History of the Maltese Cross

The modern symbol of today’s firefighters has come down through the ages to us from the Knights of the Crusades. The history of fighting fire, and the honor with which those warriors of long ago fought, is the basis for the code and emblem displayed by today's fire service.

During the 11th century, an order of monks dedicated to St. John the Baptist, was founded in Jerusalem. The monks, who called themselves the brothers of St. John, or Hospitalers, were a charitable, non-military organization that existed to help the sick and poor by setting up hospices and hospitals. They ministered to any Christian, Jewish, or Muslim visitor to the Holy Land.

As the wars began for control of the Holy Land, they assisted the Knights of the Crusades through their goodwill, and finally through military assistance, becoming the Knights of St. John. These knights were to become greatly respected and admired for their willingness to risk their own lives to aid others.

The enemy in this war was the Saracens who invented a new weapon to use on the field of battle, unfamiliar to European strategy. They threw glass bombs containing naphtha that broke and showered the Crusaders with flammable liquid. Then the Saracens lobbed trees that had been set afire down on the drenched warriors. Needless to say, the result was a terrible, fiery death filled with agony. The Saracens also used this tactic on water as they sailed their vessels containing naphtha, rosin, sulfur, and flaming oil into the vessels of the Crusaders.

The Knights of St. John soon became known for risking their lives to rescue their comrades and extinguish the fires. But there was a problem -- in the heat of battle, and completely encased in body and facial armor for protection, the warriors could not see well enough to distinguish friend from foe. To solve the problem, an identifying emblem, a stylized Cross of Calvary, was created for the warriors to wear over their armor. This mantle, worn as a red surcoat with a white cross, identified their allegiance and showed that they fought for a holy cause.

Later, when the order moved to the Island of Malta and became known as the Knights of Malta, they continued to use their symbol, which then became known as the Maltese Cross



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