Maltese Cross Meaning, Folklore and Symbolism

The Maltese cross is a star symbol, entailing 4 “V” shaped arrowheads uniting at a central apex at right angles, with the 2 tips directing outward. The Greek cross symbol is usually white and black or white and red in combination.

What is a Maltase Cross?

The maltose cross is originated from the traditional heraldic cross variant which consisted of 8 different pointed crosses, late back in the 16th century.

The concept of 8 pointed crosses if often interpreted in different ways but one of the prominent ones is the eight Beatitudes concept which was the blessings spoken by Jesus himself.

However, the roots of the cross go back to the 11th century where it was originally used as the symbol the Republic of Amalfi, Italy.

Early form of the eight-pointed cross
Early form of the eight-pointed cross

In the year 1126, the cross was adopted by the Knights Hospitaller under the orders of St. John that is presently the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

The Knights Hospitaller ruled the island of Malta from the year 1500 to 1800 and was popularly known as the Knight of Malta Island.

Therefore, with the ancestry in Malta, it has come a huge way head to be used as a symbol in the modern age as well.

The character named the Maltese cross has been well defined by the Unicode in the Dingbats range at code point U+2720 (✠). But usually, the code is often referred to as a cross pattée.

Symbolic Significance of the Maltese Cross [Symbolism]

The significance of the Maltese Cross has changed several different times throughout several eras and therefore is often interpreted in different ways.

Interpretation 1: The 8 obligations of the Knights of Malta

The Maltese cross in the middle age used to represent the 8 different obligations of the Knights of Malta which are listed below;

  1. Bear oppression.
  2. Be compassionate.
  3. Be honest and whole­hearted.
  4. Love integrity and justice.
  5. Give proof of humbleness.
  6. Apologize one’s evils.
  7. Be faithful.
  8. Be truthful.
Maltese civil ensign and Cross of the Order of Saint Stephen, founded in 1561.
Maltese civil ensign and Cross of the Order of Saint Stephen, founded in 1561.

Interpretation 2: The 8 Medieval Nations

The 8 Medieval nations whose aristocrat were the members of the Order of St. John that is presently the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

  1. France
  2. Provence
  3. Castile and Portugal
  4. Germany
  5. England with Scotland and Ireland
  6. Italy
  7. Auvergne
  8. Aragon

Traditionally known as the Order of St. John that is presently the Sovereign Military Order of Malta is well recognized the whole world for its charitable services like those in the medical and service fields such as facilitating ambulance amenities.

Tilted Maltese cross of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus and Pour le Mérite.
Tilted Maltese cross of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus and Pour le Mérite.

Interpretation 3: State emblem of Queensland

The 8 pointed Maltese cross has been well recognized in countries like Australia as well.

It has officially been declared as the part of the state emblem of Queensland.

In the modern world, the Maltese cross symbols remind all the fellow team members that the following is always expected from them;

  1. Vigilant
  2. Thoughtful
  3. Ingenious
  4. Expert
  5. Clear
  6. Selective
  7. Tenacious
  8. Compassionate

The Maltese Cross Firefighter badge that is very popular outside Malta that is again the manifestation of all the 8 qualities listed above.

Flag of the city of Amalfi and Naval Jack of Italy.
Flag of the city of Amalfi and Naval Jack of Italy.

History and Importance to Malta

Before the 14th century, the Knights Hospitaller used plain Latin crosses with very few usages of the Maltese cross, which began popular after the era.

The cross is often related to the coastal town Amalfi, Italy as there were several proofs found.

The coins minted at Amalfi at that time had symbols of an 8 pointed cross which is known popularly called as the Maltese Cross.

During the late 14th century the statutes of the Oder necessitate all knights of Malta to attire “the white cross with eight points”.

The modern cross has a 4 arrowhead shape and has been developed gradually over some time, especially after the 16th century.

The badge of the British Army's Bermuda Regiment and Coat of arms of Saint John, Jersey
The badge of the British Army’s Bermuda Regiment and Coat of arms of Saint John, Jersey

Several copper coins that were cast during the 16th century under Grand Master Adrien de Wignacourt depicted the appearance of the cross.

The Republic of Malta displays Maltese cross as a share of the Maltese civil flag and the Maltese naval knave.

Every corner of the presidential customary has a Maltese cross.

The national airline of the Republic of Malta i.e. Air Malta has registered a trademark of the same.

The Maltese lira has a symbolic representation of Maltese cross on all the on the two-mils coin.

However, later in the year 2008, the 1 euro and 2 euro coins also had the Maltese cross on the back of it.

Public Orders and Military

If you are from Australia, then the 2 highest decorations are listed below;

  • The Australian Decoration for Art and Science
  • The Australian Decoration for Services

As a point of interest, both the Australian decorations have the Maltese cross (8-pointed) as their base.

In case you belong to Belgium then you must be aware that Belgium’s royal order of merit has 2 positions i.e.

