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The Order of the Golden Spur

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The Order of the Golden Spur

The Order of the Golden Militia, now known as the Order of the Golden Spur, is a papal order of chivalry 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, writings, or other illustrious acts.

It is the earliest papal chivalric institution,[1] and its membership is restricted to one class of one hundred knights throughout the world. The honour is bestowed by a Motu Proprio of the Pope. It is awarded solely for merit, without any consideration of noble birth.

In 1841 it was absorbed into the Order of Saint Sylvester as the Order of Saint Sylvester and the Golden Militia. But Pope Pius X restored it to the status of a separate order on 7 February 1905, in commemoration of the golden jubilee of the dogmatic definition of the Immaculate Conception, and placed it under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary.[2] It is the second highest of the papal orders (the first being the Order of Christ)

The emblems of the order after the 1905 reorganization consists of:

The badge, an eight-pointed, enamelled gold cross, in whose center is a small white medallion on one side of which is the word "Maria" surrounded by a golden circle, and on the other the year MDCCCCV and in its surrounding circle the words "Pius X Restituit". Pendant from the bottom of the cross is a small golden spur. The decoration is suspended from a red ribbon with white borders.

The star, which is worn on the left breast, is the same cross centered upon the rays of a silver star.

The official uniform is a red tunic decorated with two rows of gilt buttons, black velvet collar and cuffs embroidered in gold, black trousers with gold side stripes, epaulettes ornamented with gold fringes and surmounted on top with the emblem of the order, gold spurs, oblong two-peaked hat trimmed with gold and bearing the papal colors, and a sword whose hilt forms a gilt cross in a black scabbard, held in place with a gold sword belt with red fringe.

In the early days of the order its members were entitled to wear a gold livery collar (chain), but when the order was revived in 1908 this was not resumed, though the collar remains a symbol of the order.

In ecclesiastical heraldry, individuals awarded this Order may depict the gold livery collar completely encircling the shield on their coat of arms.[3]

Pius X, in commemoration of the high prestige to which this order had attained long years before it was absorbed into the Gregorian Order of St. Sylvester, and as a souvenir of the golden jubilee of the dogmatic definition of the Immaculate Conception of the B. V. M., gave back to it the separate existence, name and grade of ancient days, and rendered it still more illustrious by placing it under the patronage of the Immaculate Conception. To this order are to be admitted only those who have distinguished themselves in an eminent degree, and either by feat of arms, or by their writings, or by any other conspicuous work, have spread the Catholic Faith, and by their bravery have safeguarded, or by their learning made illustrious, the Church of God. To insure its continued high grade of excellence and desirability, its founder limited it to one class and one hundred knights for the entire world ("Multum ad excitandos", 7 Feb., 1905). It can be conferred on those already knighted in the highest orders, even that of Christ, as well as on those who have never received any order of knighthood. The honour is bestowed by a "Motu Proprio" (Pope's own motion) and as such is expedited through the secretariat of State, and free from all chancery fees. The decoration is an eight-pointed or bifurcated yellow enamelled gold cross, with a gold trophy on top and pendent from the inner sides of its bifurcated foot a gold spur. On a small white medal in the centre of the cross the word MARIA surrounded by a golden circle, and on the reverse side in the centre is stamped the year MDCCCCV and in the surrounding circle the inscription PIUS X RESTITUIT. The badge is the cross upon the rays of a silver star. The ribbon used for both decoration and badge is red bordered with white. The knights of today do not wear the ancient collar. The cross is worn suspended by the ribbon of the order which encircles the neck. The badge is attached by the ribbon to the left breast of the tunic. The present official dress consists of a red tunic with two rows of gilt buttons, the collar and cuffs of which are black velvet embroidered with threads of gold, long, black cloth trousers with gold side stripes; epaulettes ornamented with gold fringes and surmounted on top with emblems of the order, gold spurs, oblong two-peaked hat fringed with gold and adorned with a gold knob displaying papal colours, a sword whose hilt is a gilt cross and scabbard black, and finally a gilt sword belt with red fringe. All former concessions of noble titles, even that of count palatine to Knights of the Golden Spur, were revoked by Pope Pius X, who desired to have the personal merit and worth of the knights their sole and only title to honour and respect among men.

The Holy See has awarded the distinction of knighthood since the early medieval period. Such honors originally conferred nobility, personal or hereditary according to the rank, but today the Papal Orders are a means by which the Holy Father might personally distinguish those who have particularly served the Church and society. The crosses of the Papal Orders are visible marks of recognition and mirror the awards made by most states to their citizens and others for public and private services. The present Pontiff, Pope John Paul II, has extended membership in the Pian Order, Saint Gregory the Great and Saint Sylvester to ladies as well as gentlemen. Nominations for appointment to the Papal Orders are generally made by parish priests to the local Ordinary who, after due consideration, may forward the recommendation to the Papal Secretariat of State. Recommendations are also made by Apostolic Nuncios in post and by senior members of the Papal Curia. A tax is charged in respect of each nomination to cover the expenses thereof, which is the liability of the nominator but normally payable by the recipient.

There is no surviving documentary evidence of a precise foundation date of the earliest Papal Chivalric institution, the Golden Militia, now represented by the second of the Papal Orders, that of the Golden Spur. However, the superior authority of the Holy See as a source of honor was first acknowledged by the Crusader knights who formed the Templar and Hospitaller Orders in the early twelfth century. The highest Papal Order, the Order of Christ, was last awarded in 1987 to the late Frà Angelo de Mojana, 77th Prince and Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, to honor him on the 25th anniversary of his election. Instituted in 1318 by King Denis I of Portugal as a Military Religious Order, the then Pope, John XXII, reserved the right for him and his successors to appoint knights. By 1522, the Order was effectively divided and, while the Portuguese decoration became increasingly widely distributed, the Papal distinction gradually fell into disuse until being revived as the highest Order of Chivalry of the Roman Church in 1878. It is awarded exclusively to male Catholic Sovereigns or Heads of State. There are presently no living members.