Orders, decorations, and medals of the Holy See

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The orders, decorations, and medals of the Holy See include titles, chivalric orders, distinctions and medals honoured by the Holy See, with the Pope as the fount of honour, for deeds and merits of their recipients to the benefit of the Holy See, the Catholic Church, or their respective communities, societies, nations and the world at large.


Some of these honours are defunct or currently dormant, while some are still actively conferred.

Chivalric orders

Papal orders of knighthood or Pontifical orders of knighthood are orders of knighthood bestowed in the name of the Pope of the Catholic Church by his authority as head of the Holy See and sovereign of the Vatican City State. Historically, membership in these orders was either conferred by Papal bulls not signed by the Pope or by apostolic letters signed by the Pope himself. Since the reforms of these orders in the beginning of the 20th century, the diplomas have been signed by the Cardinal Secretary of State.

In general, Papal orders of knighthood refers to the five equestrian orders of the Holy See awarded directly by the Supreme Pontiff as head of the Catholic Church, Holy See and Vatican City State - as temporal sovereign and font of honour (similar to the orders given by other heads of state) - and the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, an award of the Holy See. The term equestrian in this context refers to the nature of these orders as knightly - conferring knighthood on members - derived from the Equestrians (Equites), a social class of Ancient Rome.

Of the papal orders, the highest and most infrequently awarded is the Supreme Order of Christ; the second order is the equally rare Order of the Golden Spur; the third is the Order of Pius IX; the fourth is the Order of Saint Gregory the Great; and the fifth is the Order of Saint Sylvester Pope and Martyr.

Supreme Order of Christ

Tracing its origins to the dissolution of the Knights Templar, the Military Order of Our Lord Jesus Christ was established in 1319 in the Kingdom of Portugal and recognised by the Papal bull Ad ea ex quibus of 15 March 1319 of Pope John XXII. [1] Some historians claim that under the terms of Ad ea ex quibus, the Popes instituted the right to award the membership of the Order themselves, though its text does not explicitly treat of this right. [2] The position of the Catholic Church is that the Pope is the head of every religious order, and thus he can grant admission to these orders without the permission of their superiors general. [3] The awarding of the Pope of the Supreme Order of Christ motu proprio brought the Papacy and the Crown of Portugal into conflict on several occasions, as the King of Portugal believed himself to be the only legitimate fons honorum of the Order. Protests regarding this conflict were made to Rome as late as 1825. [1]

During a reorganisation of the Papal orders in 1905, Pope Pius X rendered the Supreme Order of Christ as the most senior Papal honour. On 15 April 1966, in the Papal bull Equestres ordinis, Pope Paul VI limited the award to Roman Catholic heads of state in commemoration of significant events that the Pope personally attended. The most recent presentation of the Order was to Frà Angelo de Mojana, 77th Prince and Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, in 1987. The last living member of the Order was King Baudouin of Belgium, who died in 1993. [4]

Order of the Golden Spur/Militia

The second highest Papal order is the Order of the Golden Spur, also denominated the "Order of the Golden Militia". There is a lack of clear historical evidence of its foundation, but it is certain that it is the oldest of the Papal Orders. Broad authority to grant the Order diminished its prestige, and led Pope Gregory XVI to place the Order under the patronage of the Order of St. Sylvester in 1841. As part of this reorganization, the Pope limited the ability to grant the Order and revoked the appointments of those who were not granted it by Papal brief. In 1905 Pope Pius X separated the Order from the Order of St. Sylvester, establishing it as the Order of the Golden Militia. [3] He also limited the number of knights to one hundred. A Papal bull of 1966 further limited it to Christian sovereigns and heads of state. That bull also denominated it the "Order of the Golden Militia", but the Annuario Pontificio lists it under two names, both as the "Order of the Golden Spur" and as the "Order of the Golden Militia". [5] Jean, Grand Duke of Luxembourg was the last living knight of the Order. [6]

Order of Pius IX

The third highest Papal order is the Order of Pius IX, founded on 17 June 1847 by Pope Pius IX. [3] The Order of Pius IX is the highest Papal order currently awarded. [7] There previously existed an Order of Pian Knights, founded in the 16th century, which later fell into abeyance. It is not related to this order. The Order of Pius IX is the first of the Papal Orders, by order of precedence, to include different grades. The highest grade is the Collar, followed by the Grand Cross, Commander with Star, Commander, and Knight. The Order may be presented to non-Catholic Christians and to non-Christians. [5]

