Pontifical Order of Saint Gregory the Great
Most Papal Knights in Great Britain today are members of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great although an increasing number have in recent years been awarded the Order of Pope Saint Sylvester. The Order of Saint Gregory has an interesting history. In the early nineteenth century the whole of Europe was in turmoil after the catastrophic events of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic invasions. Traditional forms of government, the legacy of the feudal system of the Middle Ages, had become outmoded and everywhere reform was demanded by a vociferous multitude. The Pope was still the temporal ruler of the Papal States in north-east and central Italy: he maintained his own army, but when revolutionary elements set up a provisional government in his territory in 1830, Austrian troops had to be called in to restore the situation.
On 1 December of that year Pope Pius died. He was succeeded by a Camaldolese monk, Bartolomeo Capellari, under the title Pope Gregory XVI. The name is significant because it was Pope Gregory I, Saint Gregory the Great (incidentally the Apostle of England) who founded the temporal power of the papacy, the “Patrimonia Petri”, and one of the new Pope’s chief considerations, inevitably in view of the position he inherited, was to preserve the power for himself and his successors.
One of his first concerns, therefore, was to reward the Italians and Austrians who had restored his political authority and so in 1831, only seven months after his election, he founded the Papal Equestrian Order of Saint Gregory the Great, as an order of merit to be bestowed (to quote his inaugural brief) 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 honoured by a public expression of esteem on the part of the Holy See”. The insignia of the Order were to include an eight-pointed cross bearing a representation of Saint Gregory on the obverse and on the reverse the motto “Pro Deo et Principe”, suspended from a red and gold ribbon, and there were to be three classes of Knights who were reminded, at the end of the brief, that they must progressively maintain, by continued meritorious deeds, the reputation and trust they had already inspired, and prove themselves worthy of the honour that had been conferred on them, by unswerving fidelity to God and to the Sovereign Pontiff, according to the inscription quoted above.
Pope Pius X was installed on the 4 August 1903. He was Giuseppe Melchior Sarto, the first Pope since the Middle Ages to spring from peasant stock. He was a man of saintly life and abundant energy, and set himself the task of reforming many aspects of Catholic life. In 1905 he introduced the practice of frequent, even daily, Holy Communion for lay people.
In the same year he published the Apostolic letter “Multum ad excitandos” and he reformed all the 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 Equestrian Order of Saint Gregory the Great had the Cardinal Secretary of State as Grand Chancellor.
His late Holiness also reformed the Order of Saint Gregory the Great, dividing it into Civil and Military Divisions and describing its uniform- dark green tail coat and trousers, both trimmed with silver embroidery, a cocked hat and dress sword: white gloves are worn. As with the Pian Order, a member may be a Knight Grand Cross, a Knight Commander with or without a star, or a Knight. The uniform is slightly more embroidered for the higher ranks.