Home | History | Patrons and Members | Premise | Provisional List of Orders | Italian Language

Authority and Status of the ICOC | Principles involved in assessing the validity of Orders of Chivalry | Index



The International Commission has decided to re-examine scientifically all previous rulings, using, as a starting point, the 1964 International Register of Orders of Chivalry [1] . This Register has now been republished, with a few amendments, as the 2001 Edition. These amendments were necessary because the Commission had, as with other bodies composed by men, in the past made errors of evaluation or interpretation or had exceeded its institutional role.


The historic International Register of Orders of Chivalry of 1964 was sent to the Lyon Court of Scotland, the English College of Arms, the Irish Genealogical Office, the South African Bureau of Heraldry, the Chanceries of the United Nations Organisation, UNESCO, various governments, Chanceries and Secretariats of Heads of Royal Houses and Chanceries of Orders of Chivalry.


The 1964 Register consisted of 12 pages containing: the Committee of Patrons of the VI International Congress of Genealogy and Heraldry which had established the status of the Commission (p. 3); the list of Members of the Commission (p. 4); the authority and status of the Commission (p. 5); principles involved in assessing the validity of orders of Chivalry (pp. 6-7); the provisional list of Orders divided into: A. Independent Orders, B. Semi-independent Orders, C. Dynastic Orders (pp. 8-12).


The 1964 Register gave, with a different progressive number for each category, the name, date of foundation, the authority or dynasty under which the Order came, the colour of the ribbon; however, the Grand Masters or the Heads of the Orders were not mentioned.


It should be pointed out that among the Semi-independent Orders in this Register at number 8 appeared Saint Lazarus [2] (there is however an edition of the 1964 Register in which this Order does not appear) and at number 13, Vitez [3] ; among the Dynastic Orders [4] were also the following orders of Mediatised German Houses: Phoenix (Hohenlohe), Isenburg (Isenburg-Birstein), Thurn und Taxis (Thurn und Taxis).


As for the Order of Saint Lazarus, it should be remembered that among churches only the Holy See has the right of protection and recognition [5] of orders of chivalry, a right which is only exercised for the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and the Sovereign Military Order of Saint John, called of Malta. For other orders there are no hard and fast rules to classify orders, nor is there an indisputable authority which can make decisions, leaving much therefore, to the most varied interpretations, as has actually frequently happened.


Therefore, it has been decided not to include Saint Lazarus in the 2001 Register , although it is based on the 1964 edition, thus following the precise clarifications the Holy See has given on a number of occasions through L’Osservatore Romano [6]. Furthermore, it is a fact that in 1815 the French Crown determined that no further admission to this Order would be allowed, since its statutory limitation of membership to nobles conflicted with the (Constitutional) Charter of 1814. In 1824 the Grand Chancellor of the Legion of Honour further defined that this Order would be allowed to become extinct and in 1831 it was forbidden to wear it. Despite the claims of those who believe this Order continued to flourish during the 19th century, there is no evidence to support such a survival, which, in any case, would have had no legal or statutory basis; the present body styling itself the Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem is entirely a modern, 20th century, and private foundation. Accordingly, in France, the purported mother country of Saint Lazarus, the modern organization has been prohibited from using the designation ‘order’ and wear chivalric insignia [7].


Finally, the Order was originally a religious foundation, established by Papal Bull and the grant of various privileges by successive Popes, and the decision to allow the Order to become extinct was not challenged by the Holy See which has repeatedly condemned the modern revival


It should be noted that Saint Lazarus, which thus cannot be considered an order of chivalry, carries out praiseworthy charitable, humanitarian activity producing numerous contributions to social works and therefore it might be included among in a category of Organisations inspired by Chivalry.


Vitez, in agreement with its Head, H.I. & R.H. Archduke Jozsef Arpad of Austria, is rightly included in the section of the Register listing the ‘Knightly (Civil and Military) Bodies derived from Orders of former States.’


A further category was created: ‘Other Dynastic Orders’, in which are those orders of the three Mediatised German Houses [8] (not present at the Congress of Vienna) wrongly inserted in the 1964 Register among “Dynastic Orders”.


Unlike the 1964 Register, the Spanish Order of the Golden Fleece, has not been included as Spain is today a kingdom and the dynasty which bestows the order is now on the throne.


Furthermore, following the tradition of ICOC Registers after 1964, the names of the supreme Authorities or Dynasties of the Order are given, but unlike those editions the religion of the dynasty is also supplied with wider historic data concerning the various Orders.


As can be seen from the small quantity of material included, the 2001 Register is not to be considered a definitive compilation, but simply as the first serious scientific step in dealing competently with chivalric orders and awards systems.


The publication of the 2002 Register is foreseen at the end of 2002 and will be published on the 40th anniversary of the creation of the Commission as an autonomous body, detached from the Congresses.


