Order of Christ (Portugal)

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Cross of the Order of Christ

The Order of the Knights of Christ (Christ Order ) or more precisely: Order of the Knights of Our Lord Jesus Christ , Portuguese Ordem de Cavalaria de Nosso Senhor Jesus Cristo ? / i , was a Portuguese knightly order founded in 1319 . It was dissolved in 1834, the privileges of its members abolished, and most of its property publicly auctioned. Audio file / audio sample

The order was converted into a state order of merit for special military and civil achievements, which is still awarded today. It is not to be confused with the papal order of Christ created by Pope Pius X in its present form in 1905 , the highest honor of the Holy See .

History of the order of knights


In 1307 Pope Clement V ordered , in connection with the charges and accusations against the Templars by Philip IV the Fair of France , to hold a council on the Iberian Peninsula to determine the guilt or innocence of the Knights Templar in the Iberian kingdoms. The council, including the Archbishop of Lisbon , D. João III. Martins de Soalhães , gathered in Salamanca and declared the order's innocence.

In 1308 the Portuguese King Dionysius and Ferdinand IV of Castile signed an agreement to protect the Templars in their kingdoms and to keep their goods from being accessed. The King of Aragon later joined this agreement . Notwithstanding this agreement and the decisions of the Council of Salamanca, Pope Clement V ordered the goods of the order to be confiscated. Immediately also in Portugal representatives of the Church tried, u. a. the Bishop of Guarda , D. Vasco II Martins de Alvelos , to seize the goods of the Templars. However, the Portuguese king did not allow this. Rather, he opened legal proceedings to transfer these goods into the ownership of the crown.

In January 1310 the kings of Portugal and Castile reaffirmed their agreement to protect the Templars, while Pope Clement V convened another council to investigate the behavior of the Iberian Templars. Both in Medina del Campo and again in Salamanca, with the participation of the Bishops of Lisbon, D. João, and Guarda, D. Vasco, two councils met, both of which in turn confirmed the innocence of the Templars. Furthermore, the secular courts ruled that the Portuguese king's motion to transfer the goods of the Templars into the property of the crown was legal, as it was an old royal country that had only been left to the Templars for use.

In the papal bull Ad providam , Pope Clement V decreed on May 2, 1312 that the goods of the Templars should be transferred to the Knightly Order of the Hospital St. Johannis in Jerusalem (Johanniter), later the Order of Malta. Portugal, Castile, Aragon and Mallorca were expressly excluded from this papal order.

While 54 Templars were burned as heretics in Paris in 1314 , the Portuguese king expressly accepted a donation of land from the Knight Templar João Soares .

Due to the disputes over the Knights Templar, the Portuguese king had the unique opportunity to create not only a "national Portuguese" order, which was strongly subject to the interests of the royal family, but also the dependencies of the existing knightly orders on the Pope and the Castilian order to loosen gradually. In order to be able to continue the Reconquista in North Africa, which had come to an end on Portuguese territory , the Portuguese royal family needed a militarily powerful and economically strong power, which they created with the establishment of the Knights of Christ and the integration of the other orders of knights into royal politics.

Establishment of the order

Through his two most important representatives at the Holy See, the canon from Coimbra Petrus Petri and the knight Johannes Laurentii (João Lorenço) de Monteseratio , the Portuguese King Dinis had several times in 1317 and 1318 objected to the transfer of the property of the Templars to the Johanniter in Portugal and orientate towards the establishment of an independent Portuguese knightly order.

In August 1318 King Dinis established an embassy at the Holy See to have the foundation of a new order of knights, the Order of the Knights of Christ, approved in Portugal, since since the 4th Lateran Council in 1215, the right to approve a new order rested solely with the Pope ( Constitution 13, De novis religionibus prohibitis : “… firmiter prohibemus, ne quis… novam religionem inveniat…”; German: The prohibition of new orders : “… we strictly forbid anyone… to found a new order…”; quoted from: Alberigo , Josepho and others: Conciliorum oecumenicorum decreta , Bologna 1973).

On March 14, 1319, Pope John XXII. in the bull Ad ea ex quibus the approval of the foundation of the Portuguese Order of Christ. In return, the Portuguese king handed over the royal castle of Castro Marim in the Algarve as the future seat of the new order. Furthermore, the Pope decided that the goods of the Temple Order in Portugal would pass to the new Order.

In the papal bull it was further determined that the knights of the order of the knighthood of Jesus Christ had to live according to the rule of the knightly order of Calatrava .

