Maltese cross

The Maltese cross is the cross symbol associated with the Order of St. John since 1567, with the Knights Hospitaller and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, and by extension with the island of Malta. The cross is a white, eight-pointed cross having the form of four "V"-shaped elements, each joining the others at its vertex, leaving the other two tips spread outward symmetrically. This is placed on a red background or worn on a black mantle. The term is often wrongly applied to all forms of eight-pointed crosses irrespective of colour or background.


The geometric shape of an eight-pointed cross is found in antiquity, and especially as decorative element in Byzantine culture from about the sixth century. The association with the southern Italy coastal town of Amalfi may go back to the 11th century, as the design is allegedly found on coins minted by the Duchy of Amalfi at that time.[1] However, no historically known and accepted visual evidence indicates that the eight-point Maltese cross was in use by the Knights of Malta, at any of their predecessor locations, before it appears on the coins of Malta in 1567. Claims by Amalfi that it first appears on their coins in the 11th century is only a reference to a then common style of the eight-point cross pattee. Therefore, Amalfi's claim to the Maltese cross is through extension from the founder of the order, who was sent out from there to the Holy Land in the late 11th century. The term "Amalfi Cross" only developed after the eight-point cross was introduced on Malta in 1567.

The Knights Hospitaller during the Crusades used a plain Latin cross. The association of the "Maltese Cross" with the order dates to the late 15th century; it is possibly first mentioned in 1489 in a regulation requiring the knights of Malta to wear "the white cross with eight points".[2] However, these eight-points do not signify that the shape required was that of the four-arrowhead form of 1567, or anything near it, as many variants of an eight-point cross are known.

The association with Malta arose after the Knights Hospitaller moved from Rhodes to Malta in 1530. The first evidence for use of the Maltese cross on Malta appears on the 2-tarì and 4-tarì copper coins of the Grand Master Jean Parisot de Valette (Grand Master 1557–1568). The 2- and 4-tarì coins are dated 1567. This provides a date for the introduction of the Maltese cross.[3]

The Maltese cross was depicted on the two-mils coin in the old Maltese currency and is now shown on the back of the one- and two-euro coins, introduced in January 2008.[4]


In the 15th century, the eight points of the four arms of the later called Maltese Cross represented the eight lands of origin, or Langues of the Knights Hospitaller: Auvergne, Provence, France, Aragon, Castille and Portugal, Italy, Germany, and the British Isles.[5]

The eight points also symbolize the eight obligations or aspirations of the knights:[5]

  • to live in truth
  • to have faith
  • to repent of one's sins
  • to give proof of humility
  • to love justice
  • to be merciful
  • to be sincere and wholehearted
  • to endure persecution

Both the Order of Saint John (in German, the Johanniterorden) and the Venerable Order of St John teach that the eight points of the cross represent the eight Beatitudes. The Venerable Order's main service organisation, St John Ambulance, has applied secular meanings to the points as representing the traits of a good first aider:[6]

  • Observant ("that he may note the causes and signs of injury")
  • Tactful ("that he may without thoughtless questions learn the symptoms and history of the case, and secure the confidence of the patients and bystanders")
  • Resourceful ("That he may use to the best advantage whatever is at hand to prevent further damage, and to assist Nature's efforts to repair the mischief already done")
  • Dextrous ("that he may handle a patient without causing unnecessary pain, and use appliances efficiently and neatly")
  • Explicit ("that he may give clear instructions to the patient or the bystanders how best to assist him")
  • Discriminating ("that he may decide which of several injuries presses most for treatment by himself, what can best be left for the patient or bystanders to do, and what should be left for the medical men")
  • Persevering ("that he may continue his efforts, though not at first successful")
  • Sympathetic ("that he may give real comfort and encouragement to the suffering")

The Maltese cross as defined by the constitution of the Order of St. John remains the symbol of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, of the Order of Saint John and its allied orders, of the Venerable Order of Saint John, and of their various service organisations.[7] In past centuries, numerous other orders have adopted the eight-pointed cross as part of their insignia[7] (the Order of Saint Lazarus, for example, uses a green eight-pointed cross). In Australia, the eight-pointed cross is part of the state emblem of Queensland.

