The Maltese cross is a starlike symbol formed by four "V"-shapes with their tips joined together. It is symmetrical both vertically and horizontally, giving it an overall similar shape to the Greek cross. Maltese crosses are usually black and white or red and white.
The Maltese cross has its roots in Crusader crosses and was originally the symbol of the Republic of Amalfi (Italy) in the 11th century.
It was adopted by the Knights Hospitallers of St. John in 1126, who ruled the Maltese islands from 1530 to 1798 and became known as the Knights of Malta.
The eight points of the Maltese cross symbolize several different but related concepts, including the eight Beatitudes (blessings spoken by Jesus).
In the Middle Ages it also symbolized the eight obligations of the Knights of Malta to:
- Live in truth
- Have faith
- repent one’s sins
- give proof of humility
- love justice
- be merciful
- be sincere and wholehearted
- endure persecution
The Maltese Cross also represents the eight medieval nations whose noblemen were members of the Order of St. John:
- Castille and Portugal
- Baviere (Germany)
- England (with Scotland and Ireland)
Today, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta is an active international organization that provides humanitarian aid, including first-aid ambulance services. Its symbol is the Maltese cross, reminding its members that they are expected to be:
Outside of the Malta, the Maltese cross is also the basis for the Badge of the Firefighter, representing the same qualities as above.