Orders, decorations, and medals of the Holy See

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.

Titles and honours

Political titles

Of ecclesiastical or religious authorities

Of non-ecclesiastical and non-religious authorities, i. e., merely political authorities



Lay members

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):

However, the term 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 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.

Notably, the term Papal order of knighthood does not include the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, which (although it is the only other order of chivalry recognised by the Holy See) it is internationally recognised as being itself sovereign.

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.

  • The awards of the Orders of Christ and the Golden Spur are made at the express wish of the Pope in consultation with the Cardinal Secretary of State.
  • Awards of the Order of Pius IX (or Pian Order) are made to heads of state and senior members of their household at the time of official visits to the Holy See, to senior members of diplomatic missions accredited to the Vatican, and exceptionally, to those who have particularly served the Pope or the Holy See, at the discretion of the Cardinal Secretary of State.
  • Awards of the other two orders are generally made on the recommendation of diocesan bishops, with the support of the apostolic nuncio.

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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4] 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.[2]

During a reorganisation of the Papal orders in 1905, Pope St. 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 St. 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.[5]

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 St. Pius X separated the Order from the Order of St. Sylvester, establishing it as the Order of the Golden Militia.[4] 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".[6] HRH Jean, Grand Duke of Luxembourg was the last living knight of the Order.[7]

Order of Pius IX

The third highest Papal order is the Order of Pius IX, founded on 17 June 1847 by Pope Pius IX.[4] The Order of Pius IX is the highest Papal order currently awarded.[8] 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.[6]

Order of Saint Gregory the Great

Insignia of the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. 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.[4] 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.[6] 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.[9]

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.[4] 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.[6]

Under protection of the Apostolic See

In addition to the Papal Orders of Knighthood awarded by the Pope as temporal sovereign of the Vatican City State and fons honorum, similar to the orders given by other heads of state, there are several military religious orders which have existed since the Crusades. Only three of these are recognised by the Apostolic See, and only the first two as orders of chivalry:[10]

  • The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem is under the direct protection of the Apostolic See and a Cardinal is Grand Master while the Pope is Sovereign of the Order. The Order is headquartered in the Vatican City State.
  • 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.
  • The Teutonic (German) Order is no longer an order of chivalry, but is a purely religious order within the Roman Church.

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.[11] The present Cardinal Grand Master is Edwin Frederick O'Brien, who was appointed on 15 March 2012.[12]

Sovereign Military Order of Malta

The Order of Malta 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 [13] 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.[14] The Pope also appoints the Cardinal Patron and a prelate of the Order.[15]

Teutonic Order

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.[16]

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 directly affiliated with or protected by the Holy See, some of them are still exclusively designated for Catholics.[17]

Prominent examples meeting the above conditions, while also recognised by the International Commission on Orders of Chivalry, include the following:

House of Habsburg
House of Bourbon (Spain)
House of Bourbon (France)
House of Lorraine
House of Wittelsbach
House of Savoy
House of Bourbon-Two Sicilies
House of Braganza

In any case, 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'."[10]

Other distinctions

Ecclesiastical decorations

  • Category:Catholic ecclesiastical decorations

Defunct/dormant distinctions

Usually as result of decrees promulgated in 1870, 1954, or 1977.

  • Order of Saint Cecilia
  • Order of Saint John of the Lateran
  • Order of Saint Sylvester and the Militia Aurarta
  • Order of the Moor
  • Knights of Pius
  • Blessed sword and hat
  • Medal of Military Merit
  • Fidei et Virtuti
  • Pro Petri Sede
  • Cross of Laurentius
  • Peter's Advocacy Cross
  • Papal Lateran Cross

See also

  • Category:Catholic chivalric orders
  • Category:Catholic ecclesiastical decorations
  • Category:Orders, decorations, and medals of Andorra


