Knights Hospitaller’s Tau



The white Tau was the distinctive emblem of another Hospital Order, more or less similar in the same period as other famous ones, such as those of the Hospitallers of St. John, called the order of the “Friars of San Jacopo of Altopascio”, officially announced in April of 1239. Because the pilgrimage and caregiving tasks were to include a work of protection against them, the order also included Knights of the sword, who soon became known as Knights of the Tau. The Order soon gained fame, honors and riches so as to spread far beyond its original territory (the Tuscan village of Altopascio, in the Province of Lucca) and to include “obedience” throughout Italy, Europe such as France, Spain, Germany and England. The decline of this religious-knightly order began in the 14th century also came about because of the transfer of the papacy’s seat to Avignon, which resulted in a reduction of traffic to Rome. The Order was definitively suppressed in 1587 by Pope Sisto V, and his possessions were given to the Militia of St Stephen, created in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

It is probably not only the biblical passages that influenced these religious orders in adopting the Tau. In fact, in the medieval period, this symbol also permeated deeply into everyday life. Indeed, even the geographical representations of the World were attributable to this sign. In fact, the illustrations in which the World is represented subdivided into the three known continents: Asia, which was generally placed on the top of the paper, while Europe and Africa were placed at the bottom, respectively, on the left-hand side  and on  the right-hand side of the lower half. The three continents were then separated from each other by a sea that took the form of a “T”, and all was inscribed in a circumference. This depiction, also known as the “MAP OF THE WORLD”, did not pretend to be a real representation of the World but rather a symbolic one.

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