Grand Master Pierre d'Aubusson with senior knights, wearing the "Rhodian cross" on their habits. Dedicatory miniature in Gestorum Rhodie obsidionis commentarii (account of the Siege of Rhodes of 1480), BNF Lat 6067 fol. 3v, dated 1483/4.
The Knights Hospitaller during the Crusades used a plain Latin cross.
Occasional use of the modern form straight-edged "eight-pointed cross" by the order begins in the early 16th century.
This early form is a cross moline (ancrée) or cross branchée ending in eight points, not yet featuring the sharp vertex of the modern design.
The association of the eight-pointed cross 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.
Eight-pointed crosses appear on coins minted by the Grand Masters of the order, first shown as a bolsini-type cross embroidered on the left arm of the robe of the kneeling Grand Master on the obverse of a coin minted under Foulques de Villaret (r. 1305–1319)
In 1489, the statutes of the order require all knights of Malta to wear "the white cross with eight points".
Emergence of the sharp vertex of the modern "four-arrowhead" design is gradual, and takes place during the 15th to 16th century. The "Rhodian cross" of the early 16th century had almost, but not quite, achieved the "sharp arrowhead appearance".
The fully modern design is found on a copper coin dated 1567, minted by Grand Master Jean Parisot de Valette (r. 1557–1568).
In 1577, Alonso Sanchez Coello painted Archduke Wenceslaus of Austria as Grand Prior of the Order of Malta wearing the emblem on his robes.
The design appears again on coins minted in the late 17th to 18th centuries. It is shown on a copper coin dated 1693, minted under Grand Master Adrien de Wignacourt.
From the end of the 17th century, it is also occasionally displayed as alternative heraldic emblem of the order.
Its depiction on the facade of San Giovannino dei Cavalieri dates to 1699.
Early form of the eight-pointed cross (cross fourchée), seal of the provost of St John's church, Stockholm, dated 1526.
The eight points of the eight-pointed cross have been given a number of symbolic interpretations,
such as representing the eight Langues of the Knights Hospitaller (Auvergne, Provence, France, Aragon, Castille and Portugal, Italy, Germany, and the British Isles).[unreliable source?]
or alternatively the "eight obligations or aspirations" of the knights.[unreliable source?]
Australian Military awards, the Distinguished Service Cross and Conspicuous Service Cross are modified versions of the Maltese Cross. The Distinguished Service Cross was introduced in 1991 and is awarded for distinguished command and leadership in warlike operations. The Conspicuous Service Cross (CSC) is awarded only for outstanding devotion to duty, or outstanding achievement in the application of exceptional skills, judgement or dedication, in non-warlike situations.
The Pour le Mérite, Imperial Germany's highest award for military valor, was a blue-enameled, eight-pointed cross with golden eagles between the arms. It was founded in 1740 by the francophile Prussian King Frederick the Great, and was adorned with the French legend Pour le Mérite ("For merit") in gold. Awards of the military class ceased with the dissolution of the Hohenzollern monarchy at the end of World War I in November 1918.
The eight-pointed cross appears on the coat of arms of Saint John, one of the parishes of Jersey.
In 1967, laboratory tests, and flight tests at Fort Rucker and Fort Wolters, were conducted 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. 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 vessel classification society for the United States, the American Bureau of Shipping, will assign the Maltese cross symbol to vessels and offshore units for which the hull construction and/or the manufacture of its machinery and components and any associated required testing, as applicable, is carried out under ABS survey.
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:
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 María, O.P., a Dominican brother.
The eight-pointed cross is used by the Swedish Mounted Royal Guards as their emblem.
On the National Rail network, tickets marked with a Maltese cross are valid for travel on London Underground, Docklands Light Railway and Thameslink between two London Terminals, allowing passengers to make journeys that cross London. Passengers can break their journey at any intermediate station but cannot then resume their journey by Tube, DLR or Thameslink using their cross-London ticket.
Passengers holding tickets to a London fare zone marked with a Maltese cross can make one journey from the London Terminal at which they arrived to the zone in question.
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.
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.
Firefighter's Cross, often mistaken for a Maltese cross
Eight-pointed crosses were adopted for use by the French Order of Saint Lazarus in the mid-16th century. The use of the green eight-pointed cross by the Order was retained right through to the 19th century and after the secular organization of the Order after 1910.
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).
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 Unicode Character “✠” (U+2720) is called a Maltese Cross, but is in fact a cross pattée.
^"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." (orderstjohn.org[unreliable source?])
"The cross afterwards termed Maltese, is embroidered on his left arm."
Robert Morris, Coins of the grand masters of the Order of Malta : or Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem (1884),
^[ Accessed: 6/16/2012
Robert Morris, Coins of the grand masters of the Order of Malta : or Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem (1884), p. 25f., plate III.
See also: Michael Foster, History of the Maltese Cross as used by the order of St. John of Jerusalem, 2004 (orderstjohn.org)] "The arms Rhodian had almost, but not quite, achieved the straight lined sharp arrowhead appearance, noted from the mid 16th century onwards."