The Grand masters no longer reigning sovereigns

Ferdinand II died on May 22, 1859, at the early age of forty-nine. Unfortunately, his eldest son and successor as King and Grand Master, Francis II, was ill-prepared to deal with the threat of invasion by the revolutionaries led by Garibaldi and the armies of the King of Sardinia. A spiritual and, for a Neapolitan, rather an introverted individual, Francis II was poorly served by both his ministers and generals and betrayed by a substantial number of his own nobility. Following his deposition in September 1860 (he did not leave his kingdom until shortly before the fall of Gaeta, in February 1861), the new Italian State confiscated the Constantinian properties but did not abolish the Order, although suppressing the Parmesan Constantinian Order. On February 25, 1861 the Sardinian Minister of the Interior stated that as for the Constantinian Order ... the decree did not deprive the Order of its life". Ten years later, in a judgment concerning two commanderies of the Order dated July 11, 1871, the Court of Cassation (the highest Appeal Court) determined that the Constantinian Order "had neither been destroyed nor abolished." This was subsequently confirmed in a written opinion of the Procurator-General of the Crown in Naples in 1924 and again in an act of the Council of State of the Italian Republic in 1981. These decision were all based on the premise that the Grand Magistery was a separate and independent dignity from that of King of the Two Sicilies (or Head of that Royal House) and therefore could not be encompassed by acts concerned exclusively with the Two Sicilies Crown and its prerogatives.

The Grand Master, dispossessed of his Crown and properties, and residing at first in his Roman residence, the Palazzo Farnese (until 1870 when he moved to Austria, and later Bavaria), continued to make awards of the Order to Neapolitan and Sicilian noblemen who had remained loyal to the Bourbon Monarchy, until his death on 27 December 1894. Among the English knights he admitted were several distinguished Catholics serving in Rome during the years of exile in the Palazzo Farnese. [Note 6.1]He also appointed a handful of French knights [Note 6.2] as well as distinguished Belgians, Germans and Austrians. He died in 1894 leaving no surviving issue.

Francis II's successor as Grand Master, his brother Alfonso, Count of Caserta, did not assume the title of King. Neither did he link his claim to the Two Sicilies throne to the Constantinian Grand Magistery. The Holy See brought the Order under closer supervision, appointing three Cardinal Protectors: the first of whom, Domenico Cardinal Ferrata was nominated on February 22, 1910; following his death Francesco Cardinal Cassetta was nominated on December 3, 1913 and the last to hold this post, Vittorio-Amadeo Cardinal Ranuzzi dei' Bianchi, was nominated on June 10, 1919. The Pope contributed further to the Order's standing by granting it churches in Rome: Santa Maria a Capella was erected as the Conventual Seat in Rome on 22 March 1910; and Naples: restoring the former Magistral Basilica of San Antonio Abate to the Order on 13 December 1915.

The Basilica of Santa Croce, site of the battle of the Milvian Bridge and the Constantinian Order chapel accorded the Order in 1915. The order's annual mass and investiture takes place here on the nearest Saturday to April 23rd.

The knights were also authorized to establish a Constantinian Chapel in the Basilica of Santa Croce al Flaminio; this chapel is distinguished by a magnificent mosaic placed over the altar of Saint George slaying the Dragon. [Note 6.3] In 1921 the Grand Master was permitted to establish the chapel of his villa near Cannes as a Constantinian Chapel in a letter from the Cardinal Protector, in the name of the Pope, this became the first religious institution of the Order outside Italy. Among thos ewho contributed to its construction was a Knight of Grace, Monsignor Eugenio Pacelli (later Pope Pius XII). Cardinal Protector Ranuzzi de' Bianchi also dedicated the Church of Santo Stefano in Bologna to the Order; his two great nephews were recently received as Knights.

In the early 1920's there were complaints to the king of Italy that the Papacy, by granting these favors to the Constantinian Order, was supporting the Bourbon claim to the Two Sicilies Crown - indeed until 1902 the Popes had received an official Envoy from the Head of the Two Sicilies Dynasty. In 1924 the situation was aggravated by the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus which had been granted the benefices of the Order and, not wanting to see a renaissance of the Constantinian Order, had petitioned the Pope not to appoint a successor to Cardinal Ranuzzi de' Bianchi. The Holy See, keen to find a solution to its position within the Italian kingdom and wishing to formalize its status with a treaty, did not want to make the Constantinian Order a point of contention with the Italian Crown and therefore agreed to let the post of Cardinal Protector lapse. To relieve the Holy See from this political pressure, the Count of Caserta generously offered to return the Grand Magistery to the Holy See, [Note 6.4]but the Holy See did not acknowledge his offer, which consequently lapsed. [Note 6.5]

The Count of Caserta expanded the number of leading Curia Cardinals appointed Bailiffs of the Order [Note 6.6] as well as increasing the number of chaplains and knights in holy orders. The Order provided hospital and ambulance assistance to the wounded during the First World War and, during the Second, was engaged in various humanitarian activities under the direction of the Grand Master, including the tracing and return of prisoners-of-war. A ward was established for children in the hospital at Menton in 1940 and more recently programs were established for the elderly and orphaned and abandoned children.

