Maltese Cross Meaning : Cross of Saint John
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Today's subject is one of the most popular symbols of the orders of knighthood. When the knights took possession of Malta, they raised the red standard on which is their emblem, the famous Maltese cross. It is said that the points symbolize the 8 Beatitudes evoked by Christ in his Sermon on the Mount: truth, faith, repentance, humility, justice, charity, sincerity and resistance to persecution. Or the 8 languages or provinces of the Order.
We will examine together in detail the Maltese Cross Meaning, its history and origins and its various uses that have been made a long time ago and nowadays. In this article, you will discover :
- The Maltese Cross Meaning
- The History and origins of the Malta Cross
- The Maltese Cross Tattoo
- The Maltese Cross and the Firefighters
What is the Symbol of the Maltese Cross ?
We are talking about an ancient symbol that is most often associated with the Knights of the Order of Malta (also known as the Knights Hospitaller, or Knights of St. John). This religious military order of the Middle Ages was the first order of knighthood to be created.
It is this order that governed the Maltese islands between 1530 and 1798. Since then, this model of the Catholic cross has been widely associated with Malta. We can find it, for example, as the logo of the national airline Air Malta, or as a cross on the Maltese Euro.
From a purely aesthetic point of view, it consists of four arrowheads with the ends joined in one point. With its "V's" at the ends, the Maltese cross resembles a kind of star shape. These four forms, when put together, form a kind of eight-pointed flower. Its shape is therefore perfectly symmetrical, whether seen horizontally or vertically.
The symbol of the Maltese cross can be considered a more sophisticated version of the famous Greek cross, a model of the Christian cross with four branches of equal length. About its colors, it is usually represented in black and white, or in red and white. Thus the flag of the Maltese cross shows it drawn in red on a white background. Some say that the ends of the cross symbolize the multitude of the lands of origin of the knights who made up the order.
Others will see there the eight obligations of the knight: honesty, faith, repentance, humility, justice, mercy, benevolence and resilience. The creed offered by the Maltese Cross would therefore be, in a way, the ultimate goal towards which every fighter in Christendom should strive. Be that as it may, this Christian symbol is no longer limited today to the island of Malta: countries all over the world use it as a decoration to represent courage and honor.
In the course of their history, the Hospitallers have settled in Malta and brought their cross with them... On the walls of the buildings, the rooms, the jewels: in a short time, the symbol of the Maltese cross was everywhere.
History and Origin of the Cross of Malta
Although the use of the Maltese cross was popularized in the 16th century by the Order of the Knights Hospitaller, it actually dates back to the early 11th century. Its roots are actually found in the crosses of the Knights Templar, itself derived from the flag of the Republic of Amalfi (a merchant state located on the southwest coast of Italy). From its creation, this cross was therefore associated with Christian warriors and knights.
Although the Christian cross of the Order of the Knights Templar and that of Malta are different, they have a past, and therefore a meaning, in common. According to some theologians and crusading scholars, the origin of the Maltese cross can be attributed to a group of monks who served in a hospice built to help travelers who came to visit the Holy Land. Over time, these monks also began helping the Knights of the and providing armed escorts to people traveling through non-Christian territories.
Soon these "Brothers of St. John" evolved into a military order, calling themselves the "Knights of St. John", or the Knights Hospitaller. As we might expect, yes, they had a flag with a Maltese cross such as this one as a banner. We should also know that these knights had a peculiarity: on the battlefield, they were forced to fight fire... literally.
Maltese Cross Tattoo
Nowadays, the symbolism of the Maltese Cross is comonly used as an idea for a tattoo. The person wearing it may try to convey similar messages to the Knights. It is also frequently adorned by the fire department. As the Maltese Cross has had great historical importance throughout Europe, it has remained an active part of their culture. In fact, it is currently printed on the back of the Maltese Euro. For more information on the Knights Templar Tattoos and their significance.
The Cross of Malta: A Symbol of courage for Firemen
The enemy of the Christians at that time, the Saracens, had created some kind of bombs filled with a flammable mixture called naphtha. As a result, the Knights found themselves having to fight to extinguish the fires that broke out on the battlefields. Some had to risk their lives to save their comrades trapped in the flames.
There was one problem, however... In the dense smoke, it was sometimes difficult to differentiate an enemy combatant from an ally. To solve this, the Knights of the Order of St. John came up with the idea of decorating all their armor with the same Christian symbol. You don't need to draw a picture, you must have an idea which one we are talking about. The groups of archers also often placed themselves under a flag with the Maltese cross to avoid a cavalry charge from their own companions.
In addition to helping them find their way around the battlefield, this Catholic cross reminded them of the noble cause they were fighting for. This explains the origin of the Maltese Cross as a symbol of the courage shown by firefighters who risk their lives in the face of fire.
