Maltese Cross
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Maltese Cross

The design called the Maltese Cross has actually been identified with the Knights of Malta, originally called the Order of Knights Hospitaller (white or silver on black background), and the Knights Templar (Red on White), also called the “Rosy Cross”.

The “Maltese Cross” is a symbol adapted today by many fire departments in the United States. The eight-point Maltese Cross is an international symbol of the fire service's willingness to make great sacrifices in order to protect others from the ravages of fire.

This honored symbol originated with a group of eleventh century knights who were serving in a Jerusalem hospital during the 11th and 12th centuries. They became known as the Order of Knights Hospitaller and later became the Knights of St. John. A white or silver cross on a dark background was adopted by these Knights, as they were also known for their charity toward the poor in setting up hospitals.

They were contemporaries of the Knights Templar in the Holy Land. They assisted the Knights Templar against the Saracens, and their relationship to fire derives from the Saracens use of fire, a flammable liquid composed of naphtha, sulfur and quicklime, called “Greek Fire“. On castle walls and the prows of ships, bronze tubes were employed that emitted jets of liquid fire, to much the same effect as today's flame throwers. Many Knights of St. John were called to perform heroic deeds by extinguishing fires during these wars, and hence, the association of their emblem of the Maltese Cross and those who bravely fight fire.

The Knights Hospitaller (the Order of Knights of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem or Knights of Malta or Knights of Rhodes) is a tradition which began as a Benedictine nursing Order founded in the 11th century based in the Holy Land, but soon became a militant Christian Chivalric Order under its own charter, and was charged with the care and defense of pilgrims. Following the loss of Christian territory in the Holy Land, the Order operated from Rhodes, of which it was sovereign and later from Malta as a vassal. The medieval Order can be said to have come to an end following its ejection from Malta by Napoleon.

The monastic hospitaller order was founded following the First Crusade by Gerard, whose role as founder was confirmed by a Papal bull of Pope Paschal II in 1113. Gerard acquired territory and revenues for his order throughout the Kingdom of Jerusalem and beyond. His successor, Raymond of Provence, established the first significant Hospitaller infirmary near to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Initially the group just cared for those pilgrims who made it to Jerusalem but the order soon extended into providing an armed escort to pilgrims. The escort soon grew into a substantial force.

Together with the Knights Templar, they became one of the most powerful Christian groups in the area. The order came to distinguish itself in battles with the Muslims, its soldiers wearing a black surcoat with a white cross.

The rising power of Islam eventually pushed the Knights out of their traditional holdings in Jerusalem. After the fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem (Jerusalem itself in 1187), the Knights were confined to the County of Tripoli and when Acre was captured in 1291 the order sought refuge in the Kingdom of Cyprus. They then organized a fleet, and in 1309 they took the island of Rhodes as their new base of operations. On Rhodes, now known as the Knights of Rhodes they were forced to become a more militarized force, fighting especially with the Barbary pirates. However in 1522 an entirely new sort of force arrived when 400 ships under the command of Suleiman the Magnificent delivered 200,000 men to the island. Against this force the Knights had about 7,000 men-at-arms, and the walls of the city. The resulting siege lasted six months, at the end of which the few remaining Knights were allowed to leave Rhodes and retreated to the Kingdom of Sicily.

After seven years of moving from place to place in Europe, the Knights were re-established on Malta in 1530 by the order of Pope Clement VIII. Their annual fee for the island was a single Maltese falcon. Here the once-again re-named Knights of Malta continued their actions against piracy, their fleet targeting the Barbary pirates.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

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