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The Supreme Order of Christ

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The Supreme Order of Christ

This rarely given distinction cannot strictly be characterized today as an Order of Knighthood, but more as an award of honor of the highest possible standing. The recent reforms of the Papal Orders by Pope Paul VI, [1] the Order of Christ was reserved to Catholic Heads of State to whom it might be given only to commemorate very special occasions at which the Pope himself was present. [2] This Order was last awarded in 1987 to the late Frà Angelo de Mojana, 77th Prince and Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of his election to the Grand Magistery; he died the following year. With the recent death of King Baudouin of the Belgians the are no living Knights of the Papal Supreme Order of Christ and there is a considered opinion that the present Pope may have decided to let it fall into abeyance, at least for the present.

The Papal Orders are awarded in the name of the Supreme Pontiff and are given both as awards of His Holiness as Head of the Roman Catholic Apostolic Church and also as Sovereign of the Vatican City State. Membership at one time was conferred by Papal Bull, or by Apostolic Letter, signed by the Pope himself, but since the reforms made in the structure of these Orders at the beginning of the 20th century, the diplomas have been signed by the Cardinal Secretary of State. Since the 29 June 1991 this post has been filled by His Eminence Angelo, Cardinal Sodano. The categories below may be considered to embrace all the legitimate Roman Catholic Orders of Knighthood. See a history of the evolution of these Orders.

The Papal and Catholic Orders may be divided into several categories.

(1) Those Orders awarded directly by the Supreme Pontiff as head of the Catholic Church and the Vatican City State. These are generally called the Papal Orders. The highest, and most infrequently awarded, is the Supreme Order of Christ; the second is the equally rarely given Order of the Golden Spur, the third is the Order of Pius IX (Pian Order or Ordine Piano), the fourth is the Order of Saint Gregory the Great, and the fourth is the Order of Saint Sylvester Pope and Martyr. Awards of the Orders of Christ and the Golden Spur at made at the express wish of His Holiness the Pope, in consultation with the Cardinal Secretary of State. Awards of the Ordine Piano are made either to Heads of State and senior members of their household at the time of official visits to the Holy See, to senior members of the Diplomatic Missions accredited to the Holy See and, exceptionally, to those who have particularly served the Holy Father personally or the Holy See, at the discretion of the Cardinal Secretary of State. Awards of the latter two Orders are generally made on the recommendation of Diocesan Bishops, or of Apostolic Nuncios. There are National Associations of Papal Knights in France, Great Britain and the United States, as well as Diocesan Associations such as those in Milan and Los Angeles.

The Order of Christ is the supreme Order of Chivalry awarded by the Pope. It owes its origins to the same Order of Christ of the Knights Templar from which came the Order of Christ (Portugal) awarded by the Kings of Portugal. Originally the Portuguese order had both a secular and religious component. By the 18th century, the religious component had died out.