Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George

Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George
Badge and star of the Constantinian Order of Saint George

The Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George is a Roman Catholic order of chivalry. It was fictively established by Constantine the Great, though in reality it was founded between 1520 and 1545 by two brothers of the Angeli Comneni family. Members of the Angeli Comneni family remained grand masters throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In 1699 Francesco Farnese, Duke of Parma was recognised as grand master. In 1731, his son and successor, Antonio Farnese, Duke of Parma, died without male heirs. He was succeeded by the first Bourbon grand master Charles, Duke of Parma (later King Charles III of Spain). Since that time members of the House of Bourbon have been grand masters of the order.

Owing to various family disputes the grand magistry is today claimed by three rivals, all princely members of the House of Bourbon:

There are approximately 1,800 members of the Hispano-Neapolitan branch and 2,800 of the Franco-Neapolitan branch.

The motto of the Order is In Hoc Signo Vinces.


The legendary origins of the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George traces its origins to an apocryphal order founded by Constantine the Great.[3] The Angeli Comneni Grand Masters who actually founded the Order in the 2nd quarter of the 16th century received confirmations in a series of Papal Briefs, a Bull of Pope Clement VIII, and decrees of King Philip III of Spain, Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor on 7 November 1630, Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor on 25 June 1671, King John III Sobieski of Poland of 11 May 1681 and Ferdinand Maria, Elector of Bavaria on 8 July 1667 and 26 July 1669, in which the Order was allowed to establish commanderies in Bavaria and the Palatinate.

Its incorporation as a Religious Order of the Roman Catholic Church hereditary in the House of Farnese and its heirs the Bourbons dates from the transfer to Francesco Farnese on 11 January 1698, an act confirmed in an Imperial diploma "Agnoscimus et notum facimus" of the Emperor Leopold I dated 5 August 1699 and the Apostolic Brief "Sincerae Fidei" issued by Pope Innocent XII on 24 October 1699. These confirmed the succession of the Grand Magistry to the Farnese family and its heirs as an ecclesiastical office and, crucially, did not tie it to tenure of sovereignty of the Duchy of Parma. Among the first major acts of the Farnese Grand Magistry was a revised, amended and expanded Statutes, issued on 25 May 1705 and confirmed in a Papal Brief dated 12 July 1706; both these confirmed the requirement that the Grand Magistry pass by male primogeniture. Following the Order's contribution to Prince Eugene of Savoy's campaign to drive the Turks from the Balkans between 1716 and 1718, Pope Clement XI, a former Cardinal Protector of the Order, confirmed the Order as a Religious Order of the Roman Catholic Church in the Bull "Militantis Ecclesiae" of 27 May 1718.

With the death of the last male of the House of Farnese on 30 January 1731 the Grand Magistry was inherited by Charles, Duke of Parma (later King Charles III of Spain), eldest son of King Philip V of Spain and Elisabeth of Parma; Charles also inherited the duchies of Parma and Piacenza from the Farnese. After becoming King of Naples and Sicily in 1734 Charles was forced to surrender Parma in 1736 to Austria while retaining the Constantinian Grand Magistry

On 16 October 1759 Charles III abdicated the grand magistry to his second surviving son, King Ferdinand IV and III of Naples and Sicily (from 1815 Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies). The administration of the order was transferred from Parma to Naples in 1768.

The succession of Ferdinand I as grand master was disputed by the Parmesans who believed that the order was united to the ducal throne of Parma. In 1748 Charles III's younger brother Philip succeeded as Duke of Parma; henceforth his branch of the family regarded themselves as rightful successors to the grand magistry of the order. Philip's heir today is Carlos, Duke of Parma.see the historical note authored by Paolo Conforte, a senior officer of the Parma dynastic Order.

The view of the Bourbon-Sicily family is that the grand magistry was never united with the Two Sicilies Crown but remained, in the words of Charles III 's son and successor, Ferdinand I, in a decree of 8 March 1796 "In his (the King's) royal person there exists together two very distinct qualities, the one of Monarch of the Two Sicilies, and the other of Grand Master of the illustrious, royal and military Constantinian order, which though united gloriously in the same person form nonetheless at the same time two separate independent Lordships". It was this independence that enabled the Order, whose Grand Magistry was held conjointly with the headship of the House of the Two Sicilies, to survive the abolition of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1860.

