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A cross potent (plural: crosses potent), also known as a crutch cross, is a form of heraldic cross with crossbars or "crutches" at the four ends. In German, it is known 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', from Latin potentia 'power' (which in medieval Latin meant '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 Old Persian, the sign stood for *maguš 'magician, magi'. It may have been borrowed into Chinese as the character 巫, pronounced *myag in Old Chinese, as wū in Mandarin and as mou4 in Cantonese.
A large cross potent, surrounded by four smaller Greek crosses upon a silver field, was traditionally identified as the heraldic design in the coat of arms worn by Godfrey of Bouillon during the First Crusade, thought its documented use post-dates his death by nearly 200 years. Now known as the Jerusalem cross, it remained in use as the coat of arms and flag of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
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, an authoritarian Catholic traditionalist political organisation led by Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss. It was not only a reference to the Jerusalem Cross, but was also used as a counter-symbol to the Swastika and the Hammer and Sickle, as the Fatherland's Front was both anti-Nazi, anti-Communist, and pro-Catholic.
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.
In Unicode, it is represented as the character "☩", U+2629 CROSS OF JERUSALEM; the name of this Unicode character is a misnomer, since the Jerusalem cross itself is a more complex symbol consisting of a large Greek cross or cross potent surrounded by four smaller Greek crosses.
- 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, “Polysyllabic characters revisited”, Language Log, 8 June 2015.
- 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.
- William Woo Seymour (1898). The Cross in Tradition, History and Art. p. 364.
- Fox-Davies (1909), p. 85.
- "Hello Internet Flag Referendum". Retrieved 30 June 2017.