Orders of Italy

Page © 1998 Micheal Shackelford
With much kind assistance courtesy of Major Michele Giordano M.D., Italian Army, Medical Corps

The kingdom of Italy had been formed in the mid 19th century out of various states, some of which had Orders and awards of their own. Those of House of Savoy took on a sort of national character but the others were not discontinued. While the chivalric orders listed below had little exposure during World War I, we include them here since they do show up in formal photographs of war-era prominent people (both Italian and non-Italians). More war-specific medals are covered on the Medals of Italy page.

- Ordine della Santissima Annunziata: one of the greatest chivalric orders of all times, comparable, as for ancientness and significance - according to experts - only to the Golden Fleece, the Order of the Garter and the Supreme Order of Christ. Established in 1362 by Amedeo VI of Savoy ("the Green Count"). The number of the knights was always kept fixed, from the foundation up to today. While the founder had originally conceived an overall number of 15 members to honour the 15 "delights" of the Blessed Virgin (14 knights plus the Grand Master), in 1869 King Vittorio Emanuele II raised the number of knights from 14 to 20; but the Grand Master, the princes of his royal blood, clergymen and foreigners were supposed to be calculated as an extra to this fixed number. Untill the fall of monarchy, the Knighthood of the Holy Annunciation equalled to nobility, and gave right to the title of "Excellency" and "Cousin of the King", with precedence, in all cerimonies, over the highest offices of state. The Annunziata's collar could be conferred on non-nobles, but not on non-catholics: this because of its deeply religious origins, and since the knights had many religious duties. Each collar exists in two versions: a greater one (to be used on New Year's Day, on Annunciation Day, on national holidays and in all solemn court cerimonies) and a smaller (for all other occasions). Each knight was obbliged to have, after his death, the collars returned to the King by his heirs; nevertheless, during last decades many collars went missing, as the Duce's (Benito Mussolini) one. Although the medallion is worn suspended to a golden collar, a ribbon to be used on uniforms was indeed instituted by Royal Decree in 1924: it is purple (better: amaranthine) and bears a small golden badge (four-leaved clover-shaped) depicting an Annunciation "en miniature"; during monarchy this was to be placed above all other merits and awards. After the fall of monarchy the Italian Republican Government obviously denied acknowledgement of this order, which anyhow was never discontinued, being dynastic patrimony of the existing House of Savoy, and very seldom is still conferred.

- Ordine dei Santi Maurizio e Lazzaro. Born from the union of two ancient and different Orders which, for particular reasons, only in the XVI Century were combined under the Mastery of the House of Savoy. The Order of St. Maurice was established in 1434 by Amedeo VIII of Savoy (during his stay in the Ripaglia hermitage near Thonon) and so called after Maurice, the brave Captain of the Legio Tebea who was martyred in 286 a.d, altogether with his legionnaires for having refused to worship the Imperator Marco Aurelio.
From its origins, the Order of St. Maurice was an "Ordine combattente" (Combating Order) intended to fight lutherans and calvinists. The origins of the Order of St. Lazarus can be, on the contrary, brought back to the foundation, around 1100, of an Hospital for Leprosy in Jerusalem by a group of crusaders who called themselves "Brothers of St. Lazarus" (Lazarus was the poor leprous beggar, described in the Bible by the Evangelist St. Luke (chapter 16, verses 19-31), who became patron saint of lepers).
Under the Grand Mastery of Duke Emanuele Filiberto "Iron Head", the two orders were declared united by Pope Gregory XIII in 1572, one year after the battle of Lepanto, in order to fight the infidels; nevertheless, already during the XVI century the newborn order missed its military "raison d'etre", shifting instead towards the original hospital rule of St. Lazarus. Brought back in favour by King Vittorio Emanuele II, the Order was sparingly conferred for distinguished service in civilian or military affairs, as an exclusive award compared with the more common Order of the Crown of Italy. Because of the fall of monarchy, the Italian Government in 1952 changed the Order (which no longer was officially acknowledged as such) in "Ente Morale" (Non-profit Corporation) and kept in function its hospitals, churches, orphanages and schools which are now under the High Patronage of the President of the Republic. As for the House of Savoy, still owner for dynastic reasons of the Grand Mastery, the pretender to Italy's Throne (Prince Vittorio Emanuele IV) is still conferring from his exile knightoods of this important Order which was never discontinued.

- Ordine Militare di Savoia (Military Order of Savoia) - Established by King Victor Emmanuel I of Sardinia in 1815 . Awarded for especially distinguished service in war.
5 classes-- worn in the usual styles -- Grand Cross, Grand Officer, Commander, Officer, Knight. The first three classes had the royal crown above the cross. The Officer class had the cross suspened from a 'trophy' of flags. The lowest class, the Knight, suspended the cross from a simple ring. The Knight class could be awarded to soldiers and sailors. The ribbon had three equal stripes of navy/red/navy.
With the fall of the monarchy, this Order was retained, but renamed the 'Order of Military Merit of Italy."

- Order of the Crown of Italy, Instituted by Victor Emmanuel II in 1868 to commemorate the union of the Kingdom of Italy. 5 classes.


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