Order of Saint Gregory the Great

The fourth highest Papal order is the Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great. Pope Gregory XVI established the order on 1 September 1831 by the Papal brief Quod summis. It is awarded in four classes, with military and civil divisions. It was initially founded to reward meritorious civic or military service to the Papal States. [3] Through the reforms of 1905, the Order was modified so that the classes paralleled those of the Order of Pius IX, excluding the collar. The Order is currently awarded for conspicuous service to the Catholic Church, without regard to religious affiliation. [5] These awards are typically given premised on recommendations from bishops or Papal nuncios for specific services rendered to the Catholic Church. Membership in the Order of St. Gregory the Great does not carry the religious obligations of the military orders, making it the preferred award of merit for individual service to the Catholic Church. Since 1994, women have been appointed as "dames" in the same classes as men. [8]

Order of Saint Sylvester Pope and Martyr

The fifth highest Papal order is the Order of St. Sylvester Pope and Martyr. In 1841, Pope Gregory XVI reformed the Order of the Golden Spur as an order of merit, with recipients appointed by Papal brief. This reformed order was known as the "Order of St. Sylvester and the Golden Militia". The reforms of 1905 resulted in the separation of that order into the Order of St. Sylvester and the Order of the Golden Spur. [3] The Order of St. Sylvester is presented in the same classes and grades as the Order of St. Gregory the Great, and is typically awarded to recognize and reward members of the laity for active service in the apostolates. It may also be presented to non-Catholics. [5]

Orders under the protection of the Apostolic See

The term Papal Orders of Knighthood officially includes the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, a religious order of chivalry, as it is under the direct protection of the Pope, who is sovereign of the order, and which has a Cardinal as Grand Master. The Order is headquartered in the Vatican City State.

Several military religious orders were established at the time of, and since, the Crusades. Of these only the Order of the Holy Sepulchre and the Order of Malta are recognised by the Apostolic See: [9]

The Sovereign Military Order of Malta is a sovereign order of chivalry. The Order and the Apostolic See exchange ambassadors. The Pope is not Sovereign of the Order nor does he appoint members to the ranks of knighthood. He is, however, the first to be informed following the election of the Grand Master and appoints a Cardinal Protector of the Order. The Grand Master, a lay professed religious, ranks as a Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church and his accorded the title Eminent Highness and Prince.

Order of the Holy Sepulchre

The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem traces its founding to the First Crusade, although not as an organised crusading order but an association of knights. After the fall of Jerusalem in 1182, it remained an order of chivalry. In 1489, Pope Innocent VIII suppressed the Order and ruled that it was to be merged with the Knights Hospitaller. In 1496, Pope Alexander VI restored the independence of the Order, decreed that the Order would no longer be governed by the office of Custodian, and further decreed that the senior office of the Order would henceforth be raised to the rank of "Grand Master", reserving this title for himself and his successors. In 1847, Pope Pius IX reorganized the Order and placed it under the direct protection of the Apostolic See. In 1949, Pope Pius XII decreed that the Grand Master of the Order would henceforth be a cardinal appointed directly by the Pope, who would remain Sovereign of the Order. The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem is ex officio Grand Prior of the Order, while the lay head is the Governor-General. [10] The present Cardinal Grand Master is Fernando Filoni succeeding Edwin Frederick O'Brien, on December 8, 2019. [11]

Sovereign Military Order of Malta

The Order of Malta also traces its history to the late 11th century, but it first became a religious military order by a bull of Pope Paschal II of 1113. The Grand Master is elected by the Council Complete of State [12] of the Order and serves for life or until abdication. Before a person elected as the Grand Master makes the oath of office, the Pope must be informed of the election. [13] The Pope also appoints the Cardinal Patron and a prelate of the Order. [14]

Defunct/dormant orders

Other Catholic chivalric orders

Historically, many military orders and other chivalric orders were founded in association with the Holy See. Most of them became extinct, were suppressed, or merged with contemporary chivalric orders. Some of them survived under the protection of the Holy See as in the list above. A few of them remained as patrimony of dynastic royal houses. Some of these dynastic orders of knighthood were recognised as Roman Catholic by Papal bulls of the Holy See, and although they are no more affiliated with or protected by the Holy See, some of them are still exclusively designated for Catholics. [15]

In response to a proliferation of self-proclaimed chivalric orders claiming recognition from the Roman Catholic Church, the Holy See's Secretariat of State issued a statement clarifying that "other than its own Equestrian Orders [...] the Holy See recognises and supports only the Sovereign Military Order of Malta [...] and the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre". All other self-styled chivalric orders, the statement continued, "whether of recent origin or mediaeval foundation, are not recognised by the Holy See" and "the Holy See does not guarantee their historical or juridical legitimacy, their ends or organisational structures... to prevent the continuation of abuses which may result in harm to people of good faith, the Holy See confirms that it attributes absolutely no value whatsoever to certificates of membership or insignia issued by these groups, and it considers inappropriate the use of churches or chapels for their so-called 'ceremonies of investiture'." [9]

