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The Sacred Military Constantinian Order of St. George dates back to the “Constantinian Golden Chivalry” (golden because of the collar made of pure gold and worn by the highest dignitaries), established by Emperor Constantine in 312 AD after his final victory over Maxentius at Ponte Milvio, which made him the unquestioned Emperor of the Roman Empire and which he could achieve thanks to the divine favour of the vision of the Cross in the sky bearing a motto which read “In Hoc Signo Vinces”. He ordered that this motto had to be put on his armour and his sons’ and officials’.

To thank the Lord for his victory, Constantine established the first Knightly Order in history and he himself invested the first fifty knights, among which his sons, future Emperors. As everybody knows, he granted final freedom of worship to Christians all across the Empire. As evidence of this, there is the medallion of Constant I (337-350), Constantine’s son, holding the labarum with Christ’s monogram “XP”. Long discussions have been made about the direct origins of the Order, and the most credited historical opinion acknowledges that in 1190 the Order was ruled by the Grand Master Isaac II Angelo Flavio Comneno, Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, author of the first Statute (at least the first we have, although not complete) and the Comneno Family ruled the Order in the subsequent centuries, also after the loss of the Throne in 1453 due to the Muslim conquest[1].

Among the most prestigious knights recorded in history during the Middle Ages, there are Emperors and Kings such as Frederick Barbarossa, Richard Lionhearth, Philip II of France, Casimiro of Poland, Alfonso II of Aragon, William II of Sicily, Sancio VI of Navarre, Alfonso IX of Castile, etc[2]. The second document that we have dates back to 1522: it is another Statute of the Order, drafted by Angelo di Drivasto[3] the family of Angeli di Drivasto, princes of Thessaly, holders of the Grand Magistery of the Order, were descendants of the Comneno.

Medallion of Constant, son of Constantine the Great, holding the Labarum with Christ’s monogram

Medallion of Constant, son of Constantine the Great, holding the Labarum with Christ’s monogram “XP”.

But in reality we have earlier evidence of the existence of the Order. The first written Rules drafted for the management of the Order and historically documented are those dictated by Bishop St. Basil[4], Rules approved in 456 by Pope St. Leo I the Great, with the famous letter sent to Emperor Marcian. This letter, a copy of which is kept at the Historical Archive of Naples, opens as follows: «Leo Bishop to Marcian Emperor. I would never feel enough admiration for your devotion and your love towards those who profess the Catholic faith, Glorious Emperor. It is therefore with the utmost joy that I have received your letter and the letter of the valiant Prince Alessio Angelo, by which you demand my apostolic authority for the Rule of Bishop Basil of Caesarea, Rule that he gave to our Constantinian Christian brothers who bear the coat of arms of a red cross, as a sign of confirmation by you and Prince Alessio, supreme guide of these brothers»[5].

Moreover, at the Historical Archive of Naples, among the “Constantinian documents”, there is a document contemporary with the letter of Pope Leo I and called Descursus aurati seu calcaris aurei, which reads as follows: «It is shown that these Knights have their origin in the Holy Father St. Sylvester and Emperor Constantine the Great, and therefore the right to invest these Knights is to be given to the Holy Father and the Emperor or to those who receive this authority by the Holy Father and the Emperor. It is also shown that the Constantinian Order of St. George is originated from those Knights»[6]. From these considerations we understand that the Constantinian knights were originally created either by the Pontiff or by the Emperor independently.

In modern times, on 17 July 1550 Pope Julius III recognised the Order by his Bull Quod Alias, and assured the Grand Magistery to Andrea and Gerolamo Angeli di Drivasto (descendants of the Comneno family, as we saw above), followed by a document of the Congregation of the Council, under the pontificate of Gregory XIII, in 1576, that gave a great novelty to the Order: its religious character, which finally put it under St. Basil’s Rule. In 1623 the Angeli di Drivasto gave the Grand Magistery to Marino Caracciolo, prince of Avellino, and on 23 November of that year Urban VIII confirmed this dignity and also assessed its Byzantine origin. When in 1630 the prince of Avellino died, the Grand Magistery returned to Giovanni Andrea Angelo di Drivasto. By his Document Cum Sicut of 27 August 1672, Pope Clement X appointed a General Attorney of the Order in Rome and a Protector Cardinal, Cardinal de’ Massimi; he established that the General Attorney of the Order would seat in the Pontifical Chapels after the General Attorney of the Serviti di Maria. Innocent XI, by his Document of 14 June 1687, appointed as Protector of the Order Cardinal Gaspero Cavaliero, succeeded in 1690 by Cardinal Giovanni Francesco Albani (the future Pope Clement XI). At the end of the 17th century, the Angeli di Drivasto family – the last branch of the Comneno – was dying out with Giovanni Andrea Angelo di Drivasto Flavio Comneno, who had no heir; on 27 July 1697, by notary deed, he passed the Grand Magistery to the then Duke of Parma and Piacenza Francis I Farnese (1697-1727), and his lineage.

[1] – In reality, Isaac belogned to the Angeli dynasty, related to the previous Comneno dynasty. After the Angeli, the Throne of Byzantium went to the families of Lascaridi and Paleologi, them, too, related to the Comneno.
[2] – F. CUOMO, Gli ordini cavallereschi nel mito e nella storia di ogni tempo e paese, prefazione di Amedeo di Savoia, Newton Compton, Roma 1992, p. 125, n. 1.
[3] – Cfr. F. RODRIGUEZ, La Milizia aureata, in “Rivista Araldica”, 1938, p. 454.
[4] – St BASIL OF CAESAREA (330-379 d.C.) wrote two Rules (one formed by 55 chapters and another by 313 chapters) to be used by the monks.
[5] – Pope LEO I, Letter to Emperor Marcianus (cit. in Privilegi Imperiali e Confirmationi Apostoliche, Venezia 1626).
[6] – Cfr. E. GALLO, Il Gran Magistero del Sacro Militare Ordine Costantiniano di San Giorgio, prefazione di S. Em. il Card. Mario Pompedda, Il Minotauro, Roma 2002, p. 18.


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