Thursday, May 8, 2014

Symbolism of Crosses in Medieval Heraldry

This post is brought to you by Janalyn Voigt.

Medieval heraldry arose in Europe during the 12th-century Crusades as knights adopted coats of arms that both displayed their rank and served as a form of identification required for entering tournaments. These ornamental badges were highly regimented and contained symbolic shapes, colors, and figures.

One of the emblems most often used in coats of arms was the cross. Numerous versions, some believe as many as 400, existed. Besides representing the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the crosses were embued with additional meaning. The four arms represented:
  • the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
  • the four corners of the earth where the gospel must be spread.
The Greek Cross, with four arms of the same length, is one of the oldest crosses.
The Latin Cross has the lower arm extended and is the one that we often see today. While both were used in medieval heraldry, more popular crosses included.
The Cross Botonny has three rounded lobes at the end of each arm, forming a trefoil which speaks of the Trinity, the faith, hope, and love of 1 Corinthians 13; and Aaron's staff, which budded (Numbers 17). The name comes from a French term meaning “covered with buds.”
The ends of the Cross Fleury are splayed in a flowery shape, usually a Fleur-de-lis, or stylized lily or iris. This cross reminds us of the Trinity and the resurrection.
With the Cross Moline, the arms split at the ends and curve backwards to remind us of the twofold nature of Christ. He was fully man and fully God.
Each arm of the Cross Potent ends in a crossbar, forming a T shape. This is a symbol of Christ's outstretched arms as He died to save us from our sins.
The Cross Patee had arms that went from narrow to wide.The points of this cross symbolize the eight beatitudes found in Matthew 5:12; the eight points of courage (loyalty, piety, generosity, bravery, honor, contempt of death, helpfulness to the needy, and respect for the church); and also the resurrection of Christ, who rose from the grave eight days after He entered Jerusalem.
The Cross Maltese derived from the Cross Patee and is often confused with it. The Maltese has straight arms and indents at the ends. It holds the same meanings.
The arms of the Cross Crosslet are each crossed to tell of the fourfold mystery of the cross: that Christ's death was at once sacrificial, forgiving, loving, and victorious.

I've only touched the surface on this topic. You can learn more about the crosses of medieval heraldry and view images of each type at the end of this post.

So, tell me, which of the crosses I've featured is your favorite?

About Janalyn Voigt

Escape into creative worlds of fiction with Janalyn Voigt. Her unique blend of adventure, romance, suspense, and fantasy creates worlds of beauty and danger for readers. Tales of Faeraven, her epic fantasy series beginning with DawnSinger, carries the reader into a land only imagined in dreams.

Janalyn is represented by Sarah Joy Freese of Wordserve Literary. Her memberships include ACFW and NCWA.

When she's not writing, Janalyn loves to discover worlds of adventure in the great outdoors.
Visit the author site for Janalyn Voigt


  1. My favorite is the Cross Moline. :)

    1. That one is definitely medieval looking, Pam. It's one of my favorites, as well.

    2. I have a horse harness shield pendant with a cross moline Cross on it

  2. Janalyn, these are really interesting. I wouldn't have known that some of these were crosses had it not been for your blog. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Janalyn, this was fascinating. I always wondered why crosses looked different. Thank you for the explanation. I'm not sure which I would choose as a favorite. You made me want to look into other crosses and see the meaning behind them. Thank you.

    1. Nancy, the whole field of medieval heraldry contains some amazing symbolism. I'll probably write more posts on the topic.

  4. I liked the original idea presented at the beginning of the post with the cross showing the Gospel reaching to the 4 corners of the globe. Thanks for your very interesting post on crosses. I never knew the meanings of these crosses. sharon wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

  5. The Cross Patee. Many articles confuse it with the Maltese. Thank you for clarifying. Nice web site as well

  6. Thanks Janalyn, was looking into the meanings of my family's coat of arms (Southworth) and you've shed some like on the Cross-Crosslets that feature on them. You're a star!