The Papal Order of Saint Sylvester

Latin: Ordo Sancti Sylvestri Papae
Italian: Ordine di San Silvestro

Established 7 February 1905

Motto: Multum in Parvo

Knight / Dame Grand Cross of the First Class (GCSS / DCSS)
Knight / Dame Commander with Star (KC*SS / DC*SS)
Knight / Dame Commander (KCSS / DCSS)
Knight / Dame (KSS / DSS)

The Order of Saint Sylvester, originally united with the Order of the Golden Spur, was formally constituted on 7 February 1905 by Pope Saint Pius X in his motu proprio, Multum ad excitandos. From that time, the united order became two orders, the Order of Saint Sylvester and the Order of the Golden Spur. Since the 1905 reforms of Pope Saint Pius X, the grades are, from highest to lowest, Knight Grand Cross (1st class), Knight Commander with Star (2nd class)*, Knight Commander (3rd class), and Knight (4th class). Since 1994 women have been admitted to the Order as Dames in the same grades and divisions as men. It was also Saint Pius X who gave Papal knights a place of honor in Papal processions and ecclesiastical ceremonies.

As with all Orders of the Holy See, there is no set method of nomination for this Order. The Holy See is free to nominate and award in any manner in which she sees fit. However, awards of the Order of Saint Sylvester are typically made on the recommendation of Diocesan Bishops or Archbishops or Nuncios for special merit or service. If it is processed through the local Bishop, then the usual procedure is for that Bishop to nominate the candidate through the appropriate Apostolic Nuncio, who then forwards the recommendation to the Cardinal Secretary of State in Rome. Awards are also sometimes made on specific recommendation of members of the Roman Curia. Specific procedures can vary. Upon approval, a diploma is issued in Latin (with the candidate's forenames also translated into Latin where possible), and it is signed in almost every case on behalf of the Roman Pontiff by the Secretary of State of the Vatican. The award also usually requires the payment of a nominal "tax" to cover expenses concerned and support the work of the Church. It may be paid by the recipient or by someone else on his behalf. Before the 1905 reforms of Pope Saint Pius X, the Order was known as the Order of the Golden Spur, under the patronage of Saint Sylvester, one of the Order's supposed founders. "The members have no privileges beyond that of wearing a decoration which consists of a gold enamelled Maltese cross with the image of St. Sylvester on one side and the other the inscription: '1841 Gregorius XVI restituit.'" (Moeller, C. (1912). Order of Saint Sylvester. The Catholic Encyclopedia.) Even though Vatican reforms no longer confer a special status on Papal knights, the receipt of a Papal knighthood ought to serve as an impetus for service on the part of the recipient. Sometimes non-Catholics receive the honor (Guy Stair Sainty. "History of the Papal Orders". Burke's Peerage.) It is also interesting to note that the Knights of Saint Sylvester retain the privilege of riding a horse inside Saint Peter's in Rome.

Sword of the Order
of Saint Sylvester

The insignia of the Order of Saint Sylvester follows the standards for Papal decorations. The Grand Cross is worn suspended from a broad ribbon over the right shoulder, with a star worn on the left breast. The two grades of Commander wear the badge suspended from a ribbon about the neck, the Knight of the 2nd class also wearing a star. Simple Knights wear the badge from a ribbon drape on the left breast. The uniform has a black jacket and a plumed hat and is worn with a sword. It becomes more elaborate with increased rank. Ladies do not wear the uniform. The ribbon for a Dame Grand Cross is more narrow than that of the Knight Grand Cross.

The Order may be presented simply by the receipt of the diploma, or there may be a simple or formal investiture. This is at the discretion of the nominating Bishop. Only rarely are ceremonies conducted in the Vatican, and usually this is for major public figures, heads of state, or other diplomatic officials.

There is no single authoritative source of the membership of the Order of Saint Sylvester. As the award of Papal knighthoods now no longer conveys special status, it is unusual for them to be published in Acta Apostolicae Sedis (Philippe Levillain, ed. John W. O'Malley, tr. The Papacy: An Encyclopedia (2002) vol. ii s.v. "Nobility, Roman"). Some private associations of knights around the world maintain their own lists, but these speak only to their own membership. These organizations include the Associazione Decorati Apostolica Sede, the Associazione Decorati Pontifici, the College of Pontifical Honorees, and the Association of Papal Orders in Great Britain. Additionally, some individual scholars and enthusiasts have attempted to give definitive numbers of recipients of Papal honors by country. Due to the nature of the award, these lists are always incomplete.

* This grade is often referred to as Grand Officer, but in the context of Papal orders, it is most properly called Commander with Star.

Uniform of a
Knight Grand Cross





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