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Ordo Sancti Gregorii Magni

Order of Saint Gregory the Great

Order of Saint Gregory the Great was instituted on September 01, 1831 by the encyclic “Quod Summis” of the 254th Pope Gregory XVI (Bartolomeo Alberto Cappellari, 18.09.1765-01.06.1846) whose papacy began on February 02, 1831. By creating that order the pontiff aimed at rewarding Austrian and Italian allies who remained loyal to his predecessor, Pius VIII during revolutionary events in 1830. Back then Austrian troops responded to the call of the Pope and suppressed a revolt that posed a threat to his authority in Papal States of North-Eastern and central Italy where provisional government had been created in 1830.  

Order of Saint Gregory the Great 2According to the encyclic Order of Saint Gregory the Great was to be bestowed on “gentlemen of proven loyalty to the Holy See who, by reason of their nobility of birth and the renown of their deeds or the degree of their munificence, are deemed worthy to be honored by a public expression of esteem on the part of the Holy See”. It was also noted that holders of that decoration must progressively maintain, by continued meritorious deeds, the reputation and trust they had already inspired, and prove themselves worthy of the honor that had been conferred on them, by unswerving fidelity to God and to the Sovereign Pontiff. Except spiritual and moral obligations no particular financial or other commitments were imposed on the awardees.

Subsequently Order of Saint Gregory the Great was bestowed on Catholic men as a recognition of their exceptional merits and personal services to the Holy See and Catholicism. Since 1994 women were declared eligible for a decoration as were non-Catholics in 1998. The latter was the case of several Americans – comedian and actor Bob Hope, media tycoon Keith Rupert Murdoch and The Walt Dysney Company senior executive Roy Edward Dysney – being decorated by the Pope John Paul II on January 03, 1998.

Order of Saint Gregory the Great was initially instituted in four classes: Grand Cross 1st Class, Grand Cross 2nd Class, Commander’s Cross and Knight’s Cross. Encyclic proclaimed on May 30, 1834 described statute of the order and knight’s uniform.

Notable changes to the statute of a decoration were introduced by the 257th Pope Pius X (Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto, 02.06.1835-20.08.1914, canonized on May 29, 1954) whose papacy began on August 04, 1903. In 1905 the pontiff reformed all Pontifical Orders of Knighthood, appointed the Cardinal Secretary of State of the Vatican City State as Grand Chancellor of all Pontifical Orders and established a Chancery which issued rules concerning the uniforms for members of the various Orders. Until 1905 only the Order of Saint Gregory the Great had the Cardinal Secretary of State as a Grand Chancellor. The pontiff also secured special locations for the knights of Pontifical Orders during papal ceremonies and church functions.

On February 07, 1905 Pius X divided an Order of Saint Gregory the Great into military and civil divisions; number of classes was narrowed to three by abolition of the Grand Cross 2nd Class; Breast star for the Commander’s Cross was introduced.

Thereby since 1905 an Order of Saint Gregory the Great was divided into three (de facto four though) classes: Grand Cross, Commander’s Cross with and without Breast star and Knight’s Cross, each of them having military and civil versions that differed by the shape of suspending medallion. Thus military personnel wore crosses surmounted by a military trophy while civilians by a green enameled oval shaped oak leaves wreath.

Holders of the above-mentioned classes of an Order of Saint Gregory the Great were named Knight of the Grand Cross, Grand Officer, Commander and Knight, respectively.

Statute 1831

Statute 1905

Military version

Civil version

Title of the holder

Grand Cross 1st Class
Grand Cross 2nd Class
Commander’s Cross
Knight’s Cross

Grand Cross
Commander’s Cross with breast star
Commander’s Cross
Knight’s Cross

Grand Cross
Commander’s Cross with breast star
Commander’s Cross
Knight’s Cross

Knight of  the Grand Cross
Grand Officer
Commander
Knight

Holders of Grand Cross wore pin-back Star on the left breast together with a wide sash; Commander’s Cross was worn on a ribbon at the neck; Commander’s Star on the left breast; Knight’s Cross on the left breast hanging from a ribbon.

Ribbon of an Order of Saint Gregory the Great was red with two yellow stripes at its edges.

Order of Saint Gregory the Great 3Ceremonial dress contained the following elements:

- Tail coat and trousers made of dark green wool. Collar and cuffs of tail coat were trimmed with silver embroidery, it was decorated with nine gilt buttons in front and three buttons on cuffs. Trousers had side silver stripes. Higher knights wore slightly more embroidered ceremonial dress.
- Suspenders.
- Black beaver-felt cocked hat decorated with silver metallic twisted rope, buttons, black ostrich feathers and black silk ribbons.
- White leather gloves.
- Knightly dress sword which handle was incrusted by a mother-of-pearl and with a medallion of an order.

Order of Saint Gregory the Great had a shape of a red enameled octagonal ball-tipped golden Maltese cross, circular blue enameled medallion was superimposed on its centre.  

An obverse of a medallion bore an image of St.Gregory with a dove next to his right ear circumscribed “Saint Gregory the Great” (“S.Gregorius Magnus”) in capital letters running within a wide ring.

A reverse of a medallion had a motto “For God and Master” (“Pro Deo Et Principe”) in capital gilt letters running in three horizontal lines over a dark blue enameled background. That motto was circumscribed “Pontiff Gregory XVI the Great, 1st Year” (“Gregorius XVI P[ontefice] M[aximo] Anno I”) in capital letters running within a wide ring.

Breast star has a shape of the above described red enameled octagonal ball-tipped golden Maltese cross superimposed on an eight-pointed silver star with expanding rays between its edges.

Foreign holders of an Order of Saint Gregory the Great who decoded to wear it on military uniform or civil attire had to request permission of their respective government bodies.

An Order of Saint Gregory the Great is awarded until today and ranks fourth among the five orders of knighthood of the Holy See.

1. The Supreme Order of Christ (Militia Domini Nostri Iesu Christi)
2. Order of the Golden Spur (Ordo Militia Aurata)
3. Order of Pius IX, aka The Pian Order (Ordo Pii Papae)
4. Order of Saint Gregory the Great (Ordo Sancti Gregorii Magni)
5. Order of Saint Sylvester (Ordo Sanctus Silvestri Papae)

The author thanks Edgar van Engeland (the Netherlands), a renowned expert on Papal decorations for providing additional information on this award.

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