Papal Royal Orders

Happy Birthday to Pope Francis, who turns 85 today! The head of the Catholic Church and Sovereign of the Vatican City State, the Popes have received many Royals over the decades, often awarding them with coveted Papal decorations, so to mark his birthday, we are featuring the Papal Royal Orders!

Royal Visits to the VaticanPrivilège du Blanc

But first an explanation of Orders in general- Almost every country, monarchy or not, has some form of an honours system that awards chivalry or merit, and is often used in diplomatic exchange of gifts. Each individual order has it’s own history, and in countries with multiple orders, has it’s own rank. The Head of State is usually the sovereign of the order, and has varied authority on deciding their recipients. National Orders are those which must be awarded with consultation from the government, and are official gifts, while the recipients of Dynastic Orders are at the discretion of the Sovereign, and many non-reigning families still award their Dynastic Orders, with no government authority.

Orders of their own countries are awarded to royals at birth, upon reaching the age of majority, upon marriage into the royal family, or after years of dedicated service to the country. Orders of foreign countries are usually awarded during State Visits, and are given according to rank, with the sovereigns receiving the higher order, the heirs the lower order, and the other members of the royal family participating in the visit receiving yet a lower one. However, these rules vary from country to country, and also depend on individual Sovereigns.

Orders are accompanied by a varied amount of insignia, which can include a Sash with a badge worn at the hip, a Star, ornate Collars, Badges to be worn on the shoulders, and smaller Pins, and the awarding of specific items differentiate the different grades in each individual order, and/or depend on the orders themselves. The wearing of the insignia depends on the occasion. The ornate collars of an Order are only worn very rarely at White Tie events or on Uniforms. The Sash and Star are more common and seen at White Tie State Banquets. The smaller badges may be worn when you are wearing the insignia of other orders, or at a Black Tie occasion where Orders are worn. The small pins are worn at formal occasions in the daytime, when you want to honour the occasion without making it too formal. Now that we have an explanation, lets learn about the Papal Orders.

Supreme Order of Christ

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Dating back to the 14th century, the Supreme Order of Christ is the most senior decoration available to be bestowed by the Head of the Roman Catholic Church since 1905, when Pope Pius X undertook to reorganize the Papal orders. Since 1966, it can only be bestowed to Catholic Heads of State to whom it might be given only to commemorate very special occasions at which the Pope himself was present. The last public award was to the 77th Prince and Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta by Pope John Paul II in 1987. Since the death of King Baudouin of the Belgians in 1993 there are no public known recipients of the order.

Order of the Golden Spur

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Believed to be the oldest papal honor, the Order of the Golden Spur was originally associated with nobility and the conferral of noble titles. However, by the 19th century, it became commonplace for people to be admitted to the order upon the payment of a small fee. To restore the order’s former status, Pope Gregory XVI reformed the order in 1841 and it became the Order of Saint Sylvester and the Golden Militia, revoking most of the awards previously made and limiting its membership to 150 Commanders and 300 Knights. Nonetheless, Pope Pius X revived the Order of the Golden Spur with its original name and made the Blessed Virgin Mary its patron. The only existing rank is knight and membership is limited to 100 knights worldwide. Since the death of Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg, there are no living recipients.

Order of Pius IX

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Although founded by Pope Pius IV in 1560, this decoration was discontinued before being revived by Pope Pius IX in 1847. There are four grades of the Order of Pope Pius IX: Knight Grand Cross (1st class), Knight Commander with Star (2nd class), Knight Commander (3rd class), and Knight (4th class). In addition, a Knight Grand Cross may receive the order’s Grand Collar, usually reserved for Heads of State on official visits to the Vatican. Ambassadors to the Holy See often receive the Grand Cross on completing two years from their appointment. Women were allowed to receive the decoration from 1993 onwards and non-christians may receive the lowest grade.

Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice

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The Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice cross is a medal founded by Pope Leo XIII to celebrate his golden sacerdotal jubilee in 1888 and it is currently awarded to celebrate distinguished service to the Catholic Church, not being restricted to the clergy. Until 1993, it was the highest Papal decoration awarded to women.

Benemerenti Medal

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The original Benemerenti Medal was founded by Pope Pius VI in the 18th century. Although it was founded as a military decoration to be bestowed upon members of the Papal Army, the medal is now a civil decoration used as a mark of recognition for people who have dedicated their services to the Catholic Church, and recipients may include laypeople. Members of the Swiss Guard are ordinarily awarded it after three years of effective service.

Royal Visits to the VaticanPrivilège du Blanc

This article was written by Assistant Editor Gabriel Aquino

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