The Meaning of the Malta Cross
Officially adopted by the Knights Hospitaller of St. John in 1126, it owes its style to the models of crosses used during the Crusades.
Thus, like all the symbols of chivalry we have already mentioned, this one is marked by a strong symbolism and moral values.
1st Meaning of the Maltese Cross: Catholic Nations
Others also think that it refers to the eight medieval nations whose nobles made up the famous Order of St. John :
- Castile and Portugal
- Castile and Portugal
- England (with Scotland and Ireland)
2nd Meaning of the Maltese Cross: Chivalric Values
The four arms of this Catholic cross represent the four cardinal values of prudence, justice, courage and temperance.
As for the total of eight points formed by its spikes, specialists most often consider them to symbolize the eight obligations or aspirations of the Christian knight.
These obligations are as follows:
- To live one's life in truth
- Be merciful
- Repentance for sins
- Show humility
- Loving justice
- Have faith
- Knowing how to be sincere and unreserved
- Being able to endure persecution
In fact, this is not surprising. You may be able to better understand why by taking an interest in the Christian cross.
3rd Meaning of the Maltese Cross: The Qualities of the Rescuer
Unlike others, the Order of St. John did not stop functioning with the fall of chivalry in Europe. Indeed, it converted into what we know today as the "Sovereign Military Order of Malta", an international medical and humanitarian aid organization.
For the modern first-aid workers who serve in the Order of St. John, the eight corners of the cross represent the qualities they must demonstrate in order to best help others. They must indeed be able to be :
- Observer ( so that they can note the causes and signs of injury)
- Tactician ("so that he can, without asking rash questions, know the patient's symptoms and history, and ensure his confidence").
- Resourcefulness ("so that it can make the best use of everything within its reach to avoid further damage, and to help Nature's efforts to repair the harm already done").
- Clear ("so that he gives clear instructions to the patient or bystanders on how best to help")
- Persevering ("so that he will continue his efforts, even if unsuccessful at first.")
- Discriminating ("so that he can decide which of several wounds needs the most treatment")
- Skillful ("so that he can handle a patient without causing unnecessary pain and use the devices efficiently and cleanly")
- Sympathetic ( so that it can bring real comfort and encouragement to the suffering )
The Arrival of this Catholic Cross on the Island of Malta
The strong link that this symbol has with the island dates back to 1530, when the Knights of Saint John first settled there. When they put their seal everywhere, they probably did not yet know that they would leave their mark on Malta's history forever. Between architectural prowess and patronage of the arts, this religious military order truly brought this symbol to continental renown.
At the height of its glory, this cross could be found on the coats of arms of cities, in palaces, hospitals, the entrances of towers and towers, on fortifications, but also on coins, cannons, churches, paintings and frescoes, furniture, silverware and jewelry... In short, the Maltese cross was everywhere! Even today, Valletta still has the largest concentration of representations of this symbol in the world.
The palaces and churches built during the long domination of the knights, as well as the many treasures they house, have indeed been forever marked by this representation of aristocratic and autocratic power. Thus, the significance of the Maltese cross has been associated with the embodiment of one of the most glorious historical periods of chivalry.
Modern Uses of the Maltese Cross
Needless to say, this Catholic cross is still a dominant symbol on the island of Malta. As we told you at the beginning of the article, you can find this cross all over the country. If you are lucky enough to visit the island of Malta, you will see this type of Christian cross incorporated into the architecture and masonry work of various houses.
Soccer, rugby, basketball: just about all Maltese sports teams wear it with pride as well. Moreover, it is interesting to note that the current flag of this state is indeed inspired by the flag with the Maltese cross and the order of chivalry that preceded the current state. As we have also seen, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta also continues to use it as its emblem today.
It was vaguely evoked but let's make it clear again: this cross also represents the island's firefighters... but not only! It is interesting to see that it is used by many firefighters around the world. Indeed, many are ready to recognize the heroism and bravery shown by those who once fought the flames in the midst of the horrors of war. Thus, this cross has become a Christian symbol of good luck linked to courage, strength and determination in many countries around the world.
It is clear that the origin of the Maltese Cross is most often associated with the knights of the Hospitaller Order, as well as with the island itself. Many Maltese houses still incorporate the cross into their masonry. A visit to any souvenir or gift store will also reveal a range of local crafts that use it. In addition to t-shirts and key rings, you will find it in a variety of laces and exceptional products such as jewelry, pottery and glassware. In spite of its very current use therefore, the meaning of the Maltese cross has evolved throughout its history and additional meanings have been added.
In the end, this Christian cross is the symbol of the valiant knights who first wore it hundreds of years ago in faraway lands, where everything was unknown to them except Christ.