  • The Belgium Order of Leopold
  • The Belgium Order of Leopold II

In the kingdom of Bulgaria, Pour le Mérite, is the highest military decoration for bravery and courage. This one of the most respected Bulgarian order.

The 8 pointed Maltese cross is also very prominent in the coats of the former duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and the former Mecklenburg-Strelitz district.

The 3 highest orders of the royal merit in the Netherlands are listed below;

  • The Orders of the Netherlands Lion
  • The Orders of the Orange-Nassau
  • The Orders of the Gold Lion of the House of Nassau

If you belong to Norway, then under the Order of St. Olav the 8 pointed cross is the symbol that is being used.

Cross of the Order of St. John
Cross of the Order of St. John

In case you belong to the Philippines then the 3 top orders of decoration are listed below;

  • The pendant of the Quezon Service Cross.
  • The Philippines Order of Sikatuna.
  • The Philippines Order of the Golden Heart.

The 4 highest orders of merit in Poland are listed below and all of them form the basis of the 8-pointed Maltese cross i.e.

  • The Poland Order of the Military Cross.
  • The Poland Order of the White Eagle.
  • The Poland Order of the Virtuti Militari.
  • The Poland Order of Polonia Restituta

The Maltese cross also acts as the basis of merit in countries like Portugal and Spain. The basis of merit for Spain are listed below that has the 8 pointed crosses as a part and parcel of it;

  • The Spanish Order of Queen Maria Luisa.
  • The Spanish Order of Isabella the Catholic.
  • The Spanish Order of Charles III.
  • The Spanish Order of Montesa.

All the royal orders of merit have the 8 pointed Maltese cross as the basis and these are listed below;

  • The Royal Order of the Seraphim.
  • The Royal Order of the Polar Star
  • The Royal Order of Saint John in Sweden.
  • The Royal Order of Vasa.
  • The Royal Order of the Sword.

The order of the Bath and the Royal Victorian order both have the basis of design as the 8 pointed crosses.

The elite military group of France that supported Louis XIII and Louis XIV uses the Maltese cross as the symbol and it is a high-class order to celebrate the values and teachings of the original Musketeers of Armagnac.

Health and Medical Association with the Maltese Cross

A list of orders has been derived from the ambulance and 1st aid services set up by the Order of St John, that have incorporated the Maltese cross symbol in it.

Below is the list of all the organizations and their respective places in detail;

  1. The Order of Malta Ireland – Ambulance Corps was established in the year 1938 in Ireland in association with the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, as a volunteer ambulance service in the country.
  2. The ambulance services of the Johanniter-Unfall-Hilfe and the Malteser Hilfsdienst in Germany have the Maltese cross symbol in their ambulances.
  3. The St John Ambulance and its other affiliated organizations teach and enable medical services such as ambulance and 1st aid facilities via various volunteers.
  4. In association with the St John Ambulance, the various emergency medical services in Australia have Maltese cross as its symbol on various portfolios.
  5. The Cross Fire Brigade of Malta i.e. the Bombeiros da Cruz de Malta is a fire emergency corporation that provides volunteer fire and health safety services in various parts of the world like Lisbon, Portugal etc.

District and Metropolitan Heraldry of Maltese Symbol

In Italy, the naval force has the national coat of arms of 4 of the previous maritime republics with the Maltese’s Cross for Amalfi.

Apart from the Amalfi city, the cross symbol is displayed in various other towns as well like;

  1. The Province of Salerno.
  2. San Mauro la Bruce.
  3. Aicurzio.
  4. Gizzeria.
  5. San Giovanni di Gerace.
  6. Fasano.
  7. Murello.
  8. Rodì Milici
  9. Ronchi’s.
  10.  Blufi
  11.  Rolo

Apart from this, various French communities use the Maltese 8 pointed cross on various coats of arms. Some of the prominent ones are listed below for your reference;

  1. Vinon-Sur-Verdon in Provence
  2. Rontalon in Aquitaine
  3. Valcanville in Normandy
  4. Auton
  5. Saint-Jean-de-Bassel in Lorraine
  6. Rimbachzell in Alsace
  7. Drucourt
  8. Eysines
  9. Chappes in Auvergne
  10.  Arvieu in Aveyron

When it comes to Portugal that has some history with the 8 pointed cross and the Knights Hospitaller, their coats of arms have also embedded the Maltese cross symbol on it. Some of them are listed below;

  1. Crato
  2. Oliveira do Hospital
  3. Proença-a-Nova
  4. Gavião

In Croatia, named after the Knights of Saint John, the cross symbol is on the coats of the arms of the town Ivanec.

Apart from various Czech towns and villages, the 14th Prague district also has the embedment of the 8 pointed crosses on its coats of arms.

