Maltese Cross

by Shirley Sheridan

The eight-point Maltese Cross is the international symbol of the fire service's willingness to make great sacrifices in order to protect others from the ravages of fire. It is a badge of courage and honor and it story is hundreds of years old.

This honored symbol originated with a group of eleventh century knights who were serving in a Jerusalem hospital. They became known as the Order of Knights Hospitaller and later became the Knights of St. John. This charitable organization cared for the ill with great compassion.

Later, they assisted the Knights of the Crusades in their effort to win back the Holy Land. As the Knights of St. John and Knights of the Crusades attacked the city walls, the Saracens first threw glass bombs containing highly flammable liquids and then flaming torches. Many knights were severely burned, some suffering agonizing deaths. Risking horrible death, those knights who were able struggled desperately to help their burning comrades, beating out the flames and dragging them to safety. In acknowledgment of their heroic deeds of rescuing fellow knights and fighting fires, the cross they wore was decorated and inscribed.

In 1530, the Island of Malta was given to the courageous knights. The symbol on their flag, the eight-point cross, became known as the "Maltese Cross." The cross, which had originally helped the knights distinguish between friend and foe, became the ultimate symbol of heroism and service. The cross, which is considered sacred, represents the principles of charity, loyalty, chivalry, gallantry, generosity to friend and foe, protection of the weak and dexterity in service.

Today, firefighters wear the Maltese Cross to symbolize their willingness to risk their lives to save others from the ravages of fire. The Maltese Cross is also the symbol used by St John Ambulance across the world. This is an organization that developed out of the crusades, and has been known as the Nights of St John. In Australia, St John Ambulance is a First Aid organization involved in teaching and performing first aid. Most members are volunteers although in some states they still run the primary ambulance services.