The abbot of the Cistercian monastery of Alcobaça , located in the diocese of Lisbon, was appointed as the spiritual visitor for the new order , who also had to take the oath of allegiance of the respective Grand Master on behalf of the Pope and had jurisdiction over both the Knights of Christ and the Order of Avis .

Like other orders, the members of the Order of the Knighthood of Jesus Christ made a solemn vow of the three evangelical councils :

  • Poverty, d. H. Waiver of personal property,
  • Obedience, d. H. Renouncing independent life planning,
  • Celibacy, d. H. Renouncing ties to a family.

Furthermore, they vowed to live in strict communal enclosure (mostly in monastic castles), to spread the Christian faith and to fight the unbelievers.

Three different groups also took solemn vows among the Portuguese Knights of Christ: the noble knights , who mainly carried out armed service but also performed pilgrimage; the relatively small group of chaplains who provided spiritual care for all members of the order; the large group of lay brothers who ensured the material supply of the order or exercised a craft, but also took on the armed service. The act of making the solemn public vow was usually irreversible and rendered the one who made it incapable, e.g. B. he could no longer acquire property. Legal acts that he set or statements that he made were no longer legally valid.

In addition to these actual members of the order, of whom only a relatively small number were noble knights, a large number of servants, servants, dependent farmers and craftsmen as well as people who earned their bread in the vicinity of the order in times of war and peacetime lived on the monastic estates.

In November 1319, Gil Martins (Aegidius Martini ), who was until then Master of the Order of Avis, was elected the first high or grand master. The Grand Master was obliged to take the Portuguese king's personal oath and team (feudal service), but this gave the king no right to order possession. The Grand Master as well as the Praezeptors of the order (leading positions of the order subordinate to the Grand Master) had the duty to go to court.

The most important positions of the praezeptors according to the order of priority were:

  • the grand prior (prior-mor), responsible for ecclesiastical jurisdiction in the order as well as the exercise of spiritual care for its members inside and outside of the order's property;
  • the Grand Commander (comendador-mor), who presided over the order on the death of the Grand Master and in the absence of the Grand Prior, as well as in the event that these offices were vacant;
  • the key custodian (claveiro), who was entrusted with the custody of the keys of the convent as well as the care and catering of the members of the order;
  • the grand sacristan (sacristão-mor), who holds the seals of the order, the archives, etc. a. kept;
  • the standard- bearer (alferes), who carried the banner of the order in processions and in all acts of war in which the Grand Master also took part.

On December 19, 1319, the transfer of the goods of the Templars to the new order was confirmed in a royal letter. These goods were primarily in central Portugal south of the Mondego and extended as far as the Beira Baixa region .

On June 11, 1321, the Grand Master issued the first statutes of the order for 69 armed and armored knights, nine chaplains and six sergeants.

As early as 1326, the second grand master, João Lorenço , issued a revised and adapted order constitution.

Further development

Between 1327 and 1335, Martím Gonçalves Leitão led the order as the third Grand Master. His successor was his brother Estevão Gonçalves Leitão until 1344 . This was followed by Rodrigo Anes as the fifth grandmaster .

During this time, the order became an important pillar of the Portuguese royal family and received a large number of donations (castles, small towns, villages, hamlets, etc.) as well as rights and privileges in return.

The Baphomet keystone in the Convento de Cristo Tomar, Portugal

The knights initially had their headquarters in Castro Marim on the border with Castile. In 1357, at the time of the sixth Grand Master Nuno Rodrigues , the headquarters of the order was moved to Tomar , founded in 1157 by the (probably) first order master of the Portuguese Templars, Gualdim Pais . Here, in the convent founded by the Knights Templar in 1168, the Convento de Cristo was built. Tomar remained the headquarters of the order from then on. The close connection to the royal family is also evidenced by the fact that the seventh Grand Master of the order, Lopo Dias de Sousa , was the nephew of King Ferdinand I's wife , Leonore Teles de Menezes .

A new quality of the relationship between the orders of knights and the Portuguese royal family was achieved under King John I , who, as the former master of the order of Avis, was able to precisely assess the military potential and economic resources as well as the interests and "domestic policy" of the orders. So it was no coincidence that in the revolution of 1383, in addition to the Knights of Christ and Avis, the Portuguese Knights of Santiago and the Hospitaller John I supported him in his struggle for Portuguese independence against Castile .

