What's with the 3 X's?

G van Niftrik

Smack in the middle of Amsterdam’s coat of arms, you see what look like 3 X’s stacked vertically on a black stripe. The same symbol shows up on the city’s logo, and even on the little iron bollards (’amsterdammertjes’) lining the edges of sidewalks.

Clearly this means that Amsterdam is triple-X rated, and we’re all about sex, right? Well no, not really.

If you ask people what the three X’s stand for, they often tell you that each X stands for one of the virtues of Amsterdammers: heldhaftig, vastberaden, barmhartig — heroic, determined, and compassionate. It’s easy to see why they think so; those adjectives adorn the full heraldic design, the one with the kitties and a crown.

But those words were only added in 1947, at the behest of Queen Wilhelmina, as a reminder of the bravery of Amsterdam’s resistance during the war. The shield itself, or escutcheon, dates back much earlier.

Another theory, sounds kinda legit: in the late 1200s, there was a knight called Jan Persijn from Velsen, a town west of Amsterdam on the coast. Persijn fought to defend the nearby city of Haarlem from invaders, and to reward his heroism, the bishop-elect Jan van Nassau appointed him Lord of Amsterdam in 1280. It so happens the Persijn family shield also used Andreaskruisen, or St Andrew’s crosses, and thus the motif was taken up in the shield of Amsterdam — where to us they just look like 3 X’s.

Thanks Wikipedia! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coat_of_arms_of_Amsterdam
http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persijn