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Fake equestrian orders – what drives men to playact?

Some men just love to make-believe

By on Thursday, 15 November 2012

Vatican Pope Easter

There was a splendid item from Rome Reports news agency recently. It was issued from the Vatican (where else could such an item possibly come from?) and was entitled, “Watch out for fake Equestrian Orders”. What on earth was this about; rogues riding about on horseback pretending to be part of the Vatican cavalry? It seems Equestrian Orders have nothing to do with horses today, although centuries ago there was an element of chivalry attached to them. They are part of the Holy See’s own honours list and include such distinctions as being a member of the Supreme Order of Christ, the Order of the Golden Spur (I like that title), the Pian Order, the Order of Saint Gregory the Great and the Order of Pope Sylvester.

There are two other recognised Orders: these are the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, whose Grand Master is Fra Mathew Festing, and the Equestrian Order of the Holy See Sepulchre of Jerusalem, led by the Grand master, Cardinal O’Brien. Apparently the Vatican has decided to publish a list of the Equestrian Orders it recognises, because “unfortunately, many people who claim to be part of these religious Orders” are in fact no such thing. Fancy that. The Holy See has declared that it doesn’t recognise any of the documents, insignias, membership or even diplomas issued by pretend Orders which claim legitimacy under its aegis. Ever discreet, it doesn’t mention any names of these made-up Orders masquerading as the real thing, which is a pity. Perhaps the imposters are the same people who believe in The Da Vinci Code and the search for the Holy Grail; plots and pomp have gone to their heads and they live in a fantasy world of chivalry and regalia.

Alongside the news item was a photograph of two Ruritanian-type gentlemen wearing sashes, medals and white bow ties, looking like extras in a comic opera. This may sound a sexist remark – but I bet you don’t get women pretending to be members of fake Equestrian Orders. Men love uniforms and dressing up; they take themselves more seriously than women do. The Order of the Golden Spur doesn’t mention women members at all, though since 1994 women have been appointed Dames in the same class as men in the Order of St Gregory the Great.

The Order of the Golden Spur is “conferred upon those who have rendered distinguished service in propagating the Catholic faith or who have contributed to the glory of the Church either by feat of arms, by writings or by other illustrious acts.” That includes all the staff at the Herald then; it would certainly raise the tone of the Herald office if a few sashes, medals and spurs could be casually displayed, alongside some gold braid and gilt buttons. Mind you, the Order has had its disreputable moments: Casanova was elected a member in the 18th century (he was described as an “adventurer”) and for some inexplicable reason, so was the late Shah of Iran in the 20th. Just now it seems that the Grand Duke of Luxembourg is its only living knight. I vote that the staff in Lamb’s Passage should keep him company.

  • AidanCoyle

    The tone of Francis’s commentary is perfectly pitched to match the topic. In defence of these daft bodies, people tend to say, ‘Ah but they raise a lot of money for good causes’, which is all very well but what impression do they create of Christianity and of the Catholic Church? All that gallivanting around in elaborate robes and regalia, with vacuous titles, seems a million miles from gospel values. Of course, some might say that Francis’s send-up could just as easily be applied to clergy (Catholic and Anglican) with an institutional dressing-up fetish…

  • nytor

    “I bet you don’t get women pretending to be members of fake Equestrian Orders”

    Oh yes you do. I know this from experience.

  • NewMeena

    The sheer variety of clothes, shoes and accessories that women are permitted to wear in normal, everyday life identifies us as the sex that wishes to playact every day of the year. 

    Of course one must not forget the catholic clergy (male) with their plethora of hats and costumes – sometimes encrusted with precious stones.

  • Adiutricem

    “Men love uniforms and dressing up; they take themselves more seriously than women do.”

    Come to America. We have furries.

  • James Redman

    It’s fun, my dear.

  • Luisa Navarro

    Shallow thought, shallow comment. Must be boring living in such simple-simon black-and-white world.

  • Parasum

    As to the article: 

    1. How is dressing up by men any different from dressing up by women ?

    2. How is dressing up by men in Catholic equestrian orders any different from dressing up by the clergy ? 

    3. How are men in those orders doing anything different from men in equestrian orders such as the Orders of the Garter, the Thistle, the Order of Merit, of St.Michael & St. George, or other orders of chivalry, including those in other countries ?

    4. What is done is not playing at make-believe – the change is not in the orders of chivalry, but in the societies in which they arose. The orders are dressing as they have in the past – it is modern society that has chosen to dress differently, not they. The opening comment is based on an error of perspective. 

    5. As these are orders within the society that is the Catholic Church, it is as legitimate for them to dress as they always have, as it is for the clergy to do so. If the clergy can retain clothing that ceased to be part of every-day dress over a thousand years ago and more – not many laity wear the dalmatic these days – then so can orders which have roots in cultures now far in the past. If clergy do not wear modern dress to officiate, but add to it clothing no longer in use,  there is no reason  why members of chivalric orders should be modern in that way.

    6. The Church is tradition-minded. It uses dogmatic definitions that were very old when the first knightly orders were founded. Its faith is rooted in a past older than any culture now on earth. Equestrian orders are a living bond with the past. 

    7. In a dreary, drab world with little sense of beauty or taste, this kind of thing is a change from the tawdriness which is so prevalent. Uniforms of this kind are, in their way, a protest against the ugliness of life today. 

  • MissTrixieB

    As a Lady of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, I am greatly offended by those caught up in the false orders.  We accept the honors and duties of our Order very seriously.  We are called to increase our personal spirituality as well as to support the cause of Christianity in the Holy Land.  We support religious orders, schools, orphanages, hospitals, etc in the Holy Land — most of the financial support comes from the EOHSJ.