It was therefore only logical that the Portuguese king had members of the royal family elected step by step in close coordination with the Pope in leading positions of the knightly orders.
On May 25, 1420, John I was confirmed in the papal bull In apostolice dignatis specula that his son Heinrich the Navigator and Duke of Viseu was awarded the title of administrator or governor of the Order of the
Knights of Christ for life. Since Heinrich had not received the ordination, he was "only" the secular leader of the order, although he is often referred to in literature as the Grand Master. Since secular administrators of the grand master's office were appointed with Heinrich, the grand prior of the order - as praelatus nullius dioecesis - assumed the spiritual administration of the grand master's office and thus the ecclesiastical jurisdiction.

Based on the economic and military might of the order, Henry the Navigator became the protagonist of the Portuguese expansion groping south along the African coast. An important reason for the financing and the scheduled sending of sea expeditions was the search of the Portuguese for the legendary kingdom of Archpriest Johannes , which was supposed to be in "African India". Together with the Christian troops of the archpriest, the fight against Moors and Islam was to be waged not only from the European north, but also from the African south.

During the time of the discoveries, the Order of Christ had tremendous influence. The caravels of Heinrich the Navigator carried the emblem of the order, the red cross on a white background, on their sails.

On March 13, 1456, Pope Calixt III. in his Bull Inter cetera the Order of Christ the entire spiritual power over all areas south of Cape Bojador and Cape Nun, over Guinea to the Indians as well as over the islands in the Atlantic. This bull is the ecclesiastical counterpart to the Bull Romanus Pontifex (January 8, 1455). In this, Pope Nicholas V gave the Portuguese King Alfonso V , his uncle Henry the Navigator and their successors, the countries, ports, islands and seas of Africa including the patronage of the churches, the trade monopoly (except for the trade in war material), the exclusive right of navigation in these waters as well as the right to lead infidels into slavery. The Padroado (Portuguese for patronage) was an arrangement between the Holy See and the Kingdom of Portugal to proselytize newly conquered territory by the Portuguese crown.

Inter cetera confirmed the privileges granted to the Order of Christ by Alfonso V on June 7, 1454 as well as all privileges granted to the Portuguese by the predecessors of Pope Kalixt III. conferred rights and privileges. With this letter, the Pope gave the Order of Christ the proper spiritual jurisdiction as well as the rule and authority in spiritual matters over "all acquired and those still to be acquired" territories. This far-reaching privilege later enabled the order to exercise ecclesiastical jurisdiction in India . This bull also gave the Grand Prior (always a clergyman) of the Knights of Christ the right to bestow all benefices that have already been established or are still being established in these areas. In addition, these areas were given the status nullius dioecesis , i.e. That is, they were not subject to any bishop and thus only to the Grand Prior. The Grand Prior of the Order of Christ thus achieved a status that put him on an equal footing with the bishops - jurisdictio quasi episcopalis .

In order to further strengthen the order, Heinrich the Navigator transferred to him on December 26, 1457 one twentieth of all income from the African Guinea trade.

After Henry's death in 1460, confirmed by the Curia , he was followed by his nephew, the Duke of Viseu, D. Fernão , a brother of King Alfonso V, also as administrator of the order, so that the secular leadership of the Knights of Christ remained in the royal family . This enabled the Portuguese royal family to continue to secure their African possessions with the income of the order. After Fernão's death in 1470, his only 8-year-old son D. Diogo was appointed administrator of the Knights of Christ and represented in this task by his older brother D. João († 1483).

In 1484 King John II had the administrator Diogo executed for participating in a noble conspiracy. Another son of D. Fernão, who later became King (1495) D. Manuel , Duke of Viseu and Beja, was appointed administrator of the Order of Christ as the new administrator .

During this time the order developed into one of the most distinguished institutions in Portugal. For noble families it was considered a great honor when their younger sons, mostly not entitled to inheritance, were accepted as novices in the order between the ages of 10 and 12. Many families from the nobility and high nobility had long-standing traditions of belonging to the various Portuguese knightly orders. Well-known members of the Christ Knights were among others Bartolomeu Diaz , Vasco da Gama , Pedro Álvares Cabral and Martin Behaim .

In 1496 Pope Alexander VI. the Christ Knights the dispensation from celibacy, in 1505 the order received the dispensation from the vow of poverty.

These papal decisions took into account the rapid development of the order. While in 1495 the order still had 80 commanderies (administrative areas from which income was drawn), 37 new commanderies were created in North Africa and 8 on the islands in the Atlantic after the reform of the order in 1503. In addition, 408 new members joined the order between 1510 and 1521.