The post of Grand Prior during his Grand Magistery was held by three distinguished noble prelates, Monsignor Luigi Caracciolo dei principi di Torchiarolo, Monsignore Luigi Marigliano dei duchi del Monte, and Monsignor don Angelo di Sangro, Duca di Casacalenda. (who died in 1939). The religious life of the Order was considerably enhanced by the close relations with the Church and the admission of three hundred and fifty members in Holy Orders between 1894 and 1931 out of a total of nearly one thousand one hundred and fifty knights and dames received during the same period. Among the new knights of Grace was Monsignor Eugenio Pacelli, promoted to Bailiff in 1929 and elected Pope as Pius XII in 1939. [Note 6.7]

The Count of Caserta

The Count of Caserta also admitted as Bailiffs the 5th Earl of Ashburnham and Admiral Lord Walter Kerr, grandfather of the present Marquess of Lothian, and extended membership to several US citizens beginning with Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore in 1920. Today there are National Commissions in Italy, the United States, Great Britain and Spain (called Associations outside Italy), [Note 6.8] and substantial numbers of French and Belgians as well as Hungarian, German, Austrian, Bohemian and South and Central American knights. Out of a total membership of approximately one thousand four hundred members, nearly nine hundred are Spaniards or Italians.

NOTES

6.1. Including George Bowyer, Esq (later Sir George Bowyer, III & VII Baronet), as a Bailiff, and the Rev and Hon George Talbot, the Rev and Hon Edmund Stonor, titular Archbishop of Trebizond, Rev Monsignor John Amherst and Count Charles Plowden, ancestor of the present Lord Plowden (in 1864), as knights.

6.2. Including the Duke de la Rochefoucauld, Claude Marquis Drigon de Magny, and the Count de Scze as Bailiffs.

6.3. The chapel was dedicated on May 22, 1918 in a Mass celebrated by a knight of Grace, the Bishop of Beja, at which the high officers of the Order were present. Since 1992 the Madrid Order has held annual investitures there on Saint George's Day (or the nearest Saturday) which have been attended since 1994 by the Infante don Carlos Duke of Calabria, Grand Master, while the King of Spain has been represented by his Ambassador to the Vatican and the Grand Master of the Holy Sepulchre by the Assistant-Governor General of the Order.

6.4. In a hand-written letter dated Cannes April 21, 1924, beginning "Carissimo Monsignore, Ho ricevuto adesso la Vostra raccomandata del 19 ed immediatamente ho telegrafato al cardinale Segretario di Stato = Buona Pasqua = che, come voi mi avete scritto significa che ammetto ed accetto con piacere l'assorbimento. Sono Cretissimo e ringrazio Iddio per questa soluzione che salva l'Ordine e lo innalza. Vi prego far subito conoscere al vostro carissimo Cardinal Protettore che accetto con piacere l'assorbimento, dichiarando la Santa Sede l'Ordine essero Ponteficio vero e proprio e Vi prego ringraziare S.E.ma Ranuzzi vivamente da una parte. Buona Pasqua anche a Voi, carissimo Monsignore, credetemi, Vostro aff.mo amico, Alfonso". I am grateful to D. Achille Di Lorenzo for providing me with a copy of the text of this document.

6.5. See also Dr Peter Bander van Duren, 1995, op.cit., pp. 278-280.

6.6. A total of twenty-two Cardinals were accorded membership by the Count of Caserta, including Cardinals Dubois (Archbishop of Paris), Merry del Val and Gasparri (both Secretaries of State), and Pacelli (Secretary of State and future Pope).

6.7. Acknowledging this award, Monsignor Pacelli wrote "Altezza Reale, L'Ecc.mo Sig. Duca di Paganica, Gran Cancelliere del sacro Militare Ordine Costantiniano di San Giorgio, mi ha cortesemente partecipato che Vostra Altezza Reale degnavasi teste nominarmi Cavaliere di Merito e di Grazia del prelodato Ordine. Sono vivamente riconoscente a Vostra Altezza per il nobile grado conferitomi e compio colla presente il dovere di esporimerLe senza indugio le mie piu devote e sincere azioni di grazia. Profitto dell'incontro per professarmi coi sensi della piu alta stima e del piu profondo ossequio. Di Vostra Altezza Reale/ Roma, 20 Aprile 1913 / Umilissimo Devotissimo Servo/ Eugenio Pacelli / Pro-Segretario per gli Aff. Straord. della Segretaria di Stato di S.S. I am grateful to D. Achille Di Lorenzo for providing me with a copy of the text of this document.

6.8. The President of the British Association (Commission) is Prince Rupert zu Loewenstein, Count of Loewenstein-Scharffeneck, the President of the North American is Prof John MacPherson, and the President of the Spanish is the Duke of BailÚn.

 

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