The Teutonic (German) Order is no longer an order of chivalry, but is a purely religious order within the Roman Church. [16] The Teutonic Order was founded as a hospital brotherhood in 1190 in Acre, Israel. In 1198 the Order became a religious military order of chivalry. However, since 1929 it has been a purely religious order of priests, brothers, and sisters, with a category of 12 honorary knights and an unlimited number of associates, known as Marianer. Its headquarters is in Vienna, Austria. The current Grand Master is Bruno Platter. [17]

Other distinctions

Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice

The medal was established in 1888 and is awarded by the Pope to members of the clergy and laity for service to the Catholic Church and the Pope. Until 1996, it was the highest Papal decoration that could be awarded to women. [18]

Benemerenti medal

The Benemerenti Medal is awarded by the Pope to members of the clergy and laity for service to the Catholic Church. The tradition can be traced back to the 18th century.

Jerusalem Pilgrim's Cross

The Jerusalem Pilgrim's Cross was established in 1901. It is an honour awarded in the name of the Pope as a recognition of merit to pilgrims to the Holy Land. [19]

Golden Rose

The Golden Rose is a gold ornament. Recipients have included churches and sanctuaries, royalty, military figures, and governments.

Defunct/dormant distinctions

Titles and honours

Political titles

Of ecclesiastical or religious authorities



Lay members

See also

Related Research Articles

Sir is a formal English honorific address for men, derived from Sire in the High Middle Ages. Traditionally, as governed by law and custom, Sir is used for men titled knights i.e. of orders of chivalry, and later also to baronets, and other offices. As the female equivalent for knighthood is damehood, the suo jure female equivalent term is typically Dame. The wife of a knight or baronet tends to be addressed Lady, although a few exceptions and interchanges of these uses exist.

Military order (religious society) One of a variety of Christian societies of knights

A military order is a Christian religious society of knights. The original military orders were the Knights Templar, the Knights Hospitaller and the Teutonic Knights. They arose in the Middle Ages in association with the Crusades, their members being dedicated to the protection of pilgrims and the defence of the Crusader states. They are the predecessors of the secular chivalric orders.

Order of the Holy Sepulchre Catholic order of knighthood

The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, also called Order of the Holy Sepulchre or Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, is a Catholic order of knighthood under the protection of the Holy See. The pope is the sovereign of the order. The order, with the five other papal equestrian orders and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, are the only Orders of Chivalry that are recognised and protected by the Holy See.

The fount of honour refers to a person, who, by virtue of his or her official position, has the exclusive right of conferring legitimate titles of nobility and orders of chivalry on other persons.

Order of St. Gregory the Great Honorary Order of Knighthood of the Holy See

The Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great was established on 1 September 1831, by Pope Gregory XVI, seven months after his election to that seat by the College of Cardinals.

Order of Saint Lazarus Roman Catholic military order founded by crusaders around 1119

The Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem, also known as the Leper Brothers of Jerusalem or simply as Lazarists, was a Catholic military order founded by crusaders around 1119 at a leper hospital in Jerusalem, Kingdom of Jerusalem, whose care became its original purpose, named after their patron saint, Lazarus. It was recognised by King Fulk of Jerusalem in 1142 and canonically recognised as a hospitaller and military order of chivalry under the rule of Saint Augustine in the Papal bull Cum a Nobis Petitur of Pope Alexander IV in 1255. Although they were centered on their charism of caring for those afflicted with leprosy, the knights of the Order of Saint Lazarus notably fought in the Battle of La Forbie in 1244 and in the Defense of Acre in 1291. The titular seat was successively situated at Jerusalem, Saint-Jean-d'Acre and - after the fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem - split in two main branches in Italy and in Château Royal de Boigny-sur-Bionne in France.

A dynastic order, monarchical order, or house order, is an order under royal patronage, bestowed by the head of a currently or formerly sovereign royal family as legitimate fons honorum. These are often considered part of the cultural patrimony of the royal family. They are orders of chivalry, and orders of merit just as those distributed by sovereign states, but dynastic orders were often founded or maintained to reward service to a monarch, or the monarch's subsequent dynasty.

Supreme Order of Christ order of the Holy See

The Supreme Order of Christ is the highest order of chivalry awarded by the Pope. According to some scholars it owes its origin to the same Order of Christ of the Knights Templar, from which came the Order of Christ that was awarded by the Kings of Portugal and the Emperors of Brazil. The Portuguese order had originally both a secular and religious component; by the 18th century, the religious component had died out.