  1. ^ Antonia Fraser, The Wives of Henry VIII, page 95.
  2. ^ a b de Bragança, José Vicente. "The Military Order of Christ and the Papal Croce di Cristo". Portuguese Military Orders. Archived from the original on 6 May 2008. Retrieved 14 April 2012.
  3. ^ Sainty, Guy Stair. "The Papal Orders". Chivalricorders.org. Archived from the original on 11 May 2008. Retrieved 14 April 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d e Wikisource-logo.svg Rock, P.M.J. (1913). "Pontifical Decorations" . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  5. ^ Todorov, Borislav (15 April 1966). "Association of Papal Orders in Great Britain". PapalKnights.org.uk. Archived from the original on 6 March 2012. Retrieved 14 April 2012.
  6. ^ a b c d Sainty, Guy Stair. "History of the Papal Orders". Burke's Peerage. Archived from the original on 13 August 2007. Retrieved 14 April 2012.
  7. ^ World Orders of Knighthood & Merit. "Did you know?". wokm.co.uk. Retrieved 8 April 2012.
  8. ^ Todorov, Borislav. "Association of Papal Orders in Great Britain". PapalKnights.org.uk. Archived from the original on 6 February 2012. Retrieved 14 April 2012.
  9. ^ Sainty, Guy Stair (7 February 1905). "The Papal Order of Saint Gregory the Great". Chivalricorders.org. Retrieved 14 April 2012.
  10. ^ a b Press Release of the Secretariat of State (Holy See), December 2012: http://www.news.va/en/news/note-of-clarification-from-the-secretariat-of-stat
  11. ^ "Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem". Vatican City. Grand Magisterium of OESSG. Retrieved 9 April 2012.
  12. ^ "Rinunce e Nomine, 15.03.2012". press.catholica.va. Retrieved 14 April 2012.
  13. ^ "Sovereign Order of Malta". Orderofmalta.int. 11 February 2018. Retrieved 11 February 2018.
  14. ^ Constitutional Charter 1998, Article 14.
  15. ^ "Sovereign Order of Malta". Orderofmalta.int. 11 March 2008. Retrieved 13 April 2012.
  16. ^ "Deutscher Orden". Teutonic Knights. Retrieved 9 April 2012.
  17. ^ "Le Associazioni dei". www.icocregister.org.

Sources and external links

  • Noonan, Jr., James-Charles (1996). The Church Visible: The Ceremonial Life and Protocol of the Roman Catholic Church. Viking. p. 196. ISBN 0-670-86745-4.
  • Orders, Decorations and Medals of the Vatican, by Megan Robertson (at Medals of the World website)
  • The Knights of The Holy See by Alessandra Malesci Baccani, Office of the Knighthood of Honors and Heraldic, official website of the Italian government
Assistant at the Pontifical Throne

The Bishops-Assistant at the Pontifical Throne were ecclesiastical titles in the Roman Catholic Church. It designated prelates belonging to the Papal Chapel, who stood near the throne of the Pope at solemn functions.

The title has not been in use since Pope Paul VI issued his "motu proprio" (Latin: Pontificalis Domus) on 28 March 1968, which reformed the Papal Court, renaming it the Papal Household and eliminated all previous titles of nobility. Unless specified otherwise, all Assistants at the Pontifical Throne immediately entered the Papal nobility as Counts of Rome.

Assistants at the Pontifical Throne ranked immediately below the College of Cardinals and were also Counts of the Apostolic Palace.

Benemerenti medal

The Benemerenti Medal is an honour awarded by the Pope to members of the clergy and laity for service to the Catholic Church. Originally established as an award to soldiers in the Papal Army, the medal was later extended to the clergy and the laity for service to the church.

Hereditary officers of the Roman Curia

The Roman Court or Papal Curia was reformed by the Bull Pontificalis Domus of 1969. This abolished the role of the old Roman nobility at the Papal Court with the exception of the position of Prince Assistant to the Papal Throne. These titles (such as the Grand Master of the Sacred Apostolic Hospice, Marshal of the Holy Roman Church and the Sacred Conclave, etc.) are now purely honorary (though still hereditary).

This position had been shared jointly by the Princes Orsini and Colonna, but the former was deprived by Pius XII after obtaining a divorce and the title was conferred upon Prince Torlonia, Prince of Fucino, Canino and Musignano of the Torlonia Family.

The Prince Assistants are representatives of the Roman nobility, who serve at the feet of the Throne immediately next to the Cardinal Deacon who stands to the right of the Pope. They alternate office during their lifetimes and no-one can substitute for them.

Their principal function is to serve on the occasion of official visits by a Head of state.

