The eight-pointed white cross on a red background is instantly recognisable as the logo of the Order of St John. The origins of this charitable organisation, which oversees the St John Ambulance organisation worldwide, go back to a knightly order known as the Order of Knights of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem. The courage in adversity shown by the ‘Hospitallers’, as the Order’s members were known, is symbolic of fortitude, the pillar of knighthood to which the fourth coin in the Knights’ Tales series is dedicated.
Founded in Jerusalem in 1099 by Benedictine Brother Gerard Tum to provide care for sick, poor and injured pilgrims in the Holy Land, the Hospitallers had a major influence on the development of western hospitals. But in addition to its charitable and religious functions, the Order soon developed an entrepreneurial and military role, with the first armed brothers appearing among the Order’s ranks in 1130. The Hospitallers provided military escort to pilgrims and, from 1136, the Order gained control of numerous important fortresses in the Holy Land.
The eight-pointed cross is a symbol of the struggle against sickness and loneliness, homelessness and hunger, unkindness and neglect, among other things. The cross features on the Order’s coat of arms, which is held on the coin’s obverse by a heraldic hippocamp, a mythical creature that was half horse, half fish and originated in Greek mythology. Knights of the Order of St John appear on both the obverse and the reverse of Fortitude, one with sword drawn, the other haggling with a trader at a market stall.