The Maltese Cross I thought I knew

disclaimer – There’s a bunch of history in here. I think it’s interesting. You might not… I know nothing, but stumbled across this and thought I’d share. 

Every firefighter knows the Maltese Cross… it looks like this:

maltese_iron_cross_009   or like this…126px-FlorianCross_2.svg


What if I told you that this isn’t exactly a Maltese cross?

The cross emblem that we all know is not actually a Maltese cross.

This is a Maltese cross (or a St. John’s Cross): 220px-Maltese_cross.svg_

The cross that we associate with the fire service is actually called a “Florian Cross“, or “The Cross of St. Florian”.  The Florian Cross is based on a form of the Maltese cross (St. John’s Cross)  (and influenced by the Occitan Cross). Saint Florian is the patron saint of firefighters.415px-Francesco_del_Cossa_014

I wanted to to a little research into the cross, as I’ve promised myself that when I finish my probationary year I’m going to get 3 tattoos: One for my department, the nerd on fire logo, and the “Maltese Cross”.

Warning: History follows

Saint Florian was born around 250 AD in a Roman city which is today part of Austria. he was a commander in the Roman army. He was responsible for organizing firefighting brigades. He is said to have once prevented a town from burning by praying and throwing a single bucket of water into the flames.

During a time of persecution for Christians, he was not enforcing the proscriptions against Christians.

The Emperor sent an assistant named Aquilius to the area controlled by Florian to kill all the Christians in the area, and to find out why Florian was not following orders. When he finally met up with Florian, he asked him why he refused to persecute the Christians to which Florian replied, “Tell the Emperor that I am a Christian and will suffer the same fate as the Christians.” Aquilius then offered him a raise and promotion if he would change his mind. Florian refused. Aquilius was outraged and had his soldiers beat him with whips, yet Florian stood steadfast. He told Aquilius that he had suffered many wounds for the Emperor – why not a few scratches for his own beliefs? His courage scared Aquilius who feared that Florian would lead others to rebel.

When he was ordered to sacrifice to the Roman gods, he refused and was sentenced to be burned at the stake. Standing on the pyre he encouraged them to light the fire, saying “If you do, I will climb to heaven on the flames.” So instead of burning him, they drowned him in the river with a millstone tied around his neck.

Saint Florian was adopted as patron saint of Poland after Pope Lucius III consented to the request of King Casimir to send relics of Florian to that country. Soon after, a person was saved from a fire by invoking Saint Florian’s name. Since then, Florian has been invoked against fire and has generally been regarded in most countries as the patron saint of the fire service. St. Florian is often depicted carrying a flag with a cross, and a bucket of water.

The Saint Florian’s cross is made of four V-shaped arms, giving it eight points. The eight points on the cross have various meanings. However, the most widely accepted principles reflect The Eight Beatitudes as written in Mathew 5:3-10 and is a form of the Maltese Cross.

For the fire service, the eight points on St. Florian’s Cross represent the eight different virtues of Knighthood:

  • Tact and discretion
  • Loyalty and commitment
  • Dexterity and mental adroitness
  • Observation, attentiveness and perceptiveness
  • Sympathy, compassion and sharing
  • Explicitness and thoroughness
  • Gallantry, and
  • Perseverance

With all of that being said: Everyone knows and recognizes this as The Maltese cross, so that’s what I’m going to keep calling it. History is interesting though!





2 thoughts on “The Maltese Cross I thought I knew”

  1. Hi. Thanks for your post.

    What are the pieces of equipment identified on the cross. I can easily recognize the helmet, ladder, and ax. But the other 2, the stick with a “hook” and is the other a horn or nozzle?

    And are there specific dimensions to the cross? Is that what that little video is trying to demonstrate?

    I’m trying to do something in memory of my father but I don’t know what I am trying to draw.

    1. The stick with a hook is called a Pike pole. We use it for pulling down ceilings or moving materials around. The other is called a play pipes. It’s an early type of hose nozzle.

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