I just finished watching Downfall (Der Untergang).  As expected of anything that depicts Nazi Germany, the iron cross was shown repetitively all throughout, worn as a military decoration by German officers.  Below is a scene from the movie where General Weidling shows the other officers his iron cross.


The Nazi iron cross is based on the cross pattée design, which is often mistakenly referred to as a Maltese cross.


Above: the standard form of the cross pattee (image from Wikipedia, hah).

Why am I writing about this?

Seeing the iron cross reminded me of the nursing pin that I received during my capping and pinning ceremony for nursing school.  Below is a photo of the said pin.  It looks very similar to Weidling’s iron cross.


We call it a Maltese cross, although in reality, it is a rounded variation of the cross pattée.

I wore that pin proudly every day that I was on duty without knowing what it meant or how similar it looked to the iron cross.

Why would my nursing school continue to use the symbol despite the similarities between the Nazi iron cross?  Is it simply because of tradition?  Or because of ignorance?  Why was the Maltese cross a significant symbol in nursing, anyway?

Aside from a history involving the Knights Hospitaller and the Order of Saint Lazarus, it seems like the great Florence Nightingale had a hand in it.

Thanks to Google Books, I can now quote the book “Nursing in Today’s World: Trends, Issues & Management.”  Hooray.

The actual symbolism of the pin relates to customs established in the 16th century, when the privilege of wearing a coat of arms was limited to noblemen who served their king with distinction.  As centuries passed, the privilege was extended to schools and to craft guilds, and the symbols of wisdom, strength, courage, and faith appeared on buttons, badges, and shields.  It was probably this spirit that Florence Nightingale   attempted to capture when she chose the Maltese cross as a symbol for the badge worn by the graduates of her first nursing school.”

“As nursing developed as a profession, each school chose a unique pin, awarded on completion of the program, as a public symbol of work well done.  Many of the nursing schools, particularly those associated with hospitals supported by religious groups, incorporated the cross into their pins.”

And there you have it.