In 1910 Pope Pius X appointed the first of three successive Cardinal Protectors and, in 1913, approved a series of privileges for the chaplains of the Order. In 1915 Pope Benedict XV dedicated the Constantinian Chapel in the Basilica of Santa Croce al Flaminio, which had been built with donations from the knights, who included Monsignor Eugenio Pacelli, later Pope Pius XII. In 1916 the Pope restored the Church of Saint Anthony Abbot to the Order - this church had originally been given to the Constantinian Order along with the properties of the religious Order of that name in 1777 but had been put under the direction of the Archdiocese of Naples in 1861. In 1919 new statutes received Papal approval and Cardinal Ranuzzi de' Bianchi was appointed Cardinal Protector, the last to hold this post. Following the intervention of the Grand Magistry of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus in 1924, whose Grand Master the King of Italy objected to the award of the Order to leading Italian noblemen, the Holy See felt the close relationship with Prince Alfonso, Count of Caserta may prove an obstacle to settling the Roman question, it was therefore decided not to reappoint a successor to Cardinal Ranuzzi de' Bianchi who died in 1927.

The succession to the grand magistry of this Order has been disputed between as many as three branches of Bourbons since 1960.

The Sicilian dispute -starting from 1960- is rooted in different interpretations of the so-called Act of Cannes of 14 December 1900 in which the Count of Caserta's second son, Prince Carlo (grandfather of Infante Carlos, Duke of Calabria), promised that he would renounce his succession to the Crown of the Two Sicilies in execution of the Pragmatic Decree of 1759.[4] This decree required that if the King of Spain or his immediate heir inherited the Two Sicilies Crown he would renounce the latter to the next in line. Whether the Pragmatic Decree applied to Prince Carlo's situation in 1900 and whether the Grand Mastership of the order was included in such a renunciation are both disputed. Supporters of Infante Carlos, Duke of Calabria assert that his grandfather's renunciation was conditional on his actually inheriting both the Spanish and Two Scilies crowns and/or that, even in that circumstances, such a renunciation did not include the position of Grand Master of the Constantinian Order which they regard as separate from the crown.[5] Further, supporters of Infante Carlos, Duke of Calabria argue that the Act of Cannes was legally defective and thus void. Supporters of Prince Carlo, Duke of Castro reject all three positions advanced by Infante Carlos' supporters and claim that the rival claimant's ancestor validly renounced both the crown of the Two Scilies and the Grand Mastership.[6] As noted above, both sides have their supporters and there is no forum in a position to make a binding determination of the competing claims.

Spaniards and Italians who have been granted the Constantinian Order by Infante Carlos, Duke of Calabria have applied for and received authorisation to wear the decorations of the Order.[citation needed] The Italian Government has authorised members of the Neapolitan branch, bestowed by Prince Carlo, Duke of Castro, to wear the insignia in Italy.[citation needed]

Each branch appoints a Roman Catholic cardinal as Grand Prior.


The order is dedicated to the support of the Roman Catholic Faith and the defence of its teachings. Each of the three branches supports a variety of charitable and humanitarian endeavours.

The Hispano-Neapolitan branch celebrates a monthly Mass at the Basilica of Santa Croce in Via Flaminia in Rome, as well as regular Masses at its churches in Palermo and Milan. There are occasional Masses in Florence, Padua, Viterbo, Ragusa, London, Lisbon, and Paris.

The Franco-Neapolitan branch celebrates an annual Mass in Rome in the Church of San Giorgio al Velabro, as well as occasional Masses in Naples, and other Italian cities, in Westminster Cathedral in London, and in Washington, D.C.

The Parmesan branch has its headquarters at the Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Steccata in Parma.


  1. ^ Royal House of Bourbon-Two Sicilies, Hispano-Neapolitan Branch
  2. ^ Royal House of Bourbon-Two Sicilies, Franco-Neapolitan Branch
  3. ^ Constantinian Order, Hispano-Neapolitan
  4. ^ Paul Theroff, Online Gotha, Two Sicilies [1]
  5. ^ The website of the so-called "Spanish" branch headed by Infante Don Carlos asserts that the renunciation was conditioned on facts that never arose and that the Order and the Crown are governed by separate rules. [2]
  6. ^ The Royal House of Bourbon Two Sicilies, History asserting that the Act of Cannes was a fully valid renunciation [3]

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