The new 2002 Register will differ from previous editions in its layout and will complete the material not dealt with according to the principles established at Edinburgh in 1962, including the additions decided at successive meetings, that is ‘Noble Corporations’ (Vienna and Munich 1970), ‘Other Nobiliary Bodies’ (Washington 1984), ‘Ecclesiastical Decorations’ (Dublin 1998), ‘Organisations of Chivalric Inspiration’ (London 2000) and ‘Knightly (Civil and Military) Bodies derived from Orders of former States.’ (Casale Monferrato 2001).


Once the 2002 Register has been published, the Commission, will widen its horizon and continue its work, not limiting its tasks to the study of orders of chivalry of the past - which would soon lead to the Commission’s work being complete - but will strive to classify and include in the Register state orders, decorations, medals and all other types of awards  from around the world.


This undertaking will extend into the future, thus assuring the Commission an almost endless thriving role.


[1] Throughout the centuries orders of chivalry have undergone substantial changes, some orders have been abolished, left to die out, abandoned, others, in order to be part of modern reality, have changed their original aims, or been reinterpreted, some have even become solely religious Orders and lost the typical military chivalrous aspect.

Today the surviving orders of chivalry have little in common with what they represented in the past but continue to project their charm on collective imagination, enchanting a number of people who relate orders to a past which no longer exists. As prestige has for long been connected with orders of chivalry, there have appeared phenomena of imitation perpetrated by people who through the orders of chivalry wanted to draw some moral or economical benefit...

[2] Given as The Military and Hospitaller Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem.

[3] Given as The Knightly Order of Vitez (Vitezi Rend).

[4] Contrary to the 2nd principle.

[5] See L’Osservatore Romano of 14-15 December 1970, number 289 p. 2: “Clarification. The Secretariat of State, following frequent enquiries regarding the validity of ‘honours and distinction’ granted by Bodies styling themselves ‘Chivalric Orders’ considers it opportune to renew the definitions contained in the Communication issued on the 9th April 1970. Following a solemn investiture of new Knights of the Chivalric Order of ‘St. Bridget of Sweden’ carried out recently in a Parish Church in Rome, several inquiries have reached us for information regarding the attitude of the Holy See vis-à-vis Chivalric Orders bearing the Sacred Dedication of Names of Saints. We are now in a position to confirm what had already been published on the subject in our paper; viz: The Holy See, besides its own Chivalric Orders, recognised by International Law, considers as Catholic Orders - and adopts as same - only the following two Chivalric Orders, viz: The Sovereign Military Order of St. John of Jerusalem, known as the Order of Malta, and the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. All the other Orders, whether newly instituted or made to derive from the Medieval Orders, as, for example, the above mentioned ‘Order of St. Bridget’, that of ‘Our Lady of Bethlehem’ and of ‘St. John of Acre’, etc. are not recognised by the Holy See, as the Holy See is not in a position to guarantee their historical and juridical legitimacy, their scope and their organisational systems”.

See the Holy See’s clarification concerning ‘The Sovereign Military Order of St. John of Jerusalem’ in L’Osservatore Romano of 1st December 1976: ‘. . . Enquiries have been received from various parties asking for further information regarding The Sovereign Military Order of St. John of Jerusalem and in particular regarding how the Holy See looks on this Order. ‘We are authorised to repeat the clarifications previously published in L’Osservatore Romano. The Holy See, in addition to its own equestrian Orders recognises only two Orders of Knighthood: The Sovereign Military Order of St. John of Jerusalem and the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. No other Order, whether it be newly instituted or derived from a medieval Order having the same name, enjoys such recognition, as the Holy See is not in a position to guarantee their historical and juridical legitimacy, their scope and their organizational systems. This is also the case regarding the above mentioned Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem which assumes, in an almost identical form and in such a way as to cause ambiguity, the name of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.”

[6] From L’Osservatore Romano of 15-16 April 1935: “For some time there has been intense activity to revive and introduce in Italy the Military Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus, Boigny branch, with both offers of honours of the Order for knights and dames, and with articles aimed at supporting the existence of the Order as a French branch of the ancient Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem, the Italian branch of which was joined to the Order of Saint Maurice in 1572. As the Order of Saint Lazarus of Boigny is not only not recognised in Italy but was also definitively abolished, at least since 1608, by Pope Paul V and by King Henry IV, the above mentioned activity is to be considered illegal and therefore, necessary instructions have been given that the activity be stopped and, where necessary, legal action be taken against those responsible.

We have on many occasions noted the increase of pseudo-Orders of Chivalry, both in Italy and elsewhere. Whatever their denomination of these soi-disant Orders (St. George of Miolans or of Belgium, St. Mary of Nazareth, St. Mary of Bethlehem, St. Lazarus, and others), they are always revivals of ancient Orders of Chivalry, which are completely extinct, by private individuals who carry out intense activity which act on the good faith of those who are unable to judge these initiatives which completely lack any legality.

The phenomenon is even more serious considering that these initiatives, which are cleverly placed under historical religious institutions, are seen by most people, not as private bodies, which they in fact are, by as coming under aegis of the Church and the Holy See.

