Pontifical Equestrian Order of Saint Sylvester Pontifex Maximus
Ordo Sancti Silvestri Papae
Knight's cross of the Order of St. Sylvester
Awarded by  Holy See
TypePapal order of knighthood
StatusCurrently constituted
SovereignPope Francis
GradesKnight/Dame Grand Cross
Knight/Dame Commander with Star
Knight/Dame Commander
Next (higher)Order of St. Gregory the Great
Next (lower)Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice

Ribbon bar of the order

The Pontifical Equestrian Order of Saint Sylvester (Latin: Ordo Sancti Silvestri Papae, Italian: Ordine di San Silvestro Papa), sometimes referred to as the Sylvestrine Order, or the Pontifical Order of Pope Saint Sylvester, is one of five orders of knighthood awarded directly by the Pope as Supreme Pontiff and head of the Catholic Church and as the Head of State of Vatican City. It is intended to honour Catholic laypeople who are actively involved in the life of the Church, particularly as it is exemplified in the exercise of their professional duties and mastership of the different arts.


This Order was at one time united with the Order of the Golden Militia. Pope Pius X in his motu proprio of 7 February 1905, entitled Multum ad excitandos, divided the Sylvestrine Order into two Orders of Knighthood, one retaining the name of St. Sylvester and the other taking the ancient name of the Order, i.e. Order of the Golden Militia, or Order of the Golden Spur.[1]

It is intended to honour Catholic laypeople who are actively involved in the life of the Church, particularly as it is exemplified in the exercise of their professional duties and mastership of the different arts. It is also conferred on non-Catholics and in the UK current recipients include prominent Anglicans, Muslims and Jews. The Knights of Saint Sylvester used to have the privilege of riding a horse inside Saint Peter's in Rome, the same privilege accorded to the other major pontifical orders.[2]

Awards of the Order are generally made on the recommendation of Diocesan Bishops or of Apostolic Nuncios (nominations may be made by parish priests to their bishop for his consideration). Awards are also granted on recommendation of the Papal Secretary of State. In 1994 Pope John Paul II extended membership in the Order to ladies as well as gentlemen.[2]

Regulations of Gregory XVI

Prior to 1841, it was known as the Militia of the Golden Spur or Golden Militia, and though it is not historically established who among the many supposed founders is the true one, yet it undoubtedly is the oldest and, at one time, was one of the most prized of the papal orders. Faculties granted to the Sforza family,[3] to the College of Abbreviators,[4] and to bishops assistant at the throne[5] to create Knights of the Golden Militia resulted in lavish bestowal and diminished prestige of the decoration.

Pope Gregory XVI in his Papal Brief of 31 October 1841, entitled Quod hominum mentes, retained the ancient name of the Order and placed it under the patronage of St. Sylvester (one of its alleged founders). He withdrew all faculties to whom and by whomsoever given, and forbade the use of the title or the decoration to all knights created by any means other than a Papal Brief. To restore the Order to its ancient glory and splendour, he limited the number of Commanders to 150 and knights to 300 (for the Papal States only),[6] and appointed the Cardinal of Apostolic Briefs as Chancellor of the Order, with the duty of preserving the name, grade, number and date of admission of each knight.

Golden Chain of the Order of Saint Sylvester and the Golden Militia prior to 1905.

Pope Gregory divided the Order into two classes:

Regulations of Pius X

The Order currently has four classes. In order of seniority they are:[2]

Each recipient may illustrate their Papal knighthood with post-nominal lettering as seen above.[2]


U.S. President Barack Obama escorted through the Clementine Hall by papal gentlemen wearing the insignia of Knight Grand Cross, 2009

The current decoration or cross of the Order is a gold cross of white enamelled surface, in the centre of which is impressed the image of St. Sylvester, surrounded by a blue enamelled circle bearing the inscription in letters of gold SANC. SYLVESTER P. M. Others state SANC. SILVESTER. PONT. MAX.,[7] indicating the title Pontifex Maximus. On the obverse, in the centre, are the papal tiara and crossed keys with the dates of the Order's restoration under Gregory, MDCCCXXXXR, and that of the Pius X renovation, MDCCCCV, impressed in characters of gold upon a blue circle. The ribbon of the decoration is black silk with three narrow red stripes. The star or badge is the cross of the Order attached to a silver star.[1]


The official uniform is a black coat ornamented with one row of gilt buttons, black velvet, gold-embroidered collar and cuffs, black gold-striped trousers, a bicornered cocked silk (bicorne) hat with a cockade of the papal colours to which is added a white plume when worn by a Knight Grand Cross, a black plume when worn by a Commander, and a sword. Knights Grand Cross wear a sash and a badge or star on the left side of the breast; Commanders wear a cross around the neck; and Knights wear a smaller cross on the left breast of the uniform. The uniform is considerably more embroidered for the higher ranks and white gloves are usually worn.[8]