When it comes to the Queensland the badge, the flag and the coats of arms have included the cross in one way or the another like;

  1. Queensland ambulance and police services.
  2. Commonwealth Coat of Arms.
  3. Queen’s Personal Flag
  4. University of Queensland
  5. The Queensland Ambulance Service.
  6. St John Ambulance Australia.
  7. Australian Capital Territory Ambulance Service

The Victoria countries fire authority uses the 8 pointed Maltese cross symbol as the official symbol as a Fire Service Star. This is also very much evident from the uniform hats and the outstanding service to the country badges and medals.

Ermelo and Montfoort, the 2 Dutch towns use the 8 pointed crosses as the symbol in flags, badges and coats of arms.

Below is the list of all the municipalities of Spain that uses the Maltese cross on their badges, flags and coats of arms;

  • Quiroga in Galicia
  • Alguaire and Amposta in Catalonia
  • Lora del Río in Andalusia
  • O Barco de Valdeorras
  • Castelo de Miño
  • O Incio
  • Larouco
  • O Páramo
  • A Pobra de Trives
  • Portomarín

The Swedish municipality along with the coat of arms of Bardonnex, in the Swiss Canton of Geneva, have used the eight-pointed cross in the badges and flags.

The 8 pointed cross is also visible in the below-mentioned places;

  1. London Borough of Hackney.
  2. Saint John, one of the communities of Jersey

Aeronautics and The 8 pointed Cross

In Alabama, near Fort Rucker, several flight tests were conducted in the year 1967.

The experiment aimed to determine the best possible way to mark a helipad.

More than 25 emblem designs were tried and tested but in the end, the 4 blurred rotor blades indicating a “Maltese Cross” was chosen as the standard marking pattern for all the military heliports.

This was accompanied by the FAA for civil heliports as well.  

Even in the 21st century, there are many airports in the United States, that hold the 8 pointed crosses as an emblem.

In case of a non-precision approach that usually lacks the vertical precision guidance, a Maltese Cross is used to quickly find the final precision approach fix.

This works opposite to the lightning bolt symbol that identifies the final fix in the precision approach. 

Additional Symbolic Interpretations of Maltese Symbol

A symbol of French Protestants, also known as the Huguenot cross is an 8 pointed Maltese cross with a dove.

However, the same 8 pointed crosses are used as a symbol for the Military Medical Corps.

Amended from the Catholic Association of French Youth, a football club that was founded in 1905 by the priest Abbé Deschamps, popularly known as the AJ Auxerre Club uses the Maltese cross as an emblem.

The two greatest battalions of the Indian army i.e. the Rajputana Rifles and the Garhwal Rifles uses the 8 pointed cross as in the flags and emblem.

A retired Spanish officer by the name of Don Juan Alonso Jeronimo Guerrero founded a school named Colegio de San Juan de Letran in the Philippines that uses the 8 pointed Maltese cross as a seal and symbol.

The royal guards of Sweden also use the 8 pointed cross in their flags and emblem. One of the oldest Swiss watch manufacturers i.e. Vacheron Constantin has registered a trademark over the 8 pointed cross.

A combination of the Royal Artillery and the British Rifle regiments 8 pointed cross forms the badge of the British Army’s Bermuda Regiment.

Various rifle regiments in the United Kingdom uses the 8 pointed cross as a symbol or badge or flags in various ranks like;

  1. The cap badge of the Bermuda Regiment.
  2. Officers’ cross belt of the Gurkha Rifles.
  3. The Royal Green Jackets

In the 1840s the 1st ever postmark that was put to action after the cancellation of the new British post stamps was none other than the 8 pointed cross and therefore was named as the Maltese cross.

The Maltese cross flower

The “Maltese cross flower” is the name given to a flower that represents the true Maltese cross especially the petal shapes of the flower.

Apart from this, a flower called the Tripterocalyx crux-maltae was also named after the 8 pointed cross because of the shape of the flower.

The Maltese Cross mechanism is the name given to the Geneva drive i.e. a tool that can translate a continuous rotation into an intermittent rotary motion as the main gear design is similar to the 8 pointed cross.

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For more than centuries, the Maltese cross has been the symbol of honour, wisdom and bravery. For many firefighters, this cross is the symbol of protection and it indicates that they are ready to sacrifice their lives for the safety of others.

Thus, the significance of the 8 pointed cross is immense in various countries and religions and that makes it very unique and popular worldwide.

People Also Ask (FAQs)

What is a Maltese cross and what does it mean?

The Maltese cross is a star symbol, entailing 4 “V” shaped arrowheads uniting at a central apex at right angles, with the 2 tips directing outward proportionally.

What does the Maltese cross stand for?

The 8 obligations of the Knights of Malta, the 8 Medieval Nations, State emblem of Queensland and the wisdom and bravery of firefighters are few of the many symbolic interpretations of the Maltese cross.

How to draw a Maltese cross?

Drawing Maltese Cross using T-square, Spacers, and Triangles is very easy. Just refer the images here and try to make it using the above tools in a step-wise manner.