On June 30, 1516, Pope Leo X in the Bull Constanti fidei entrusted the administration of all master's offices of the three Portuguese knightly orders to the Portuguese King Manuel for his lifetime. With this, the crown finally gained access to the benefices of the Order of Christ overseas and was able to lend them for services rendered. When Manuel died in 1521, the Order of Christ had 454 commanderies. With the appointment of King John III. as grand master and administrator in 1521, 991 new knights joined the order.

Some historians regard 1522 as the year in which the division into two branches, a religious branch under the curia and a secular branch dominated by the Portuguese kings and their republican successors, took place. There is a lot of evidence to support this view, but no clear evidence.

With the on December 30, 1551 by Pope Julius III. When the bull Praeclara charissimi was enacted , all of the masterships of the military and knightly orders were incorporated into the Portuguese crown forever. The Portuguese king thus became patron saint of all ecclesiastical provinces in the Portuguese overseas territories. This was a decisive step in the enforcement of the monopoly of violence of the crown and access to the income, rights and privileges that allowed the crown to bind representatives of various classes to itself and to reward them appropriately for their services.

Caravels in front of the "Terra Brasilis" with the Order of Christ, in the Miller Atlas of 1519 by Pedro Reinel and Lopo Homem

Head of the independent order

  • Gil Martins
  • João Lourenço from Monsaraz
  • Martim Gonçalves Leitão
  • Estevão Gonçalves Leitão
  • Rodrigo Anes
  • Nuno Rodrigues Freire de Andrade (- 1373)
  • Lopo Dias de Sousa (1373-1417)
  • Nuno Rodrigues (1417-1420)
  • Infant Henrique (1420-1460)
  • Afonso V. (1460-1481)

Takeover by the Portuguese crown

Already at the end of 1532 under Johann III. an institution, Mesa da Consiência (about: Committee or Council of Conscience) was founded, which, among other tasks, was also involved in the administration of the knightly orders on behalf of the king, so that it was quickly given the name Mesa da Consiência e Ordens . The Mesa da Consiência e Ordens carried out a multitude of tasks towards the knightly orders : administration and exercise of royal patronage, visiting the convents of Avis and Palmela , monitoring the commanderies of the orders and the goods of the order masters, the rights and privileges conferred, etc.

In this context, some special conditions still applied to the Order of Christ. So stayed z. B. the affairs of the convent of Tomar (headquarters of the Christ Knights) as well as those of the Lisbon monastery Mosteiro da Luz, which also belongs to the Christ Knights, outside the influence of the Mesa da Consiência e Order . The reason for this exception was the reforms introduced in 1529 by the Apostolic Visitator, António de Lisboa , in the Convent of Tomar as part of the Catholic Counter-Reformation. So were z. B. all priests and religious of the order obliged to participate in the common life in the convent of Tomar, which led to a revitalization of the spiritual life of the order. Until 1789, the affairs of the convent were therefore subject to the supervision and decision of the Apostolic Visitator or the General or Grand Prior of the Order and not the Royal Grand Master or the Mesa da Consiência e Order . However, this exception did not apply to all other goods of the Order of Christ.

To improve the training of their brothers in the various disciplines of theology, the Order of Christ created a special training center in the mid-16th century, the Colégio de Tomar .

In 1570, as in the other Portuguese knightly orders, in the Order of Christ the Inquisition-supervised regulations on the limpeza de sangue (purity of blood) for all knights, canons and serving brothers were introduced and on August 18, 1570 by the bull of Pope Pius V. , Ad regie maiestatis , confirmed. But it was not until 1597, also under the influence of the forced unification with Spain , that the investigations were extended to the birthplaces of the candidates as well as those of their parents and grandparents. The Mesa da Consiência e Ordens created a network of local commissions throughout the kingdom. However, the Inquisition never succeeded in enforcing the relevant regulations in Portugal as rigidly as was actually intended. So were z. B. In 1591 the royal mathematician and cosmographer João Baptista Lavanha , who was of Jewish descent, was appointed Knight of Christ. The same was true of Felipe Camarão , an Indian officer in the Portuguese service, and Henrique Dias , a descendant of African slaves, for their fight on the Portuguese side against the Dutch in Brazil from 1630 to 1654.

