Equestrian Order of Merit of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, Type I, Knight
Image courtesy of “Histoire, Costumes, Decorations de tous Les Ordres De Chevalerie et Marques D’Honneur” by Par Auguste Wahlen
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This Order is associated with centuries of historical and political intrigue. Some researchers link the foundation of the Order to Godfrey de Bouillon and the First Crusade in the 11th century. In reality it was not brought under the protection of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem until 1847, and it wasn’t even granted legal canonical status until 1868, when it was placed under papal control by Pope Pius IX.
Throughout most of its history this Order has been awarded to Catholics in recognition of their lifelong dedication and services to the Church, and the aid they have rendered to Jerusalem, monetary or philanthropic. It continues to be awarded as a modern Order, and may be conferred upon moral and charitable Christians who have worked to protect Jerusalem, are active members of the Catholic Church, and are loyal to the Pope.
From 1847 to 1868 the Knights wore a red enamelled Cross of Jerusalem on a black neck ribbon. Some versions of these crosses were manufactured with a crown suspension, and there may been an associated Breast Star.
The Order was expanded to feature three grades in 1868, including Grand Cross with Breast Star, Commander, and Knight. The surmounting crown was officially removed from the cross design at this point, but continued to be produced unofficially until 1907.
In 1888, Pope Leo XIII amended the Order to admit female members who displayed special merit. The crosses awarded to women were worn on bow ribbons for the Commander and Knight grades, and a thinner shoulder sash for the Grand Cross grade.
Changes continued to be made to the Order throughout the 20th century. In 1901, Pope Leo XIII added a cockle shell ribbon decoration for recipients who completed a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. While in 1906, the Order was officially recognized as part of the Holy See’s order of precedence for Orders and Decorations.
The next year, in 1907, the grades of Collar with Breast Star, and Commander with Star (Grand Officer with Grand Officer Breast Star) were added to the Order. The Collar grade is restricted to members of international Royal Families. Also in 1907, specific cross suspensions were added to distinguish between male and female recipients. Wherein the awards for women feature a surmounting golden bow, and the awards for men feature a surmounting golden military trophy.
The Order was removed from papal control in 1928, becoming instead an Order under papal protection.
In 1936, the Grand Cross Breast Star was given a new design. From 1868 to 1936 the Grand Cross Breast Star features a small Cross of Jerusalem surrounded by a green wreath in the obverse medallion, but the new design replaced the small Cross of Jerusalem with a large Cross and completely removed the wreath. Since 1936, the Breast Star with a small Cross of Jerusalem surrounded by a wreath has been used as the Grand Officer Breast Star.
In 1949, a palm of Jerusalem, in gold, silver or bronze, was added to the Order as a possible ribbon decoration to recognize individuals for exceptional merit.
The current Order Statutes were published in 1977.
The Order is also known as the Order of the Holy Sepulchre and the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre.
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