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jewelry glossary

Antique jewelry glossary

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Maltese cross

A type of cross having four equal arms that widen as they extend from a central focal point and have the arm ends indented, resulting in its having 8 points. It was named after the white cross worn as an emblem on the black robes of the Knights Hospitallers, a military and religious order that grew from the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, established in the 11th century to care for pilgrims to the Holy land and that became powerful and wealthy, with headquarters in Malta, and that still survives in Catholic Europe.

The cross was a popular motif in England in the mid-19th century, brooches and pendants being made in its shape and ornamented lavishly with diamonds, often in pavé setting. Sometimes called the 'Cross of St John'.

From: An Illustrated Dictionary of Jewelry, autor: Harold Newman, publishers: Thames and Hudson

The Maltese cross:
Symbol of the Knights of Malta and Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem.

Four spear heads converge at the center, the extensions represent the beatitudes. The insignia of the fire service is the Cross Pattee-Nowy, otherwise known as the Maltese Cross.

This cross represents the fire service ideals of saving lives and extinguishing fires. The fire service borrows the cross from the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, a charitable, nonmilitary organization that existed during the 11th and 12th centuries. A white or silver cross on a dark background was adopted by these Knights of Hospitallers, as they were also known, because of their charity toward the sick and poor in setting up hospices and hospitals.

Later they assisted the Knights of the crusades through their goodwill and also through military assistance in an effort to win back the Holy Land. The Knights of St. John eventually moved to the Island of Malta, The island for which the Maltese Cross was named.

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. They chose the Cross of Calvary as their symbol since they fought their battles for a holy cause. The cross was later called the "Maltese Cross" and represented the principles of charity, loyalty, chivalry, gallantry, generosities to friend and foe, protection of the weak, and dexterity in service.

During the Crusades, many knights became firefighters out of necessity. Their enemies had resorted to throwing glass bombs containing naphtha and sailing their vessels of war containing naphtha, rosin, sulfur, and flaming oil into the vessels of the knights. Many knights were called to do heroic deeds by rescuing fellow knights , and extinguishing fires.

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