Sirens cry, lights flash, and suddenly a hulking, hook and ladder comes barreling through a narrow maze of pulled-over minivans and sedans. As the red truck zooms past, gawkers catch a glimpse of a symbol painted on the engine’s body. A knobby “cross”, with a round center and chunky arms embellished with silhouettes of firefighting tools–a hydrant, an ax, a helmet.
The Maltese cross is the official symbol of the fire service–often stitched, stickered and tattooed on firefighter’s bodies, vehicles and uniforms. And of course, there’s Maltese cross jewelry.
ABOUT THE JEWELRY
+ 14K Gold handwrought firefighter Maltese cross pendant
Watch this video to see how this handcrafted firefighter Maltese cross was made.
Hunsinger recently handcrafted this piece of Maltese cross jewelry—a 14K gold Maltese cross pendant—for a fellow firefighter who said he wanted a one-of-a-kind piece that was unlike anything else out there.
“I was really excited to make this piece,” Hunsinger said. “Because I’ve been a firefighter for more than 20 years, the Maltese cross is significant to me.”
Every facet of the piece was completely handcrafted from raw materials. Pieces of heirloom jewelry were melted down, cut, hand rolled, hammered, filed, sanded and polished.
Hunsinger said he wanted to go for a “mechanical look,” and purposely used only one solder on the entire piece, opting instead to handcraft tiny gold rivets to fasten the pieces of hammered gold in place.
Crafting this piece inspired a little research. Here’s some background about the Maltese cross and when it was adopted by America’s bravest.
The Maltese cross was a medieval symbol worn by the Knights of Malta, (a.k.a. Knights Hospitallers of St. John) a 16th century militarized organization from the island of Malta who fought against Islamic Saracens during religious crusades. Because the Saracens literally fought with fire as a weapon (as in Renaissance style Molotov cocktails), the Knights became known as the first modern firefighters. To combat the spread of flames during these fiery battles, they courageously risked being burned alive.
In its original form, the Maltese cross is an eight-pointed cross with four arms. The eight points originally symbolized the eight obligations or aspirations of the Knights, which are:
- to live in truth
- to have faith
- to repent one’s sins
- to give proof of humility
- to love justice
- to be merciful
- to be sincere and wholehearted
- to endure persecution
Over time, the eight points became known to represent the eight national groupings of the Knights. Today, the cross represents eight beatitudes (or ‘blessings’), or the traits of a good first aider:
Firefighting agencies adapted and started using their own version of the Maltese cross as part of their insignia in 1865. The New York Fire Department was the first to use the cross, followed by the Brooklyn Fire Department in 1882. The four-leaf clover shaped firefighter cross actually looks quite different from the sharp-cornered Knights of Malta cross associated with the Knights, which more closely resembles four arrowheads.
There is no clear explanation as to how the cross ultimately became the symbol of the fire service.
Some sources have attributed it to the symbolism of the beatitudes, since these traits align with the attributes and the public’s perception of firefighters.
“I don’t really wear any jewelry besides my wedding band,” Hunsinger said. “But when I made this piece, I actually thought about making another one for myself…but it’s one-of-a-kind.”