Many people look at their family coat of arms and
see that it is adorned by a cross.
Crosses are a common theme that is repeated on many different
coats of arms. While a cross often denotes that the bearer
fought in the Crusades the exact type of cross can have additional
meaning that can give a person information about their family’s
history and the activities that their ancestor may have been involved with.
There are approximately 28 different styles of cross that
could be used on a shield. One reason that the cross may have been
shaped differently from one coat of arms to another was that
the shape of the shield also changed from year to year and
decade to decade.
Crosses were often a solid color.
Red was a popular choice as red signified strength in battle and
martial prowess. It also could signify the blood of Christ that could forgive a person for their sins.
Often one cross would be placed on top of another to increase the significance and
meaning of the coat of arms.
A cross with fleur de lys on it could also represent Christ’s death and his resurrection.
The color of the smaller cross could also have great meaning. For example,
blue was often used as the color of truth and of heavenly love.
Crosses did not always represent the Crusades or Christ. It could also be used to divide a shield
into four different sections. This would allow for a greater variety of charges or
differences to be placed on a coat of arms or crest.
Because coats of arms were often engraved or etched onto metal it was important to
ensure that the different areas could be clearly marked so that there were no mistakes or
errors in recording them.
One of the most common crosses that is used on shields is the passion cross.
This is the standard four armed cross where the cross-piece is placed approximately one third
of the way down the main stem. The Maltese cross also appears on many coats of arms.
This is a cross with four arms of equal length.
The arms of the cross are made of pointed shapes that look like arrowheads.
There are also cross voided shields and cross fimbriated or bordured shields.
In a cross voided shield the shape of the cross is made up of thin bands of one color with
another color forming a thick stripe down the middle. This color is repeated on the main body of
the shield as well. A fimbriated or bordured cross has a cross that is one color that
is banded on both sides by stripes of a second color. Both are different than the background.
If you see that there is a cross on your family’s coat of arms you may want to find out exactly
why it was placed there. You should see if any of the charges (images that appear on a shield) also
relate to the cross. You may find out that ancestors took part in great and glorious battles and
make your family history that much more exciting.