It is not generally known that ancient Orders of Chivalry were real religious Orders, coming, as other religious Orders, under Ecclesiastical Authority, Orders which consisted of professed members who emitted sacred vows as laid down by Rules and who enjoyed the ecclesiastical benefices with which they were invested. Yet these ancient Orders have nothing in common, except for their title (when this has been preserved) with modern Equestrian decorations which, as they have undergone a complete juridical revision, exist because a Sovereign of Head of State, within the limits of their jurisdictions, has legitimised them.

The Order of St. Lazarus has none of all this. For the Holy See no such Order under such a denomination has existed canonically for centuries. The Holy See had, in fact, abolished the Order and incorporated it in the Order of St. John (the present Order of Malta) in the 15th Century, then in the 16th century, after a temporary partial resurrection, it was abolished as a body and incorporated in the Order of St. Maurice (1572), thus forming the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus.

Because of the then fierce political situation in France, despite the definitive rulings of the Holy See, the Priory of Boigny, with relative ecclesiastical benefices, was able to survive exclusively through royal and civil decrees. As can be seen, it was everything but canonical and regular for a religious, albeit chivalrous, Order…! However, in order to eliminate the continual difficulties arising from the order, the king of France, Henry IV, in 1608 obtained from the Pontiff Paul V recognition of the new Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and attributed this new Order with the property, houses and people who, in his realms, had belonged to the Order of St. Lazarus. Thus, in France, until the revolution, there existed an Order of Chivalry called of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and of St. Lazarus, while for the Holy See and the Roman Curia it was simply the Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Everyone will see on what shaky ground the house of the purported Order of St. Lazarus, the subject of the above mentioned communication, was built, and how the titles of knight, commander (for lay members) and monsignor (for ecclesiastical members) completely lack any foundation or reality in exactly the same way as other so-called Orders”.

From L’Osservatore Romano of 21 March 1952: “For some time one can observe the deplorable phenomenon of the appearance of alleged Orders of Knighthood based on private initiative and aimed at taking the place of legitimate knightly honours. As we have pointed out in the past, these self-styled Orders take their names from Orders which have really existed but have been extinct for centuries or from Orders which never got past the planning stage, and from completely false Orders with no historic precedent whatsoever.

To further confuse those who are unaware of the true history of Orders of Chivalry and their juridical condition, these private initiatives, self-styled as autonomous, are qualified by appellations, which had cause to exist in the past, or which belonged to authentic Orders, approved at the time by the Holy See.

Thus, with almost monotonous terminology, these so-called Orders describe themselves, with varying degrees, with such titles as: Sacred, Military, Equestrian, Chivalric, Constantinian, Capitular, Sovereign, Nobiliary, Religious, Celestial, Angelical, Lascaris, Imperial, Royal, Delcassian, etc.

Included in these private initiatives, which have in no way whatsoever received approval or recognition by the Holy See are the following self-styled Orders: St. Mary or Our Lady of Bethlehem; St. John of Acre, also called simply St. John Baptist; St. Thomas; St. Lazarus; St. George of Burgundy, also called of Belgium or of Miolans; St. George of Carinthia; Constantinian of St. Stephen; Constantinian Lascaris Angelical Order of the Golden Militia; the Crown of Thorns; the Lion of the Black Cross; St. Hubert of Lorraine, or of Bar; the Concord; Our Lady of Peace... (to these and similar Orders of Chivalry with the more or less international Gold, Silver and Blue Cross Associations etc., must be added, with one of other of the above mentioned appellations, those that have taken the titles: of Mercy; of St. Bridget of Sweden; of St. Rita of Cascia; of the Legion of Honour of the Immaculate; of St. George of Antioch; of St. Michael; of St. Mark; of St. Sebastian; of St. William; of the historical but extinct Order of the Temple; of the Red Eagle; of St. Cyril of Jerusalem etc.).

In order to avoid misunderstandings which are unfortunately possible, also because of the abuse of pontifical and ecclesiastical documents, once granted for religious purposes or for merely monastic Orders, and to put an end to the continuation of such abuses, causing harm for those people in good faith, we are authorised to declare that the Holy See does not recognise the value of the diplomas and insignia conferred by the above mentioned alleged Orders.”

[7] The organization has since 1982 used  the denomination of “Association des Hospitaliers de Saint-Lazare de Jérusalem” in France, while it uses that of Orden Militar y Hospitalaria de San Lázaro de Jerusalén in Spain. (where, we must stress, the term “Orden” can be used freely for associations, excluding a strict identification with a chivalric order). In the Kingdom of Spain it is considered “como institución de carácter oficial de utilidad pública para todo el territorio de la Nación, por Orden de 9 de mayo de 1940”; and is praised because of its “Asistencia social a los leprosos y a sus familias, respaldado por el Decreto del 8 de marzo de 1946, por el que se establece el Reglamento de Lucha contra la Lepra, Dermatosis y Enfermedades Sexuales”.

[8] The inclusion of these orders among Dynastic Orders is a widening of the criteria set out by the Commission (expressed among the principles concerning the assessing of validity of orders at part 2) to consider only those orders of Houses recognised as sovereign at the Congress of Vienna or later by the International Community.