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The Three Amsterdam Crosses

By Alina

Marketing and Communications Advisor with a passion for diamonds and a nose for trends. Always happy to share the latest developments in the jewelry business with you.

September 16, 2020

If you've ever been to Coster and visited or Royal Hallway or received a Royal Experience, you probably saw our Royal Crest. One of the elements of our crest is the three Andreas crosses of Amsterdam. Some of our clients asked why the Amsterdam Coat of Arms had three crosses. We all know that three crosses are the symbol of Amsterdam. But we don't all know why. I didn't know the reason. In general, I know how Dutch crests came to be, but one from Amsterdam I didn’t. So, I started digging – and I found the answer.


Coat of Arms Amsterdam. The text says “Heldhaftig, Vastberaden, Barmhartig”. This means Heroic, Determined, Merciful.

About the Coat of Arms

The Amsterdam crest was presumably implemented around 1280 by the city of Amsterdam. Over the years it has been a little modified. But overall it still looks more or less the same as it did over seven centuries ago. The crest features a red shield with a black bar in the center with three white crosses on it. On each side you see two lions. And on top, there is a crown. The lions are our national animal (“Don’t let the lion down!”), and in the crest, they stand for protecting the Amsterdam people. The crown does not symbolize the Netherlands as a monarchy. But it stands for the imperial protection Amsterdam received from Emperor Maximiliaan of Austria. This basically meant they have him a ton of money in exchange for his protection. The crown counted as a recommendation of some sort and was beneficial for Amsterdam’s trading position.

It’s all pretty clear why the elements are here. Except for the crosses. There are many guesses of what the three crosses symbolize, but only one of them is true.

The Family Persijn

Many centuries ago, a lot of families had a “family crest”. It was a point of recognition for those with a higher social status. Every family had their own “design” and when two people from different families got married, the designs were combined. A few examples:

different coats of arms
Examples of crests from Dutch families and cities

Jan Persijn is named as the founder of “the Dam”, which is short for Amsterdam. Moreover, other belongings of this family were Amstelveen and Ouder-Amstel and they have similar crosses in their crests. It would be plausible that the three crosses were a reference to the Persijn Family. Plausible, but that wasn’t it.

Saint Andrew

Perhaps Saint Andrew crosses (Andreaskruisen) had a more religious meaning. In this case, Andreas could have been a reference to the Apostle Andrew who was nailed to an angled cross. His legs and arms were nailed to the cross and he would have died worthy. The cross could therefore stand for determination, heroism and mercy. Where did we hear that before? However, the text “Heldhaftig – Vastberaden – Barmhartig” was not added until after WOII and it would not explain why there were three crosses. So, nope: Saint Andrew was not the connection to the Amsterdam Crosses.

St andrew carrying his cross Saint Andrew was crucified on an angled cross

The three plagues

For a long time, people thought the three crosses on the crest resembled the three plagues that hit Amsterdam. The red stands for fire, the white crosses for water and the black bar for the Black Plague. Seems plausible. On the other hand: why would you incorporate such a terrible thing in something you would be proud of? You might have guessed it, this wasn’t it either.

3 plagues to represent the three Amsterdam crosses? Image source: TripSavvy

Legal certainty

The true meaning is often less thrilling than previous assumptions. Recent studies found out that the three Andrew’s crosses come from a historical North-Holland legal ritual. At the legal counsel, people drew three white crosses on a black chalkboard which were wiped afterward. The three crosses represent legal certainty and the black bar the court table.

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So there we have it: the three white crosses symbolize the (old) Dutch Legal System, even though there are many other plausible origins. My personal favorite is another popular belief: the three X’s stand for the three kisses Amsterdam (and other Dutch) people exchange when they meet each other or say goodbye. Love to know more about Amsterdam, the City of Diamondsand Amsterdam’s (diamond) history? Book a Royal Experience. In this experience, you’ll learn everything you ever wanted to know about our rich history and the history of our beautiful city.

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