The fleur de lis traditionally represents the virtues of perfection, light and life. The symbol is often associated with French royalty, although Catholics and foreign military units have also used the symbol.
While the fleur de lis was sporadically used in Babylonian, Egyptian and Roman architecture, the symbol was first used prominently in the 12th century by French monarch Louis VI or Louis VII. Around this time, a legend had developed involving fourth-century Frankish monarch Clovis I, who was allegedly anointed with the oil of a fleur de lis. Thus, the fluer de lis represented the divine authority given to French rulers.
As France gained territory, the usage of the fleur de lis became more widespread. In the Louisiana Territory, slave codes required the punishment of runaway slaves by branding a fleur de lis upon their shoulders. New Orleans, the most important city in the Louisiana Territory, adopted the fleur de lis as a symbol of unity and a representation of the town itself. Today, the fleur de lis is used by professional sports teams in New Orleans, including the Saints of the National Football League.
Catholics have used the fleur de lis as an emblem representing the Virgin Mary. The symbol has also been used as a representation of the Trinity because of its three-petal design. Foreign military units, such as the U.S. Army, have used the fleur de lis to represent power and strength.