From the earliest years of the Order of Saint John, its knights took as their ensign the white cross on a red field. This flag became a symbol of dedication and devotion, bringing peace and consolation, as well as inspiring courage and valor amid the din of battle. In time, this cross evolved into the world famous Cross of Saint John, later called the Maltese Cross, which became both the emblem of the Order and a symbol of the Christian religion. This beautiful cross has remained the insignia of the Order of Saint John these many centuries.
The exact origin of the Cross of Saint John is not known. There is some evidence that this cross was used or worn by the Apostles of Jesus and particularly by the Apostle Saint John (not to be confused with the patron of the Sovereign Order Saint John the Baptist). However, that venerable cross, which dates from antiquity, has been particularly prominent in history since the 12th century.
So distinguished was the Maltese Cross in the defense of Christendom that it became the symbol of Christian militarism. To this day, pictures and other representation of crusading armies, Christian galleys and medieval knights frequently depict them wearing and bearing the Maltese Cross, even though the white cross on a field of red was unique to the Knights of Saint John alone, who often comprised only a small contingent of the Christian fighting force.
Similarly, due to nothing else but the world-renowned charitable and hospital work of the Order of Saint John, its original flag a plain white cross on a field of red, became the inspiration for the red cross on a field of white which is now the universal symbol of hospitals and the care of the sick and wounded.
Thus, the Order of Saint John, while heroically defending the Christian Faith and preserving Christendom itself, also established a tradition and system of genuine Christian humanitarianism which has since inspired men of all nations and all faiths who desire to assist the sick, the poor, and the infirm.
For centuries the members of the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem have worn over their hearts the Maltese Cross the Cross of Saint John. They wear it within their hearts, as well as outwardly, because they wear it not only as a sign of their membership in the holy Order, but for their dedication to Jesus Christ, Our Saviour.
This beautiful and unique white cross, with four arms and eight points, has special spiritual significance as well as historical importance:
The four arms of the cross represent the four cardinal virtues: Prudence, Temperance, Justice and Fortitude.
The eight points on the cross are reminders of the eight beatitudes, which the members of the Order strive to incorporate into their lives as admonished by Jesus Christ: To have spiritual joy. To live without malice. To weep over thy sins. To humble thyself to those who injure thee. To love justice. To be merciful. To be sincere and pure of heart. To suffer persecution for His sake.
So esteemed was the Order of Saint John and so respected and admired were its knights and insignia, that many of the most outstanding men in history, especially from the 15th through the 18th centuries, were honored and proud to wear the Maltese Cross as a symbol of their having been admitted to the Sovereign Order of Saint John, dubbed knights, and invested with the Order of Malta.
The Cross of Saint John was, and remains, the highest personal decoration, mark of chivalry and military honor in the world. Evidence of this is the fact that nearly every nation of the West has utilized the Maltese Cross, or a derivation or modification of it, in designing its medals including, in many instances, the highest military honor that nation bestows.
The Maltese Cross, the Cross of Saint John, like the holy Order it represents, is unique in all the world and in all of history. Thus, the members of the Sovereign Order, being considerate and charitable but firm and courageous, continue to wear their cross with humility, devotion and uncompromising commitment to the ideals and principles for which the Order of Saint John was founded.