Cross of the Order of Saint John
Cross of the Order of Saint Lazarus

The Maltese cross is a cross symbol, consisting of four "V" or arrowhead shaped concave quadrilaterals converging at a central vertex at right angles, two tips pointing outward symmetrically.

It is a heraldic cross variant which developed from earlier forms of eight-pointed crosses in the 16th century. Although chiefly associated with the Knights Hospitaller (Order of St. John, now the Sovereign Military Order of Malta), and by extension with the island of Malta, it has come to be used by a wide array of entities since the early modern period, notably the Order of Saint Stephen, the city of Amalfi, the Polish Order of the White Eagle (1709), the Prussian order Pour le Mérite (1740), and the Bavarian Military Merit Order (1866).

Unicode defines a character named "Maltese cross" in the Dingbats range at code point U+2720 (); however most computer fonts render the code point as a cross pattée.


Further information: Flag and coat of arms of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta

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.
Johann Loesel, grand prior of the langue of Germany, shown with the eight-pointed cross on a flag and his habit in his role as mediator in the Old Zürich War in February 1446 (illustration of Gerold Edlibach's chronicle, c. 1500)
Emblem of the Military Order of Malta on the façade of San Giovannino dei Cavalieri, Florence (1699).
Fresco on the ceiling of the main corridor in the Grandmaster's Palace in Valletta (Nicolau Nasoni 1724)

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.[1]

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)[2] In 1489, the statutes of the order require all knights of Malta to wear "the white cross with eight points".[3]

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).[4] 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.[5] 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.


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.[6] Numerous other modern orders of merit have used the eight-pointed cross.[6] The British colony of Queensland, Australia, adopted the Maltese cross as the state badge and on the flag in 1876 for reasons unknown, its use continuing through to statehood.[7]

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).[8][unreliable source?] or alternatively the "eight obligations or aspirations" of the knights.[8][unreliable source?]

Websites operated by both the German Order of Saint John (Johanniterorden) and the British Venerable Order of St John associate the eight points with the Eight Beatitudes.[citation needed][year needed] An undated leaflet published by The Venerable Order's main service organisation, St John Ambulance, has also applied secular meanings to the points as representing the traits of a good first aider.[9][year needed]

Modern use

Republic of Malta

Maltese civil ensign

The Maltese cross is displayed as part of the Maltese civil ensign, the Maltese naval jack and presidential standard has a Maltese cross in each corner. 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.

The Maltese cross was depicted on the two-mils coin in of the Maltese lira in 1972, and on the reverse of one- and two-Euro coins introduced in January 2008.[10]

Military and civil orders

Cross of the Order of Saint Stephen, founded in 1561
Tilted Maltese cross of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus,[citation needed] founded in 1572 as an amalgamation and successor of the Order of Saint Lazarus with the Order of Saint Maurice, founded in 1434.
Pour le Mérite

Regional and municipal heraldry

Flag of the city of Amalfi.
Naval Jack of Italy


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.[12]

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.[13] 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 on FAA published approach plates. This is used on both precision and non-precision approaches.


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.[14]


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:


USVA headstone emblem 64
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

UK railway ticketing

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.[17] 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

Main article: Heraldic cross

Standard form of the cross pattée
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.[18]

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 Unicode Character “✠” (U+2720) is called a Maltese Cross, but is in fact a cross pattée.

The Firefighter's Cross is often confused with the Maltese cross (for example, the New York City Fire Department so calls it);[19] 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 Firefighter's Cross into its insignia, as does the International Association of Fire Fighters.[20]

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.

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." ([unreliable source?])
  2. ^ "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), p. 12
  3. ^ Statutes of 1489 (Stabilimenta Rhodiorum militum), ed. Jyri Hasecker, V&R Unipress (2007).
  4. ^ [ 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 (] "The arms Rhodian had almost, but not quite, achieved the straight lined sharp arrowhead appearance, noted from the mid 16th century onwards."
  5. ^ p. 38, plate IV, fig 10.
  6. ^ a b 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.
  7. ^ JOL Admin (2 December 2011). "Why is the Maltese Cross included in Queensland's Badge and Coat of Arms?". State Library of Queensland. Retrieved 27 August 2020.
  8. ^ a b "The Maltese Cross and its significance", History. Accessed 17 July 2013.
  9. ^ "The St. John Cross" (PDF). St. John Ambulance Service. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-03-14. Retrieved 2010-07-18.
  10. ^ National Euro Changeover Committee - Euro Maltese Coins Archived March 10, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ "The Quezon Service Cross". Archived from the original on 31 October 2013. Retrieved 28 January 2013.
  12. ^ "Development Study for a Helipad Standard Marking Pattern". September 1967. Retrieved Sep 27, 2022.
  13. ^ "Safe Heliports Through Design and Planning" (PDF). February 1994. Archived (PDF) from the original on April 29, 2017. Retrieved June 26, 2018.
  14. ^ Lloyd's Register (2022). Lloyd's Register (PDF) (Report). Lloyd's Register. p. 3. Retrieved 13 April 2020.
  15. ^ Catherine Swift, Ogam stones and the earliest Irish Christians, pages 73-75
  16. ^ Royal Gurkha Rifles build on Coldstream Guards' success in southern Helmand Accessed: 6/16/2012
  17. ^ CalFlora Botanical Names: T. crux-maltae
  18. ^ C. Savona-Ventura. The Apparel and uniform of the Order of Saint Lazarus throughout the ages. Lulu, U.S.A., 2020, p. 47-64
  19. ^ History and Heritage / Origin of The Maltese Cross Archived 2011-06-04 at the Wayback Machine Accessed 17 July 2013.
  20. ^ "The Myth of the "Maltese" Cross in the American Fire Service". 9 August 2020.