Maltese cross

For other uses, see Maltese cross (disambiguation).
Amalfi cross.
Cross of the Order of St. John.
Cross of the Order of Saint Lazarus, founded in circa 1119.
Tilted Maltese cross of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus, founded in 1572 as an amalgamation and successor of the Order of Saint Lazarus with the Order of Saint Maurice, founded in 1434.
Cross of the Order of Saint Stephen, founded in 1561.

The Maltese cross is the cross symbol associated with the Order of St. John since 1567, with the traditional 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 6th century. The association with 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, there is no historically known and accepted visual evidence that the 8-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 8-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 8-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 8-points do not signify that the shape required was that of the four-arrowhead form of 1567, or anything near it, as there are many variants of an 8-point cross.

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 Copper 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]


Maltese cross in St. John's Co-Cathedral, Valletta, Malta

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 England (with Scotland and Ireland).[5]

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

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]

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. In past centuries, numerous other orders have adopted the eight-pointed cross as part of their insignia (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.

There were 25 emblem designs 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 anti-semitic. In the United States today, there are still some helipads that remain bearing their original Maltese Cross emblem.

The eight-pointed cross is also used to identify the final approach fix in a non-precision 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.


Civil ensign of Malta

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

Military and civil orders

The Pour le Mérite

Regional and municipal heraldry

Naval Jack of Italy

Logos and emblems

The Badge of the British Army's Bermuda Regiment combines the eight-pointed Cross of rifle regiments with elements from that of the Royal Artillery.
Coat of arms of Saint John, Jersey.


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.[9] 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

Standard form of the cross pattée
IAFF logo, on St. Florian cross

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 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);[10] 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 codepoint U+2720 (); however, the codepoint 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. "The Quezon Service Cross". Retrieved 28 January 2013.
  8. Royal Gurkha Rifles build on Coldstream Guards’ success in southern Helmand Accessed: 6/16/2012
  9. CalFlora Botanical Names: T. crux-maltae
  10. History and Heritage / Origin of The Maltese Cross Accessed 17 July 2013.

External links

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