The Holy See is a Sovereign State in International Law, exercising territorial sovereignty over the Vatican City State, and for centuries the Popes have enjoyed the status of Monarchs. Knighthood was originally invested in a religious ceremony at which the new Knight made certain solemn promises; the highest mission for a Knight was defense of the Christian faith. The first religious-military Orders of Chivalry were Papal foundations and Monarchs who founded single class Collar Orders of Companions, such as the Garter, Golden Fleece, and Holy Spirit, usually sought Papal sanction, given in the form of a Bull. The Popeís eventually founded their own Orders of Knighthood, both to honor individuals for their services and to provide a form of honor guard. These Orders may be considered the equivalent of State Orders, and not simply Church awards. The early twentieth century reforms established the uniform of the Order and the traditional role of members of the Papal Orders at great Church ceremonies was confirmed. This role has continued and was unaffected by the reforms to the Papal Court in 1968.

If possible the Knights should acquire the uniform of the Order, since they can only fulfill their proper role at Church ceremonies if they appear in uniform. The design is laid out in the statutes and may be seen here; no other garb or mantle may be used as substitute. The uniform includes a tunic-jacket and trousers, plumed hat, sword, and white gloves. The three Orders, Piano, St Gregory the Great and St Sylvester, each have different uniforms. The recent introduction of lady members of the Order has not yet led to the introduction of a uniform for ladies.

The Knights principal ceremonial role is to escort the Ordinary (Bishop or Archbishop of the Diocese) and/or Cardinal into the Church or Cathedral, lead him into the Sanctuary, and remain there, seated usually to the right of the altar, until the end of the Mass. Two Knights are usually preferred for such a role, although one can be sufficient, and they walk immediately in front of the Bishop they are escorting. At the end of the Mass they will again immediately precede the Bishop in the recessional.

The Knight wears the plumed hat while processing in and out of the Church or Cathedral; on entering the sanctuary and taking his seat he removes his sword and lays it on the ground until the end of the Mass. He shall wear his hat at the same time the Bishops wears his miter and remove or replace it simultaneously with the Bishop.

At ceremonies of the Church at which members of the other Catholic Orders founded by or under Papal Protection are present, the members of the Papal Orders take precedence before them. Members of the Order of Pius IX (Piano) rank ahead of those of St Gregory, who in turn rank ahead of those of St Sylvester. The Papal Orders also take precedence ahead of members of the Orders of Malta and the Holy Sepulcher.

Send mail to  with questions or comments about this web site.
Last modified: August 07, 2001