Modern use


In 1967, flight tests were conducted at Fort Rucker, Alabama, to determine the most highly visible and effective way to mark a helipad.

Twenty-five emblem designs were tested, but the emblem depicting four blurred rotor blades, referred to as the "Maltese cross", was selected as the standard heliport marking pattern by the Army for military heliports, and by the FAA for civil heliports.

However, in the late 1970s, the FAA administrator repealed this standard when it was charged that the Maltese cross was antisemitic.[8] In the United States today, some helipads still remain bearing their original Maltese cross emblems.

The eight-pointed cross is also used to identify the final approach fix in a nonprecision instrument approach (one that lacks precision vertical guidance), in contrast to the use of a lightning bolt-type icon, which identifies the final approach fix in a precision approach.


The Maltese cross is displayed as part of the Maltese civil ensign. The Maltese euro coins of 1- and 2-euro denomination carry the Maltese cross. It is also the trademark of Air Malta, Malta's national airline.

Military and civil orders

Regional and municipal heraldry


Several orders that are descended from the original Order of St John set up first aid and ambulance services. These also incorporated the Maltese cross into their logos:

Logos and emblems

  • The Huguenot cross, a symbol of French Protestants, is an eight-pointed cross with a dove.
  • In Spain, the eight-pointed cross is the symbol used by the military Medical Corps.
  • The football club AJ Auxerre, founded in 1905 by the priest Abbé Deschamps, has an eight-pointed cross as its emblem, adapted from that of the Catholic Association of French Youth.
  • In India, the eight-pointed cross is the symbol used by the Garhwal Rifles and Rajputana Rifles.
  • Det Norske Veritas uses the eight-pointed cross as symbol in the class notifications telling that the ship is constructed under their monitoring.
  • In the Philippines, the eight-pointed cross is part of the school seal of Colegio de San Juan de Letran. It was founded by Don Juan Alonso Jeronimo Guerrero, a retired Spanish officer and one of the Knights of Malta and Fray Diego de Santa Maria, O.P., a Dominican brother.
  • The eight-pointed cross is used by the Swedish Mounted Royal Guards as their emblem.
  • The eight-pointed cross is the trademark of the oldest Swiss watch manufacturer, Vacheron Constantin.
  • In the United Kingdom, the eight-pointed cross is the symbol used by rifle regiments, and has been incorporated into the badges of virtually all rifle units, including the cap badge of the Bermuda Regiment, officers' cross belt of the Gurkha Rifles[10] and now amalgamated, the Royal Green Jackets.
  • The first postmark employed for the cancellation of the then new British postage stamps in the 1840s was the shape of an eight-pointed cross and named accordingly.
  • The eight-pointed cross appears on the shirts of St Mark's FC (West Gorton), the forebears of Manchester City Football Club.
  • The eight-pointed cross is the insignia of Methodist College Belfast, and it appears on the blazers of the sixth-form pupils as its crest.
  • The eight-pointed cross is also the symbol of Neath Rugby Football Club.
  • It is the symbol of the Royal Shrewsbury School Boat Club, displayed on the oars and uniform of the 1st VIII.
  • It is a symbol used by the ATOC on rail tickets which allow travel on the London Underground between London Rail Terminals (e.g., between Euston and Victoria), when passengers are travelling via London. Alternatively, where the destination of the ticket is a London Travelcard Zone, the inclusion of the cross allows a passenger to undertake one single or return journey to any station within that zone from the London Terminal station at which they arrived.
  • The eight-pointed cross with eagle, globe, and anchor in the center is used for the sharpshooter badge in the United States Marine Corps.
  • Malta Boat Club, a sculling club on Philadelphia's Boat House Row, uses the eight-pointed cross as its logo.
  • Phi Kappa Sigma, an international all-male college secret and social fraternity, uses an eight-pointed cross as its symbol.
  • The Yale University School of Nursing uses the eight-pointed cross on its official shield.
  • The Crossmen from San Antonio, Texas use the eight-pointed cross as their logo.
  • The VFW, a military veteran's organization, uses the eight-pointed cross in its official emblem.
  • In US York Rite Freemasonry, the Knights Templar (Freemasonry) use the eight-pointed cross in the Order of the Knights of Malta.
  • The Military Division of the Kappa Alpha Order, composed of members serving in or honorably discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces, uses an eight-pointed cross in the colors of The Order.


