Huguenot Society of South Africa
    The Huguenot Cross

    Not long after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, the Huguenot Cross came into general use amongst Huguenots as confirmation of the wearer's faith. 
    The cross was designed in the form of a Maltese cross: four isosceles triangles meeting at the centre. Each triangle has, at the periphery, two rounded points at the corners. These points are regarded as signifying the eight Beatitudes of Matthew 5: 3-10. Suspended from the lower triangle by a ring of gold is a pendant dove with spreaded wings in downward flight, signifying the Holy Spirit. In times of persecution a pearl, symbolizing a teardrop, replaced the dove. 
    The four arms of the Maltese cross are sometimes regarded as the heraldic form of the four petals of the Lily of France(golden yellow irises, signifying the Mother Country of France) which grows in the south of France. The lily is also the symbol of purity. The arms symbolize the four Gospels.

    The arms are joined together by four Fleur-de-Lis (left), each with 3 petals; the total of twelve petals of the Fleur-de-Lis signify the twelve apostles. Between each Fleur-de-Lis and the arms of the Maltese Cross with which it is joined, an open space in the form of a heart, the symbol of loyalty, suggests the seal of the French Reformer, John Calvin.

    The badge of the Russian
    division of the Order of the
    Knights of St John
    of Jerusalem, Hospitalers.
    The Huguenot cross was designed and first manufactured by a certainMystre of Nîmes in 1688.

    It has as its predecessor the badge of the Hospitaler Knights of St John of Jerusalem (see left for the badge of the Russian division of the order), also known as the Knights of Malta, a religious and Crusader order founded in Jerusalem in the 7th century AD. In 1308 they occupied the island of Rhodes after the collapse of the Crusader states, and in 1530 formed the order of the Knights of Malta after Rhodes was surrendered to the Ottoman Turks. They lived for 4 centuries on the island of Malta, hence the name Maltese Cross for the central part. (The Maltese Cross is generally associated with fire and is the symbol of protection of fire fighters in many countries).
    The order decoration of the 
    Order of the Holy Spirit
    (Chevaliers du Saint-Esprit)
    which Henry III established
    in 1578.
    Other predecessors of the Huguenot Cross include the so-called Languedoc Cross, and the order decoration of the Order of the Holy Spirit which Henry III established on December 31st, 1578 (above, right). It was the most exclusive order in France until 1789. Because the members, royalty included, were awarded with the Cross of the Holy Spirit, which hung from a blue ribbon, they were called "Cordon Bleus". The sumptuous banquets accompanying their award ceremonies became legendary, and the "Cordon Bleu" award for excellence in cuisine took it name from the blue ribbon.

    A romantic (albeit unconfirmed) story is told of four young Huguenot couples who were to be married in Cevennes when the dreaded French Dragoons appeared. Two of the bridal couples were caught and given the choice: recant their Protestant beliefs, or die at the stake. They refused to do so, and were all four burned to death whilst they sang psalms.

    A metal worker from Nimes made a medallion to commemorate their heroic death. The nucleus resembled the Maltese Cross, the four arms of which were linked with a smaller “circle”, which refers to the flames that united them. The space between the arms was made into the shape of a heart, reminding of the love of the two young couples who, true to their faith, were burnt at the stake on their wedding-day.

    The Huguenot Cross, with its rich symbolism, is often worn by descendants of the Huguenots, and can be seen at most Huguenot gatherings.

    Inquiries regarding the availability of the Huguenot Cross in lapel pin or pendant format can be directed to the Huguenot Memorial Museum (a not-for-profit organization) at the following address: 
    Huguenot Memorial Museum 
    PO Box 293 
    Franschhoek 7690 
    South Africa 
    Tel: (27)(21)876-2598        Fax: (27)(21)876-3649 

    All text and images on this website are © Copyright 1998: Huguenot Society of South Africa