I'm trying to answer a question (link in Spanish) in the Spanish language site about a funny definition a user found in the Royal Spanish Academy's dictionary. It follows:


  1. m. Cruz de la Orden de San Juan, quitado el brazo derecho.


hammer: The Cross of the Order of St. John, removing the right arm (or arrowhead).

I suppose the name 'hammer' refers to the figure that remains when you remove the right arrowhead of the Maltese Cross:

Maltese Cross Hammer

I've been trying to find information about the origin of this meaning of the word martillo. So far I have found a book, written in 1828 in Spanish, that says that the order was divided into knights, priests and servants, and also says that (my translation, sorry):

The current badge of [the knights] is an eight-pointed gold cross, crowned and enameled in white, angled in gold lises, which they carry in the buttonhole of the coat, pending from a black ribbon. The friars also wear it, but they must have the same cross of white cloth on the manteo or dress on the left side, whose distinction is also used by professed knights; and the servants carry it of only three arms, of enamel or linen, according to their condition.

This is the only reference to such a version of the cross, the same book also states that a martillo is "the cross of St. John with the right arm removed, as the servants must carry it", so it seems clear that such a version of the cross did exist, and that it was the emblem the servants must wear. I just would like to know:

  • Does (or did) this version of the cross really exist? If so, why is the right arm of the cross the one to be removed and no other?
  • Does imagery that depict this version of the cross exist? Where can I find an image (a painting or similar) of it?
  • If so, did it have a similar nickname in other languages or is it just something that happens in the Spanish language?
  • Curiously, most of the description I checked have now the top 'arm' removed (resembling Tau-cross). As what you quote is indeed correct & probably not the only Spanish version, I begin to suspect a certain regionalism coming into play. (But all is hampered in that I now looked at countless grand masters robes, bit virtually null sarjanz de mestier or lower in paintings…). Do you have additional entries on that? Dec 17, 2018 at 23:48
  • 1
    @LangLangC yes, I also suspect this must be something regional to Spain. I haven't found any more information about this.
    – Charlie
    Dec 18, 2018 at 18:02

1 Answer 1


This order is quite old and previously called Hospitaller. The earlier designs were much simpler crosses and not really "arrow-like". The design is quite varied over the medieval period and ranged from a plain Latin cross to the 'modern' design.

enter image description here Obsidionis Rhodie Urbis Descriptio, Bibliotheque Nationale, Ms. Lat. 6067, f37v, Paris, France.

While there was an order that has probably a very similar design, it was probably not what is requested here:

enter image description here WP: Orden de Monte Gaudio

As the members of that order ultimately ended up in the Knights Templar.

If we look at either the now older depictions of members of the Hospitaller order it becomes clear that the association for a hammer is much easier when looking at the flag, ancient and for the Maltese as well, when just one "arm" is taken away:

enter image description here

But there may well be such a half cross more resembling the arrow heads:

enter image description here "This anonymous but thoughtful-looking young member of the order was painted by Francesco Francia in the early 16th century. (National Gallery, London, England) (David Nicolle: "Knight Hospitaller. 1306–1565", Warrior, Osprey, 2001.) [Note that unless a better reproduction comes along, there remain some doubts whether this is not coverd up by the overcoat?]

As for the Spanish martillo as a term for that variant of the cross: I only ever found English literature referring to half-brothers (confratres) wearing "half-crosses" (example).

One of those, online, even has an interesting play on that "cross image" in heraldry:

enter image description here Arms of Philippe de Villiers de l'Isle-Adam as bailli; Rhodes.
Bailliffs (or Baillis) were the heads of the Tongues and holders of the great offices of the order. Since the 15th century they bear a chief with the arms of the order. Miniatures in Caoursin's manuscript show the Baillis in session around the Grand Master, each holding a string of beads with a fiocco at the end; also, the tombstone of the French Bailli Montmirel in the Archaeological Museum, Rhodes, shows two such strings placed on both sides of his coat of arms.

According to the descriptions the early designs of the Hospitaller were not only often quite similar to the design of the Teutonic knights, their statutes also were similar in allowing donats and confratres only wearing the half-cross, not the full one. Going from there, an old seal of the city of Allenstein (Olsztyn) displays such a half-cross (of the Teutonic knights, which nicely illustrates why one might see a "hammer":

enter image description here


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