Knight Commander
Knight Commander with Star
Knight Grand Cross


In ecclesiastical heraldry, laypersons awarded the rank Grand Cross display a blue enamelled circle bearing the inscription in letters of gold SANC. SYLVESTER P. M around the shield in their coat of arms, while other ranks place an appropriate ribbon below the shield.[citation needed]


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Papal knights and dames do not have any specific obligations by virtue of their having been given the personal honour of membership in an Order. However, it is customary for them to be invited to participate in major events of their diocese, such as the consecration of bishops, the ordination of priests, and the introduction of a new bishop into his diocese. On such formal occasions, they would wear the uniform of the Order.

Notable members

See also


  1. ^ a b Rock, P.M.J. "Pontifical Decorations." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 9 November 2022 Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  2. ^ a b c d "The Papal Order of Saint Sylvester", The Christian Knighthood Information Center
  3. ^ Pope Paul III, Hinc est quod nos, 14 Apr., 1539
  4. ^ Pope Leo X, Const. 14 Summi
  5. ^ Pope Julius III, 6 Apr., 1557
  6. ^ Moeller, Charles (1912). "Order of Saint Sylvester" . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  7. ^ "The Pontifical Order of Pope Saint Sylvester". Association of Papal Orders in Great Britain. 2020-12-05. Retrieved 2024-04-01.
  8. ^ Malesci Baccani, Alessandra. "The Knights of The Holy See" (PDF). Presidency of the Council of Ministers. Retrieved 1 April 2024.
  9. ^ https://chickparsons.com/
  10. ^ "(특집) 100년 독립망명가 장윤원 선생 훈포상 청원을 위한 제언- 빛도 없는 100년전 장윤원 독립운동가와 한인군속의 항일운동 | 한인포스트". 27 October 2019.
  11. ^ Schindler's List, p. 395, at Google Books Retrieved 14 June 2020.
  12. ^ "Jap Envoy Honored By Pope Vatican City". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. St. Louis. 5 January 1946. Retrieved 14 June 2020.
  13. ^ Barron, James (27 April 2020). "Cardinal Timothy Dolan Confers a Rare Papal Knighthood on Rabbi Arthur Schneier". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 June 2020.
  14. ^ "Dr Giorgio Borġ Olivier". Maltese History & Heritage. 26 January 2013. Retrieved 14 June 2020.
  15. ^ "Duke Georg | House of Mecklenburg-Strelitz". www.mecklenburg-strelitz.org.
  16. ^ "Guam Leader Honored". The Catholic Standard & Times. 7 February 1964. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  17. ^ "Judge Burton Hall". International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  18. ^ "Pope Francis to bestow knighthood on New York rabbi". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 22 April 2015. Retrieved 23 April 2015.
  19. ^ a b Turchansky, Lorraine (22 December 2017). "Advocates for the mentally ill honoured by the pope". Grandin Media. Retrieved 17 June 2020.
  20. ^ Bericht der Medizin-Historischen ExpertInnenkommission: Die Innsbrucker Kinderbeobachtungsstation von Maria Nowak-Vogl (PDF) (Report). Medizinische Universität Innsbruck. 11 Nov 2013.
  21. ^ "ODIS". www.odis.be.
  22. ^ Museo Barracco, Storia della collezione, Quaderno 2, ed. by Maresita Nota Santi, Orietta Rossini, and Elena Cagiano de Azevedo, Commune di Roma, 2000.
  23. ^ "Stanislav Zachar (Staviteľ)".
  24. ^ "The smallest ship of the ocean". Illustrated London News. British Newspaper Archive. 25 June 1870. p. 21 col.2. Retrieved 5 September 2020.
  25. ^ Velmistr Jan hrabě Dobrzenský obdržel papežský Řád Svatého Řehoře Velikého
  26. ^ "Coulombe, Charles". Catholicism.org Store. Retrieved 16 June 2021.
  27. ^ "MASUDA M° Kento". cavalierisansilvestro.it (in Italian). Associazione "Cavalieri San Silvestro". Archived from the original on 28 September 2021. Retrieved 2021-09-28.
  28. ^ "Acta Benedicti PP. XVI" (PDF). Acta Apostolicae Sedis. 5 September 2008. Retrieved 17 June 2020.
  29. ^ "Comedian Don Maclean made Papal Knight". BBC. 26 May 2012. Retrieved 17 June 2020.
  30. ^ "My Papal knighthood exceptional —Obi". Vanguard News. 2014-12-21. Retrieved 2022-06-04.
  31. ^ "Lorenzo Balbi, benefactor of Marsa parish church, passed away 100 years ago". Times of Malta.