Order of the Golden Spur papal order

The Order of the Golden Spur, officially known also as the Order of the Golden Militia, is a Papal Order of Knighthood conferred upon those who have rendered distinguished service in propagating the Catholic faith, or who have contributed to the glory of the Church, either by feat of arms, by writings, or by other illustrious acts.

Order of chivalry Order, confraternity or society of knights

An order of chivalry, order of knighthood, chivalric order, or equestrian order is an order of knights typically founded during or inspired by the original Catholic military orders of the Crusades, paired with medieval concepts of ideals of chivalry.

Grand master (order) head of a knighthood

Grand Master is a title of the supreme head of various orders, including chivalric orders such as military orders and dynastic orders of knighthood.

Order of Pope Pius IX

The Order of Pope Pius IX, also referred as the Pian Order, is a papal order of knighthood originally founded by Pope Pius IV in 1560. The awarding of the order fell into disuse and was re-instituted by Pope Pius IX as a continuation on 17 June 1847. Since November 1993, it has been granted to women.

Order of St. Sylvester Papal Order of Knighthood

The Pontifical Equestrian Order of Saint Sylvester Pope and Martyr, sometimes referred to as the Sylvestrine Order, or the Pontifical Order of Pope Saint Sylvester, is one of five Orders of Knighthood awarded directly by the Pope as Supreme Pontiff and head of the Catholic Church and as the Head of State of Vatican City.

Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George chivalric order

The Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George, also historically referred to as the Imperial Constantinian Order of Saint George and the Order of the Constantinian Angelic Knights of Saint George, is a dynastic order of knighthood of the Catholic Church. Currently, the grand magistry of the order is disputed among the two claimants to the headship of the former reigning House of Bourbon-Two Sicilies as heirs of the House of Farnese, namely Prince Pedro and Prince Carlo. The order was confirmed as a religious-military order in a 1718 papal bull owing to a notable success in liberating Christians in the Peloponnese. Alongside the Sovereign Military Order of Malta it is the sole international Catholic Order which still has this status today. Although it is not an order of chivalry under patronage of the Holy See, membership is restricted to practising Catholics.

Nicola Canali Italian cardinal

Nicola Canali was an Italian Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He served as President of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State from 1939 and as Major Penitentiary from 1941 until his death, and was elevated to the cardinalate in 1935. He was Grand Master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, a prestigious papal order of knighthood.

Collar (order) ornate chain worn about the neck as a symbol of membership in various chivalric orders

A collar is an ornate chain, often made of gold and enamel, and set with precious stones, which is worn about the neck as a symbol of membership in various chivalric orders. It is a particular form of the livery collar, the grandest form of the widespread phenomenon of livery in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period. Orders which have several grades often reserve the collar for the highest grade. The links of the chain are usually composed of symbols of the order, and the badge of the order normally hangs down in front. Sometimes the badge is referred to by what is depicted on it; for instance, the badge that hangs from the chain of the Order of the Garter is referred to as "the George".

Benedetto Barberini was a Catholic Cardinal and Camerlengo of the Sacred College of Cardinals.

Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel honorary French order established in 1608

The Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was founded in 1608 by Pope Paul V at the request of King Henry IV of France.

Order of Saint Lazarus (statuted 1910) organization

The Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem is a Christian ecumenical lay order statuted in 1910 by a council of Catholics in Paris, France, initially under the protection of Patriarch Cyril VIII Jaha of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. In the 1920s it expanded its jurisdiction enrolling members from other countries in Europe and in the Americas. It re-established the office of grand master in 1935 linking the office to members of the Spanish royal family. It assumed an ecumenical dimension in the 1960s to expand its membership to individuals of other Christian denominations in British Commonwealth countries.

Papal nobility Nobility of the Holy See

The Papal nobility is the nobility of the Holy See. Few Pontifical titles, other than personal nobility granted by individual entry into the several Pontifical equestrian orders, have been granted since the election of Pope John XXIII, though Pope John Paul II ennobled several distinguished individuals during his pontificate, as did Pope Benedict XVI, through the Vatican Secretariat of State. Those granted included prince, duke, marquis, count, and baron. The papal nobility are, as such, part of the Papal Court reformed via the 1968 apostolic letter Pontificalis Domus, which reorganized the Court into the Pontifical Household. Papal titles of nobility were specifically recognized by Italy in the 1929 Lateran Treaty establishing the Vatican City State and recognizing the sovereignty of the Holy See. In 1969 the Italian Council of State determined that the provision of the Lateran Treaty concerning the recognition of papal titles that was incorporated into the Italian Constitution was still valid and therefore that their use in Italy was still licit. No provision, however, has been made for their use in Italian passports, identity cards or civil state registries.


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