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Order of the Golden Spur

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The Order of the Golden Spur (Italian: Ordine dello Speron d'Oro, French: Ordre de l’Éperon d’or), officially known also as the Order of the Golden Militia (Latin: Ordo Militia Aurata), is a Papal Order of Chivalry conferred upon those who have rendered distinguished service in propagating the Catholic faith, or who have contributed to the glory of the Church, either by feat of arms, by writings, or by other illustrious acts.

Before 19th century: a noble order

It is accounted the earliest papal chivalric institution.The Order of the Golden Spur had its origins in the title Count palatine of the Lateran Palace, which was in the gift of the Holy Roman Emperor in the fourteenth century: Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor conferred the title on one Fenzio di Albertino di Prato, 15 August 1357, at Prague.[5] The Order began to be associated with the inheritable patent of nobility in the form of count palatinate during the Renaissance; Emperor Frederick III named Baldo Bartolini, professor of civil law at the University of Perugia, a count palatinate in 1469, entitled in turn to confer university degrees. "Bartolini also received the Knighthood of the Golden Spur, a title that sometimes accompanied the office of count palatinate in the Renaissance", according to the historian of universities Paul F. Grendler; the Order of the Golden Spur, linked with the title of count palatinate, was widely conferred after the Sack of Rome, 1527, by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor; the text of surviving diplomas conferred hereditary nobility to the recipients. Among the recipients was Titian (1533), who had painted an equestrian portrait of Charles.[Close on the heels of the Emperor's death in 1558, its refounding in Papal hands is attributed to Pope Pius IV in 1559.

By the mid-18th century the Order was being so indiscriminately bestowed that Casanova remarked "The Order they call the Golden Spur was so disparaged that people irritated me greatly when they asked me the details of my cross;"[9] he had the grace to add that he would have been pleased if he had been able to answer "mon Toison", and he did habitually wear it, nevertheless, on its scarlet riband. In 1777 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had his portrait painted with the star-encircled cross of the order on his coat, and the Order granted to Giovanni Battista Piranesi permitted him to sign his etchings Cav. G.B. Piranesi. The Order was granted to "those in the pontifical government, artists, and others, whom the pope should think deserving of reward. It is likewise given to strangers, no other condition being required, but that of professing the catholic religion."

19th Century: decline of the order

In the 19th century, members of the Curia, prelates and papal nuncios had the privilege of nominating recipients. The Order was given out liberally upon payment of a small fee, some scandal arose in Paris concerning the sale of forged letters patent claiming to confer this title, formerly linked with the purely honorary designation Count Palatine of the Sacred Palace of the Lateran, Honoré Daumier include the "Knight of the Golden Spur" among his series of lithographs "Bohemians of Paris" (1842); its satirically mocking legend reads "This so-called former Colonel of the Papal Guard, later aide-de-camp to the Prince of Monaco, awaiting as a prize for his services a distinguished post in the Government!... he would, however, willingly accept a tobacconist's shop or a position as an inspector of [street] sweeping; besides, he is a gallant man like all knights of his order, for a trifle demanding satisfaction from five-year-old children, perfectly making excuses from the moment you look at him in the face." The badge, as described by Robson in 1830, was an eight-pointed gold cross with a ray point between each arm and the legend BENE MER•ENTI. On the reverse was Ex dono with the name and date when presented. On top of the cross, an imperial crown, and at the base a small spur. In 1841 the order was suppressed by Pope Gregory XVI and absorbed into the Order of Saint Sylvester as the Order of Saint Sylvester and the Golden Militia.

20th Century: revival of the order

Pope Pius X restored it to the status of a separate order on 7 February 1905, in commemoration of the golden jubilee of the dogmatic definition of the Immaculate Conception, and placed it under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In modern times the order has only one class, Knight, and its membership has been restricted to one hundred knights throughout the world. The honour is bestowed by a Motu Proprio of the Pope. It is awarded solely for merit, without any consideration of noble birth, and no longer confers nobility, as it did before 1841. It is the second highest of the papal orders (the first being the Supreme Order of Christ).

Notable recipients

  • Palla Strozzi (1372–1462) Florentine noble who was a banker, politician, literate, philosopher and philologist
  • Heinrich von Olnhausen Conferred in 1388 at Jerusalem as knight of the holy crusade.
  • Diego García de Paredes (1466–1534), Spanish soldier
  • Raphael (1483–1520), artist
  • Julius Caesar Scaliger (1484–1558), with the collar and the eagle of gold (conferred upon him by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor)
  • Titian, artist, conferred by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor in 1533
  • Baccio Bandinelli (1493–1560), conferred by Charles V
  • Giorgio Vasari, artist and biographer
  • Orlande de Lassus, composer, conferred by Pope Gregory XIII
  • Pomponio Nenna (1556–1613), composer, conferred by Charles V in 1530
  • Ventura Salimbeni (1568–1613), Sienese Mannerist painter and printmaker
  • Bonifazio Bevilacqua Aldobrandini (1571–1627), Italian Cardinal and uncle of Pope Gregory XIV
  • Nicholas Plunkett (1602–1680), Irish lawyer and Confederate leader
  • Antonio Latini (1642–1692),steward to Cardinal Antonio Barberini, cardinal-nephew of Pope Urban VIII
  • Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714–1787), German classical composer
  • Bartolomeo Cavaceppi (c. 1716–1799), Italian sculptor
  • Giacomo Casanova (1725–1798), adventurer
  • Giovanni Gallini (1729–1805), dancer and impresario in London 1760–1800
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791), classical composer, at the age of fourteen
  • Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (1919–1980), Shah of Iran