The reforms of 1969 also changed the names and abolished the differing categories of Secret Chamberlains of the Cape and Sword to Gentlemen of His Holiness. Other offices were abolished altogether, but office holders were reassigned.

Holy See

The Holy See (Latin: Sancta Sedes; Latin pronunciation: [ˈsaŋkta ˈsedes]; Italian: Santa Sede), also called the See of Rome, is the apostolic episcopal see of the bishop of Rome, known as the Pope, ex cathedra the universal ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the worldwide Catholic Church, and a sovereign entity of international law. Founded in the 1st century by Saints Peter and Paul, by virtue of Petrine and Papal primacy according to Catholic tradition, it is the focal point of full communion for Catholic bishops and Catholics around the world organised in polities of the Latin Church, the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches, and their dioceses and religious institutes.

As a recognised sovereign subject of international law, headed by the Pope, the Holy See is headquartered in, operates from, and exercises "exclusive dominion" over the independent Vatican City State enclave in Rome, Italy. The Holy See maintains bilateral diplomatic relations with 172 sovereign states, signs concordats and treaties, and performs multilateral diplomacy with multiple intergovernmental organizations, including the United Nations and its agencies, the Council of Europe, the European Communities, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe the Organization of American States and the Organization for African Unity. The Holy See is administered by the Roman Curia (Latin for Roman Court), similar to a centralised government, with the Cardinal Secretary of State as its chief administrator, in addition to various dicasteries, comparable to ministries and executive departments. Papal elections are carried out by the College of Cardinals.

Although the Holy See is sometimes metonymically referred to as the "Vatican", the Vatican City State was distinctively established with the Lateran Treaty (1929) between the Holy See and Italy to ensure the temporal, diplomatic, and spiritual independence of the Papacy. As such, ambassadors are officially accredited to the Holy See and not the Vatican City State. Conversely, Papal nuncios to states and international organisations are recognised as representing the Holy See and the integrity of the Catholic Church along with its 1.3 billion members, not the Vatican City State, as prescribed also in the Canon law of the Catholic Church (1983). The "Holy See" thus refers to the See of Rome viewed as the central government of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church, in turn, is the largest non-government provider of education and health care in the world, while the diplomatic status of the Holy See facilitates the access of its vast international network of charities.

Jerusalem Pilgrim's Cross

The Jerusalem Pilgrim's Cross (Latin: Signum Sacri Itineris Hierosolymitani) is an honour awarded in the name of the Pope as a recognition of merit to pilgrims to the Holy Land.The decoration is worn on the left side of the chest. It may not be worn except in religious solemnities, processions or pilgrimages, or in the presence of the Pope.

List of military decorations

This is a list of military decorations, by country in alphabetical order and in order of precedence.

Where separate pages already exist, this list links to them.

Note that there are many pages which overlap the domain of this page, including:

Military awards and decorations

Campaign medaland those pages mentioned within:

Category:Military awards and decorations

Category:Battle honours

Category:Orders, decorations, and medalsand other categories.

There are over 160 countries listed in Category:Orders, decorations, and medals by country.

There are over 40 countries listed in Category:Military awards and decorations by country.

Papal Lateran Cross

The Papal Lateran Cross (Italian: Pontificia Croce Lateranense) is a medal for recognition of merit bestowed by the Holy See.

Per Artem ad Deum Medal

The Per Artem ad Deum Medal - (Eng. Through Arts to God) - annual award presented by the Pontifical Council for Culture in recognition of the achievements which contribute to the promotion of dialogue between the diversity of cultures in the contemporary world and thus promote man as an individual.

Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice

The Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (Latin: For Church and Pope) decoration is an award of the Roman Catholic Church. It is also known as the "Decoration of Honour".

It is currently conferred for distinguished service to the church by lay people and clergy.

Supreme Order of Christ

The Supreme Order of Christ (Italian: Ordine Supremo del Cristo) 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.

Holy See Orders, decorations, and medals of the Holy See
of the Holy See
under protection
of the Holy See

(with distinctions)
Other distinctions

(1870, 1954, 1977)
See also
Major basilicas
Papal names
Eponymic entities
Major basilicas
Foreign affairs
Suburbicarian sees
Suffragan dioceses
See also
Bible and
By country
of the faithful
Orders, decorations, and medals by country

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