be simple indifference, Melanesia is not 'most parts of the world'. Even though 25% of the population are members and the church has been established for several generations, many perceive Christianity as foreign. Seven members of the Anglican Melanesian Anglican brothers were killed as recently as 2003. Let nobody doubt the depth of faith enjoyed by Melanesians.
As the church website says of their sacrifice: "...it was also the seed of a strong and vigorous Church in Melanesia today." Challenged with such a diverse culture, the church recognises that communication and building relationships are the keys to peace. See melanesia.anglican.org for more about this church.
It would be interesting to see if there was an upside-down version of these three stars in the northern hemisphere. And sure enough, there is.
The Carmelite order, founded in Northern Israel by Europeans rather a long time ago, has a logo with three stars, where the central star is lower than the other two. The Carmelites have a different, but interesting, interpretation of these three stars. See Carmelite Cross