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St. John's Cross

known also as the Maltese Cross, Pattée Cross and several other names

St. John's Cross, known also as the Amalfi, Maltese, Regeneration, Fishtail, Honour, Knights, Campaign and Iron Cross. In heraldry it is called Pattée or Formy Cross. Several other names are given to crosses of this shape.



Pattée Cross / St. John's / Maltese Cross

Pattee

Passion Cross
Sterling silver Passion Cross, which is slightly Pattée and rebated with a budded cross
(Click photo to enlarge)

The Cross Pattée (Patty) or Cross Formée (Formy) is the heraldic name of a common cross style, especially in 'medieval' art. The term 'pattée' simply means the cross has splayed arm ends. The arms may be straight or concave but in essence, they are narrow at the centre, and broader at the perimeter. The name 'pattée' comes from the French for 'paw'.

There are several variations of the design. When the arms meet at a point in the centre, they produce a cross comprised of four triangles; the triangle represents an arrow in heraldry, or the Holy Trinity in a Christian context.

Pattee

The arms also resemble the vanes of a windmill. Bread is a staple food for life and an early manufacturing process of bread traditionally includes the rotating sails of a windmill. This rotation can symbolise the spiritual regeneration brought about by the Crucifixion of Jesus on the cross.

A further interpretation is that the arms represent rays of light. See the Glory Cross.

The Pattée Cross may be styled with straight or curved arms, straight or curved edges, concave or convex.

St. John's (triangles)
Triangular

St. John's (blunt)
Wedge

St. John's (curved)
Concave arms, convex ends

St. John's (curved)
Concave arms, straight ends

St. John's (curved)
Concave arms, concave ends

St. John's (sharp)
Sharp


Bolnisi Cross
(Click image to enlarge)

One of the earliest examples of cross with concave arms and ends is the Bolnisi Cross, which is featured in the 14th century flag of the Republic of Georgia. This cross (Georgian: bolnur katskhuri) is from a 5th century frieze at the Georgian Orthodox basilica Bolnisi Sioni (Zion) Cathedral in Bolnisi, Georgia's oldest extant church building.

An example of a cross with concave arms and convex ends is the Consecration Cross

Any of the above styles may also feature a notch at the arm ends...

St. John's (triangles)
V-shaped

St. John's (curved)
Rounded

St. John's (curved)
Squared

St. John's (sharp)
Dovetailed

...or any kind of adornment, such as the square in this Glory Cross.

St. John's (sharp)
With concave square

When any of these crosses is used in a religious context, however tenuous, the style is referred to as a St. John's Cross or Maltese Cross.

Confusingly, the Celtic Cross, Consecration Cross and Hans's Cross are also sometimes referred to as St. John's Cross. (See also St. John the Evangelist's Cross and St. John the Baptist's Cross).

In addition to the windmill analogy mentioned above, this is sometimes called the Regeneration Cross because it has eight points. Eight symbolises regeneration for many religious ideas. It is the holistic number in Buddhism for the number of steps to end suffering.

The number 8, like the lemniscate symbol for infinity infinity symbol, is a never-ending line. Tracing the shape of the 8 differs from the circle, square, triangle, etc., in that the line crosses itself in the centre. This crossing symbolises death. But the line does not stop there; it carries on into a new life, just as the Christian cross symbolises new life. The eight therefore represents life, death, and rebirth.

In Christianity, because Christ rose from grave eight days after entering Jerusalem, the number is associated with the rebirth of Christ and also baptism; the spiritual rebirth of a person. These eight points on the cross also represent the eight beatitudes1.

Maltese Cross in logos and other emblems

Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland
ELCF

The Maltese Cross appears in the logo of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (ELCF) (see also Lutheran Cross).

St John Ambulance

Not surprisingly, St John Ambulance logo incorporates the cross used by the Knights Hospitaller, the Cross of Saint John.

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Military Cross of Valour

Military Cross of Valour

One interpretation of the 'sharp' pointed cross is of four fishtails. The fish symbol was adopted by the early Christian church and the design has long been used as a Hospitaller Cross and Crusader Cross.

From this we have the basis of numerous military crosses, including:

  • (Dutch) Oorlogskruis
  • (French) Croix de Guerre
  • (German) Honour Cross, Knight's Cross, Iron Cross
  • (Spanish) Cruz de Hierro
  • (Ukraine) Cossack Cross
  • (US) Distinguished Flying Cross, Navy Cross, Army Distinguished Service Cross

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Rockabilly Cross / Biker's Cross

Hot rod

D-r-r-rag racing off in a different direction; brave, risk-taking, dare-devilish behaviour has led to variations the St. John's Cross becoming popular with fans of hot-rods, rockabilly and the general rock'n'roll scene. Various names, one of the popular being Biker's Cross.

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Maltese Cross in Flags

Flag of Poltava
Poltava Oblast

The Maltese Cross can be seen on several municipal flags, including the provincial Ukrainian flags of Poltava Oblast, Rivne Oblast and Vinnytsia Oblast, where this cross is known as the Cossack Cross, a Ukrainian medal of honour. In czarist Russia, Slavs living mainly in the southern part of Russia formed an elite corps of cavalrymen. The name retains its brave, adventurous and somewhat guerrilla fighting image.

Flag of Georgia
Georgia

The large cross on flag of Georgia is a Greek Cross, but there are also four small Maltese crosses (bolnur katskhuri). The five crosses give us a type of Jerusalem Cross.

Other flags with a Maltese Cross include:

Flag of Amalfi
Amalfi

Flag of Queensland
Queensland

Flag of Rivne
Rivne Oblast

Flag of Vinnytsia
Vinnytsia Oblast

Flag of Tianeti mubicipality in Georgia
Tianeti, Georgia

National flag of Malta
National flag of Malta

The Maltese Cross has many similarities with the George Cross, also known as the Greek Cross. The civil ensign of Malta is a white Maltese Cross on a red ground, but the present day national flag of Malta (shown on the right) bears a George Cross rather than a Maltese Cross.

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1: Beatitude: One of the eight sayings at the beginning of Jesus' very first sermon - the Sermon on the Mount. In Latin each saying begins with beatus (blessed) and they are listed in Matt. 5:3-11.