The commonest charge on the shield, other than an animal, is that of a cross. This is natural enough when we remember that the science of heraldry is the child of those times which will always be known to history as the Ages of Faith.
It was during the enthusiasm of the Crusades that the cross first became a badge, bound at first on arms and shoulders; afterward, to be more permanent, on shields. And a cross in a coat of arms often denotes a descent from a Crusader, though it would be a mistake to suppose that it is always so.
The cross, like every other heraldic bearing, suffered many fantastic changes. The commonest form of all is, of course, the plain Greek cross - straight across the shield - a combination of the pale and the bar. But equally, of course, the variations of colour were limited, and the bearers of this coat of arms soon came to an end of them. A new sort of cross had therefore to be evolved. The Latin cross is more of the shape one is accustomed to associate with the Roman punishment of crucifixion, the cross limb is nearer to the top than the bottom.
The Patriarchal cross has a shorter cross limb above the main one.
The cross of St. Anthony is more properly a crutch or the Greek letter Tau, it has the cross limb at the extreme top of the cross.
The Maltese cross is a familiar figure, four triangles meeting at the apex.
St. Andrew's cross is otherwise called a saltire; it is the combination of a bend and a bend sinister, an X in other words.
A cross quadrante is one the four limbs of which issue out of a square in the middle.
A cross potent is supposed to be a crutch; the top of each limb bears a crosspiece like a crutch.
A cross patee is rather like a small Maltese cross, but the lines are drawn quite straight, whereas in a regular Maltese cross they are slightly curved.
A cross fleurie has each limb ending in a fleur de lys.
A cross boutonnee, in the same way, ends each limb in trefoils.
A cross patonce has expanding limbs which end in a threefold decoration, and is easily mistakable for a cross fleurie, which, however, has perfectly straight limbs.
A cross moline is something like the two preceding, but its decorative endings are only double, not triple.
A cross recercelee ends in still more elaborate decorations.
A cross pommee ends in round knobs, like apples.
A cross fourchee has split ends.
A cross crosslet is crossed again towards the end of each limb by a shorter limb.
A cross voided is one which seems to have the pith removed as it were. When a cross has only a square h o l -lowed out of its centre it is said to be q u ar t erly pierced.
Any cross may be fitchy - that is, with the lower limb ending in a spike. The Crusaders are said to have planted their swords or daggers, o r any rude cross of wood they may have constructed, in the earth by their points, and to have knelt before them to say their prayers; this is supposed to be the origin of the cross fitchy.
Crosses seldom seem to occur singly, save in very old coats of arms; as a rule, they are duplicated, or the coat is "semee" with them.
The heraldic crosses most familiar to the man in the street are those of the Union Jack; but not many people could say offhand what are the crosses which compose that ensign, which is deplorable to the herald, by the way.
The cross of St. George was originally gules upon argent, but in the Union Jack it appears fimbriated - that is, with a narrow white or silver border. The saltire cross of St. Andrew was argent upon azure. The two crosses were combined in the first Union Jack at the Union of England and Scotland under James I., and it is exactly in the sort of heraldic taste one expects from that period. Two hundred years later, the saltire of St. Patrick, gules upon argent, was added to the flag, and it also appears fimbriated on the outer edge - to avoid presumably the heraldic solecism of colour on colour. This, one feels, the heralds need not have been so sensitive about, as the two classic examples of deviation from the heraldic rule of colour on metal or metal on colour occur in the heraldry of the cross - namely, in the arms of Jerusalem, which was or upon argent, and in the cross of the Inquisition.
Several countries bear the cross as their arms, as, for example:
Italy bears a silver cross within a blue border on a red ground.
Greece bears a plain Greek cross of silver on a blue shield.
Switzerland bears a silver cross humette on red.
The cross in its multifarious forms, as seen above, is one of the commonest charges upon heraldic shields. Crosses, as a rule, do not occur singly, but are duplicated or "sown" upon the coat