Cross “For the Church and the Pope” was instituted on July 17, 1888 by the encyclic “Quod Singulari Dei Concessu” of the 256th Pope Leo XIII (Vincenzo Gioacchino Raffaele Luigi Pecci, 02.03.1810-20.07.1903) whose papacy began on February 20, 1878. That award of the Roman Catholic Church commemorated golden sacerdotal jubilee of Leo XIII as his ordination took place on December 31, 1837. Three classes of the decoration were initially instituted, i.e. golden, silver and bronze crosses. Depending on its class the cross was made of gold, silver, bronze or gilt and silvered metal.
The very first issue was bestowed on a group of male only Catholics whose services and merits promoted the papal jubilee and made it a successful event. As far as similar festivities had been held worldwide they were accompanied with institution of numerous official and unofficial medals, table medals, tokens and commemorative badges. Cross “For the Church and the Pope” was also conferred on foreign Catholics who contributed to organization and implementation of festive masses, processions, exhibitions and other religious activities in their respective countries. Initially it was not intended to be conferred on clerics or monks and a fortiori on nuns.
Since October 1898 Cross “For the Church and the Pope” was made a permanent distinction and was issued for distinguished merits for the service of the Holy See. Women were made eligible for the award since 1898. Holders of the Cross were waived from any fees related to an issuance of the decoration. In some cases the award was granted posthumously.
After demise of the awardee the Cross remained in his family and was not surrendered to the chapter. Nevertheless relatives were not allowed to wear decoration.
Design of the Cross was based on that of two knightly orders of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies – Military Order of Saint Constantine and Military Order of Saint George of Reunion.
Initial shape of an award represented an equilateral patonce cross with four fleurs-de-lis placed between its arms. Circular medallion was superimposed on a centre of the cross.
An obverse showed stylized comets on each arm of the cross coming from its centre. It’s worth mentioning here that comets and fleurs-de-lis appearing on the decoration were derived from the ancestral coat of arms of the noble Pecci family. Medallion had a bust of Leo XIII facing left and circumscribed “The pontiff Leo XIII, 10th year [of pontificate]” (“Leo[ne] XIII P[ontefice] M[aximo] Ann[o] X”). Inscription was separated by a small equilateral cross at the bottom.
A reverse carried the following abridgements on the arms of the cross made in capital letters: “From the Day” (“Prid[ie]”) – left, “Counting” (“Cal[culatio]”) – upper, “January” (“Ian[uar]”) – right and “
Coat of arms of the Holy See (crossed keys and tiara) placed in the middle of medallion was circumscribed “For the Church and the Pope” (“Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice”) in capital letters. Inscription was separated by a small equilateral cross at the bottom.
Twenty years later the number of classes of that award was limited to just one by the 257th Pope Pius X (Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto, 02.06.1835-20.08.1914) whose papacy began on August 04, 1903. Thereby issuance of silver and bronze crosses was stopped and the highest golden class became the only one since 1908. Most probably it was attributed to the golden sacerdotal jubilee of the Pontiff that was celebrated that very year.
Since then decoration was being conferred on Catholics, both male and female, not less than 45 years old who dedicated themselves to continuous services to Catholic faith, church or society for at least 25 years. Cross “For the Church and the Pope” could have been awarded to the members of various religious orders 15 years after the vow.
Cross “For the Church and the Pope” was worn on the left side of the breast suspending from a silk red ribbon with two wide white stripes closer to its edges each carrying a thin yellow stripe within. Claims of other color schemes of the pre-1968 ribbon that appear in some online resources is false, only above described ribbon existed.
Design of the decoration remained unchanged until 1968 and the only indicator of the period of issuance is the papal crest stamped on the box of issue. Minor varieties of the crosses are known to exist due to the usage of different stamps throughout nearly century-old history of the award.
Crosses “For the Church and the Pope” were presented in cardboard rectangular boxes that generally had a size of approximately 11,5x6 cm. Boxes were covered with scarlet paper and had individual arms of the Pope during whose papacy decoration was conferred.
Drastic changes to a design of the decoration were introduced in 1968 by the 262nd Pope Paul VI, an innovator in many respects. As those changes lay outside the timeframe of our website and this article we’ll confine to mentioning them in just a few broad terms.
Design of decoration was changed to a simple four-pointed cross of Greek model of gilded .800 silver or gold for extremely important achievements, color scheme of its ribbon was changed traditional papal colors, viz. yellow and white vertical stripes of equal width.
Cross “For the Church and the Pope” is issued till now to clergy and laity for distinguished service to the Roman Catholic Church, charitable and public activities. Currently it is the highest among other award of the Holy See that could be bestowed on lay people.
The author thanks Edgar van Engeland (the Netherlands), a renowned expert on Papal decorations for providing additional valuable information on this award as well as for illustrations of decorations and award document from his personal collection.