Bene Merenti Medal, Type III, Small Silver Medal
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The Medal was initially bestowed by Pope Pius VI (1775–1799) for meritorious military service within the Papal Army upon lower ranking personnel who were not entitled to the Order of the Golden Militia. Yet it was not officially founded as a single grade honour until 1818, by Pope Pius VII.
In 1832, Pope Gregory XVI expanded the Medal into three grades, including Gold Medal, Silver Medal, and Bronze Medal. He also created distinct versions to reward civil merit and military merit. The medals for military merit were awarded to members of the Papal Army who had rendered special military service at Bologna, Ferrara, and Vienna. These medals feature the image of an angel under the papal emblem on the reverse and the inscription “BENEMERENTI.” While the medals for civil merit were awarded to members of the clergy, and feature the inscription "BENEMERENTI" surrounded by oak leaves on the reverse.
Pope Pius IX eliminated the dissimilar reverse designs, and created different ribbons for each award version. In which the medals for civil merit were worn on a white ribbon with yellow borders, and the medals for military merit were worn on a yellow ribbon with white borders. It was also during the reign of Pope Pius XI that small sizes of each grade were added to as grades, but they were discontinued during the reign of Pope Pius X (1903-1914).
In 1925, the Medal was expanded again to reward Swiss Guard personnel who had rendered a minimum of three years of loyal and faithful service to the Vatican.
Until the reign of Pope Paul VI (1963-1978), each subsequent Pope placed his own portrait on the medal’s obverse medallion.
Pope Paul VI made the most recent amendments to the Medal. He reduced the Award to a single grade, and placed the image of Jesus Christ with an outstretched hand on the obverse. It continues to be conferred in recognition of meritorious service rendered to the Church, but may only be awarded to individuals who are at least 35 years old, and who have rendered at least 10 years of service if they are members of the clergy or are part of the Swiss Guard, Gendarmerie, or Fire Corps.
These medals were minted and awarded each year during the reign of a Pope, thus there is a lot of variation in the composition, inscription, and portraiture within the Bene Merenti Medals of each Pope.
This medal is also known as the Merit Medal.
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