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Monday, June 21, 2010

Maltese Cross

There is a lot of symbolism in the fire service. One of the most well known being the Maltese Cross.
In the early 11th century, in Jerusalem, the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta were formed. They were better known as the Knight Hospitaller or Knights of Saint John and would eventually become the Knights of Malta. They were charged with the care and defense of the Holy Land. The knights cared for pilgrims that came to the city and also gave them armed escort when needed.

Jerusalem fell to Islamic forces in the year 1187.  During battles with the Saracen's (a term commonly used to describe all Islamic people during the Crusades) forces the Knights of Saint John faced a new weapon, fire. The Saracen's would throw glass bombs containing naphtha. Naphtha is basically lighter fluid. The Islamic warriors would then light the battlefield on fire. Hundreds of knights were burned alive. The Knights that were spared this fate risked their own lives to try and rescue those that were burning. They became, in essence, firefighters- individuals that were willing to give up their own lives in the service of those in need.

Those that risked their lives in the face of fire were recognized by fellow crusaders and awarded a badge of honor - a cross similar to the one firefighter's wear today.
The Knights Hospitaller, over the next few centuries, were displaced several times. Eventually they would call the island of Malta home. They lived there from 1540 to 1799 when the island of Malta was taken over by Napoleon. Because of the amount of time they spent on Malta their symbol became known as the Maltese Cross.

The Maltese Cross is a symbol of protection. It means that the firefighter who wears this cross is willing to lay down his or her life for you just as the crusaders sacrificed their lives for their fellow men so many years ago. Over the years there have been different meanings given to the points of the cross. Here is one that is common to the fire service.


Jackie said...

Ironically the nursing pin has it's roots! with the Maltease Cross as well!

I find it interesting how many "helping" professions have similar roots!


Firefighter/Paramedic said...

I didn't know that. Thanks for sharing.

Cristina said...

This was all very fascinating, the geek in me loved the information. Thanks for posting!

brian said...

I didn't know this...Very cool.

Anonymous said...

The traditional maltese cross is in fact 4 perfect arrow heads meeting at their points. The images of knights depicted above do not have this cross on them.

The cross used by the fire department is actually closer to a Saint Florian Cross, the patron saint of firefighters.

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