The Maltese Cross

60732-revThe Maltese Cross is a near universal symbol among American Fire departments. Its use is derived from symbolism originating from the Crusades, and from Christian battles with the Saracens. The cross itself is attributed first as the insignia of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, one of the oldest orders of warrior monks who took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

In addition to providing military protection for pilgrims, they were Hospitallers, maintaining hospitals and providing medical care for inhabitants in Jerusalem and elsewhere. After the fall of Jerusalem, the Knights of St. John eventually moved to the island of Malta, from where the name of the cross is derived. The importance of the symbol for firefighting also rests in the era of crusades.

maltese cross geometryIn a number of important battles, the Saracens effectively employed a military weapon that had, in battles centuries before, been used against their fleet of ships with devastating effect by the Greeks, and called Greek Fire. Believed to be a naptha-based mix of liquids, this highly flammable mixture could spontaneously ignite the pots of this substance on impact when hurled. Arrows were also coated with it. Water was of no use against the flames. Fighting this weapon proved difficult and cost many lives as the order searched for materials that could help extinguish those deadly flames.
The cross itself is an irregular dodecahedron cross, shaped like a plus sign, but whose points flange out at the end. The conventional proportions as computed on a 5 by 5 grid as illustrated. Legend has it that each of the 8 resulting points represent 8 characteristics of chivalry:

  1. Perserverance
  2. Loyalty
  3. Dexterity
  4. Explicitness
  5. Observation
  6. Tact
  7. Sympathy
  8. Gallantry

The Maltese Cross is the most frequently found emblem representing the fire departments of America and elsewhere, and is also the most frequently found emblem on a Firehouse coin. It is so popular that Northwest Territorial Mint has a stock die with it that can be used with no die fee.