The "Maltese cross flower" (Lychnis chalcedonica) is so named because its petals are similarly shaped, though its points are more rounded into "heart"-like shapes. The flower Tripterocalyx crux-maltae was also named for the Maltese cross.[11] The Geneva drive, a device that translates a continuous rotation into an intermittent rotary motion, is also sometimes called a "Maltese cross mechanism" after the shape of its main gear.

Similar crosses

Eight-pointed crosses have been adapted for use in the cross of Saint Lazarus and as part of the flag of Wallis and Futuna. It has been the official badge (combined with an ellipsoid in the center) of the Delta Phi Fraternity since 1833. A similar cross is also used by the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization.

A variant of the Maltese cross, with three V-shaped arms instead of four, was used as the funnel symbol of the Hamburg Atlantic Line and their successors German Atlantic Line and Hanseatic Tours in 1958–1973 and 1991–1997.

A five-armed variant is the "Cross" of the French Legion of Honour (Croix de la Légion d'honneur).

A seven-armed variant, known as the "Maltese asterisk", is used as the basis of Britain's Order of St Michael and St George.

Other crosses with spreading limbs are often mistakenly called "Maltese", especially the cross pattée. The royal warrant which created the Victoria Cross prescribed a Maltese cross, but the medal has always in fact been a cross pattée. The official symbol of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity is the cross pattée, though the organization's founder thought it was a Maltese cross when the organization was formed in 1865. The Nestorian cross also is very similar to both of these.

The cross of Saint Florian, patron saint of firefighters, is often confused with the Maltese cross (for example, the New York City Fire Department so calls it);[12] although it may have eight or more points, it also has large curved arcs between the points. The Philadelphia Fire Department, among others, incorporates the St Florian cross into its insignia, as does the International Association of Fire Fighters.

The Maltese cross should not be mistaken for the George Cross, awarded to Malta by George VI of the United Kingdom in 1942, which is depicted, since 1964, on the national flag of Malta. The Maltese cross is depicted on the civil ensign of Malta, shown above.


Unicode defines a character named "Maltese cross" in the Dingbats range at code point U+2720 (); however, the code point is usually rendered as a cross pattée.

See also


  1. "The gold tari also had two faces. The capite often had a globe or the Doge's initials, whilst some people claim that the cruce represented an eight-pointed cross, today one of the principle emblems of the city. The Amalfitan Tari circulated throughout the Mediterranean and was for centuries Amalfi's official monetary unit." (
  2. Statutes of 1489 (Stabilimenta Rhodiorum militum)
  3. History of the Maltese Cross as used by the order of St. John of Jerusalem Accessed: 6/16/2012
  4. National Euro Changeover Committee - Euro Maltese Coins Archived March 10, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  5. 1 2 "The Maltese Cross and its significance", History. Accessed 17 July 2013.
  6. "The St. John Cross" (PDF). St. John Ambulance Service. Retrieved 2010-07-18.
  7. 1 2 Cassar Pullicino, Joseph (October–December 1949). "The Order of St. John in Maltese folk-memory" (PDF). Scientia. 15 (4): 167. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 April 2016.
  8. "Safe Heliports Through Design and Planning" (PDF). February 1994. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 29, 2017. Retrieved June 26, 2018.
  9. "The Quezon Service Cross". Archived from the original on 31 October 2013. Retrieved 28 January 2013.
  10. Royal Gurkha Rifles build on Coldstream Guards' success in southern Helmand Accessed: 6/16/2012
  11. CalFlora Botanical Names: T. crux-maltae
  12. History and Heritage / Origin of The Maltese Cross Archived 2011-06-04 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed 17 July 2013.
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