The Maltese Cross is a symbol of protection…..a badge of honor for the first firefighters and paramedics; its story and tradition is hundreds of years old.
The fire service borrows the cross from the “Knights of Saint John the Baptist of Jerusalem,” a charitable, non-military organization that began their existence during the 11th and 12th centuries. They were the first firefighters and the first organized paramedics group.
The Knights of St. John the Baptist, of Jerusalem, now commonly known as the Knights of Malta, can trace their origin to a group of monks attached to a hospice built in the Holy Lands in Jerusalem to aid travelers visiting the Holy Land. The monks were known as the Freres Hospitaliers de St. Jean de Jerusalem or The Knights Hospitalers Saint John. Their mission: “to care for our lords sick and our lords poor.” In order to provide protection to pilgrims of the Holy Land, the Order also established military and naval services and served valiantly in many battles.
This courageous band of Crusaders assisted the Knights of the crusades and fought the Saracens for possession of the Holy Land. In this battle, they encountered a new weapon unknown to European warriors. It was a simple, but honorable device of war. It wrought excruciating pain and agonizing death upon the brave fighters for The Cross.
The Saracens’ weapon was fire.
As the Crusaders advanced on the walls of the Saracens’ city they were struck by glass bombs containing naphtha. When they became saturated with the highly inflammable liquid, the Saracens hurled a flaming tree into their midst.
Hundreds of Knights were burned alive. Others risked their lives to save their brothers-in-arms from dying painful fiery deaths. Thus, these men became the first firefighters; and the first of a long list of courageous fire-fighters and first aiders.
The need for an identifiable emblem for the Knights had become crucial. Because of the extensive armor which covered their bodies and faces, the Knights were unable to distinguish friend from foe in battle. In war the knightly brothers chose to wear the “Cross of Calvary” (Cross Pattee-Nowy) as their symbol or insignia since they fought their battles for a holy cause. This red surcoat with the white cross was worn above their armor. Since the Knights of John lived for close to four centuries on a little island in the Mediterranean Sea named Malta, the cross came to be known as the Maltese Cross.
The eight-pointed cross or star is a symbol used by the knights to denote the eight obligations or aspirations of the knights. Today the eight points represent the following:
- live in truth;
- have faith;
- repent of sins;
- give proof of humility;
- love justice;
- be merciful;
- be sincere and whole-hearted;
- endure persecution.
This cross represents the fire service ideals of saving lives and extinguishing fires. It also represents the unselfish “public service” dedication to man and environment. And the inherent qualities that fire departments and public safety personnel around the world hold such as; charity, loyalty, chivalry, honesty, integrity, honor, pride, gallantry, generosity, commitment, dedication, selflessness, discipline, protection, devotion, ethics, dignity, and dexterity.
The Maltese Cross is a firefighter’s badge of honor, signifying that he or she works in courage, pride and honor….. A ladder – rung away from death. The Maltese Cross is your 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 man so many years ago.
“For no greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for others.” John 15:13