Order of the Golden Militia, Type I, Knight Cross (1746-1841)
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This Order is the oldest honour awarded by the Holy See. While the concrete institution date is unknown, it is believed to have been established in the early 16th century.
The Order was originally bestowed upon any individual whose actions or achievements brought honour to the Catholic Church, or spread its message of faith. It was often awarded to artists and architects whose work exalted Catholicism, and it conferred hereditary Knighthood upon the recipient and his family.
Due to the excessive conferral of Knighthoods by Papal representatives and Italian nobles from 1558-1759, the Order lost its honourable reputation. Thus in 1841, Pope Gregory XVI amended the Order Statutes, revoking the right of anyone except the Pope to grant the Order; thereby splitting the Order into two grades, placing strict limits on the number of allowable recipients for each grade, and annulling all awards not bestowed by the Pope. He also made the cross wearable on a red and black ribbon, and added the portrait of Saint Sylvester to the obverse medallion. After 1841, the Order was unofficially referred to as the Order of St. Sylvester and the Golden Militia, but the official name remained the Order of the Golden Militia.
It was reinstated as a single grade Order by Pope Pius X in 1905. This modern Order is only awarded in recognition of merit, by the Pope, to a maximum of 100 worldwide recipients. When he renewed the Order, Pope Pius X removed the Collar grade, but it was reinstated in 1932. This modern iteration may also be awarded to non-Catholic heads of state, does not confer nobility upon its recipients, is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and could officially be called the Order of the Golden Militia or of the Golden Spur.
The Type I Knight Cross was awarded in a pinback form until 1746. The pinback form may feature lilies or golden rays between the cross arms. After September 1746, the design of the Knight Cross was changed to allow it to be worn on a ribbon. The post-1746 cross features enamel on the cross arms, golden rays between the cross arms, and may or may not be surmounted by a crown.
See Order of St. Sylvester in the Orders of the Vatican for more information.
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