In the course of time, the dissatisfaction grew in the knightly orders, since the members and officials of the Mesa da Consiência e Ordens were mostly not members of the knightly orders. The demand for reforms within the orders and their administration has been raised since the end of the 16th century. Commissions were repeatedly formed to carry out this task. In 1619, after a visit by the Spanish King Philip III, who also ruled Portugal . to incorporate a number of reforms into new regulations and statutes for the Portuguese knightly orders. All these measures were confirmed by a meeting of the knights and commander of each order.

The main focus of these reforms was the reinterpretation of the traditional possessions, commanderies, rights and privileges of the knightly orders, as the great demand for the status of an order, of which the knight of Christ was the most respected, resulted from the exemption of the commander's income and Knights of the order from tithing as well as from many taxes and duties. At the beginning of the 17th century, the Order of Christ had more than 500 commanderies, and it was not uncommon for a knight to receive the income from several commanderies, as the royal house also used this income to reward services rendered. In addition, the Order of Christ a. a. on payments from rights to the income of Casa da Índia , Casa de Tânger and de Mazagão .

With the approval of the Holy See, the majority of the income flowed into the pockets of fewer and fewer families of the Portuguese high nobility and the royal family, which often left commanderies vacant for many years in order to use the income themselves. The friars serving in the convents and the clerics of the various patronage churches also received much of their income from the order.

In 1789 Maria I , confirmed by the papal bull of Pius VI. Qualqunque a maioribus of August 18, 1789, a profound reform and secularization of the knightly orders. It issued a new, differentiated hierarchy and determined that the Order of Christ should be expanded into the new Order of Merit for noble politicians, but also for the exclusively noble holders of high civil and military posts. In doing so, it was oriented towards the development of the European orders of knights.

Like all other orders, the liberal revolution of 1834 dissolved the Order of Christ.

History of the Order of Merit

Shortly after its dissolution as a knightly order, the Christ order was re-established as an award for various services. Since 1834, membership in the Order of Christ has been a Portuguese state honor, which was retained by the subsequent republican governments even after the overthrow of the monarchy in 1910.

Insignia and classes of the order

Until the fall of the monarchy in 1910, the Order of Christ had three classes: Grand Cross, Commander with Star and Knight. The order of the Grand Cross was a red enameled paw cross (Templar cross) with a white border. In the middle medallion was a white Greek cross on top of a red paw cross (i.e. the Greek cross with the cross ends widening outwards). The order cross was surrounded by a green enamelled laurel wreath and hung on a golden royal crown. The other classes wore the simple order cross of the middle medallion of the grand cross, which hung on a golden royal crown. The silver medal star of the 1st and 2nd class was eight-pointed and had the same emblem of the cross of Christ on the medallion as the medal. The star also had a red enameled Heart of Jesus emblem on the top beam above the center medallion. The order of the 1st class was initially only worn on a collar , only around 1830 was the red sash introduced, in the same color as the ribbon of the other classes of the order.

During the monarchy, all domestic knights were required to be noble and Catholic. The number of committees was limited to 450, the number of knights unlimited. The knights of the order were entitled to place the order cross under their coat of arms.

The Republic kept the medal, but expanded the classes to five:

The medal was now uniform for all classes - only the red paw cross, which was covered with the white Greek cross, without the royal crown as a suspension. The breast star (in gold for 1st and 2nd class, in silver for 3rd class) now received 24 broken rays, the medallion in the middle of the cross was not changed, but the Sacred Heart emblem was removed. The medals of the upper three classes hung on a green enamelled laurel wreath, those of the lower two on a simple ring. The red ribbon was retained and the test of nobility abolished.

Bearer of the Portuguese Order of Christ

See also: Category: Bearers of the Portuguese Order of Christ

See also


  • Gustav Adolph Ackermann: Order book of all in Europe flourishing and extinct orders and decorations . Annaberg 1855.
  • Paul Hieronymussen: Orders, Medals and Decorations of Britain and Europe in Color . London 1967.
  • Arnhard Graf Klenau: European order from 1700 . Munich 1978.
  • Eberhard Schmitt (Ed.): Documents on the history of European expansion .
Volume I: Charles Verlinden and E. Schmitt (eds.): The medieval origins of European expansion . Beck, Munich 1986, ISBN 3-406-30372-2 .
Document 50: Pope John approves the Portuguese Order of Christ in 1319 . Pp. 281-287.
Document 40: Nicholas V transmits in the bull “Romanus pontifex”… . Pp. 218-231.
Document 41: Calixt III. transmits in the bull “Inter cetera”… . Pp. 231-237.

Web links

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