A cross potent (plural: crosses potent), also known as a crutch cross, is a form of heraldic cross with crossbars at the four ends. In French, it is known as croix potencée, in German as a Krückenkreuz (literally "crutches cross").
Potent is an old word for a crutch, from a late Middle English alteration of Old French potence "crutch" The term potent is also used in heraldic terminology to describe a 'T' shaped alteration of vair, and potenté is a line of partition contorted into a series of 'T' shapes.
In heraldic literature of the 19th century, the cross potent is also known as the "Jerusalem cross" due to its occurrence in the attributed coat of arms of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. This convention is reflected in Unicode, where the character ☩ (U+2629) is named CROSS OF JERUSALEM. The name Jerusalem cross is more commonly given to the more complex symbol consisting of a large Greek cross or cross potent surrounded by four smaller Greek crosses.
The "cross potent" shape is found in pottery decorations in both the European and the Chinese Neolithic. It corresponds to the Chinese character 巫 "shaman, witch", pronounced *myag in Old Chinese, as wū in Mandarin and as mou4 in Cantonese (possibly a loan from Old Persian *maguš "magician, magus").
The cross potent as a Christian cross variant is used on Byzantine coins of the 7th century, under the Heraclian dynasty, mostly as a "Calvary cross potent", i.e. a cross potent standing on a number of steps. A Tremissis of Heraclius, dated c. 610–613, also shows the cross potent without the steps. A cross potent, or cross patty, is already shown on a Tremissis of Theodosius II (first half of the 5th century). Early heraldic crosses are drawn to the edges of the shield, as ordinaries, but variations in the termination of the cross limbs become current by the later 13th century. The heraldic cross potent is found in armorials of the late 13th century, notably in the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, argent, a cross potent between four plain crosslets or (Camden Roll, c. 1280). Use of the cross potent remains rare in heraldry outside of the Jerusalem cross. In medieval heraldry, as in medieval seals, the distinction between the cross potent and the cross patty may be unclear. For example, the cross patty of the Teutonic Order is drawn as a cross patent for Tannhäuser in Codex Manesse (c. 1310).
Use of the Jerusalem cross is associated with the title of King of Jerusalem which passed from the kings of Cyprus to a number of royal houses of Europe in the late medieval period, notably the kings of Naples and the House of Savoy, via Louis II of Naples to the House of Lorraine, via conquest of Naples to the House of Aragon, and via Francis I to the Habsburg Emperors of Austria. A simple cross potent is used as the arms of northern Calabria (Calabria Citra) as a province of the Kingdom of Naples in the early modern period (Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria).
Use of the cross potent in heraldry is revived in the 19th to early 20th century, and then as an emblem for Roman Catholicism directly based on the Jerusalem cross.
Upon the passage of the 1924 Schilling Act the cross potent was used as a national symbol of the Austrian First Republic, minted on the back of the Groschen coins. In 1934 it became the emblem of the Austrofascist Federal State of Austria, adopted from the ruling Fatherland's Front, the Catholic traditionalist organisation led by Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss. A reference to the Jerusalem Cross, it served as a counter-symbol both the Swastika and the Hammer and Sickle, as the Fatherland's Front was both anti-Nazi and anti-Communist.
Today the cross potent is used by many, mostly Roman Catholic, Scouting and Guiding organisations in their logos and insignia. It is currently used in the coats of arms of the Santa Cruz Department in Bolivia, and of the Wingolf Christian student fraternities in Germany, Austria and Estonia.
- from Latin potentia 'power', which in medieval Latin meant 'crutch'. du Cange, et al., Glossarium mediae et infimae latinitatis, éd. augm., Niort : L. Favre, 1883‑1887, t. 6, col. 437a, s.v. "potentia 2": Scipio, fulcrum subalare, nostris vulgo Potence. See also Oxford English Dictionary, 1st. edition, entry "Potent (sb.¹ and a.²)".
- Fox-Davies, Arthur Charles; Graham Johnston (2004) . A Complete Guide to Heraldry. Kessinger Publishing. p. 85. ISBN 1-4179-0630-8.
- Fox-Davies (1909), p. 94.
- Victor H. Mair, “Old Sinitic *Myag, Old Persian Maguš and English Magician”, Early China 15 (1990): 27–47. Victor H. Mair, “The Earliest Identifiable Written Chinese Character”, Archaeology and Language: Indo-European Studies Presented to James P. Mallory, eds. Martin E. Huld, Karlene Jones-Bley & Dean Miller (Washington, D.C.: Institute for the Study of Man, 2012), 265–279. See also: Victor H. Mair, “Polysyllabic characters revisited”, Language Log, 8 June 2015.
- William Wood Seymour (1898). The Cross in Tradition, History and Art. p. 364.
- Fox-Davies (1909), p. 85.
- Scipione Mazzella, Giovan Battista Cappello (ed.), Descrittione del Regno di Napoli, Naples (1601), p. 133.
- "Hello Internet Flag Referendum". Retrieved 30 June 2017.