Order of knights

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The original place of deployment of the orders of knights were the crusader states in the Holy Land

An order of knights is a community of knights with the main purpose of an ideal or charitable task.

The original ideal lay in monachus et miles (monk and knight) who in the order (Latin ordo = order, status) is dedicated to a Christian purpose. The first orders of knights were religious orders that were founded to protect and guide pilgrims to the Holy Land .

Based on these religious orders of knights, founded in the High Middle Ages , secular orders of knights such as the Burgundian Order of the Golden Fleece emerged on princely initiative in the late Middle Ages . These were connected with the dynasty, should strengthen its power base or politically network and formed a core of the developing court nobility .

Later, many orders of knights became carriers of social institutions.


The religious orders of knights recruited their members mostly from the nobility . The knightly orders were characterized by an order-like community life in poverty , obedience and chastity , which was linked with charitable tasks, armed pilgrimage protection and military action against external and occasionally internal enemies of Christianity. The orders consisted of full knightly members who had to prove their noble descent with an ancestral test , priestly brothers ( clergy ), serving lay brothers (who also did armed service), sisters (see: Sisters of the Teutonic Order ) and fraternity members. Orders of knights were organized in a strictly hierarchical manner. High or Grand Master stood at the head of a vast net of provinces , bailiwicks and coming . This formed the prerequisite for the task of a quickly deployable standing army , especially in border areas, in Palestine , Syria , on the Iberian Peninsula and the Baltic Sea region . The knightly orders created the infrastructure required for this through an extensive castle system .

Bernhard von Clairvaux called the knights of the order " new type of knights ", as they combined the fighting power of the, in parts, decadent knighthood with the discipline and abstinence of the monastic orders . While the individual members remained committed to poverty, the orders became one of the richest organizations of their time through inheritances , gifts and conquests .

The Knights Templar was the oldest institution that can be described as a knightly order since its inception. He is the prototype of an order of knights.

The Order of St. John , founded in 1048 and confirmed by the Pope in 1113 , is older than the Knights Templar; But it was not until a slow process in the 1130s that it changed from a pure hospital order to a knightly order, which took on military tasks to protect the pilgrims. To this end, he initially hired paid soldiers until he finally became a charitable and military community through the self-recruitment of knight brothers and lay brothers capable of arms.

These communities only became ecclesiastical orders in the sense of canon law through papal recognition of their own binding order rule and through the removal from the church diocesan organization, the exemption (exemption from the tithing and church penal powers). Some orders of knights such as B. the Templars no longer exist as ecclesiastically recognized communities. In addition, a large number of Catholic , Protestant (brotherhoods) and ecumenical orders of knights continue to the present day. From the medieval Order of St. John in the form of the still existing Catholic Order of Malta , the Brandenburg Balllei split off as the Protestant Order of St. John in 1530/34 . In 1826 a British Anglican branch of the Order of St. John was re-established. Some orders of knights, such as the Order of St. John or the Order of Malta, the Order of Lazarus , the Order of Germany , whose balloons extend over all of Europe, and the grave knights still have great international importance due to their charitable works. As a sovereign order and subject of international law, the Order of Malta is diplomatically recognized in 116 countries.

In addition to the religious orders of knights, courtly orders of knights emerged in many European royal houses from the middle of the 14th century , some of which still exist today. With these, the monarchs and princes were able on the one hand to create a reliable, church-independent household power and on the other hand to combine their court life with knightly virtues. During this time the Burgundian court culture was leading and so the Order of the Golden Fleece founded there in 1430 was for many a model in the sense of a princely order based on the ideals of Christian chivalry. As a political counterweight to the increasingly powerful sovereign princes, various aristocratic societies and knight associations were formed from the late Middle Ages, especially in southwest Germany .

Knight orders as communities give their members medals and decorations, but their main purpose is an ideal one, e.g. B. charitable work. The historical knightly orders dealt with here are therefore sharply differentiated from unrecognized contemporary orders with similar-sounding names or decorations.

Existing orders of knights under the protection of the Holy See

Order of knights

Holy See coat of arms

Only the Order of Malta and the Order of Knights of the Holy Sepulcher are recognized under the protection of the Holy See. All other knightly orders are subordinate to other protectors or are constituted as religious institutes .

  • Croix de Malte.PNG Sovereign Order of Malta , later also called Rhodesians on Rhodes and then also called Maltese on Malta . Founded in Jerusalem in 1099 as a lay brotherhood for poor and sick care in a previously existing hospice / hospital, official conversion into a spiritual order in 1113 through the recognition as a new autonomous order by Pope Paschal II , between 1120 and 1153 gradual conversion into a spiritual knightly order along the lines of the Templars. The new status as a religious knightly order is given in 1153 by Pope Eugene III. approved. Today the order that remained Catholic is called the Order of Malta , the Protestant branch of the Order of St. John . The seat of the Order and the Grand Master of the Order of Malta is Rome.
  • Croix de l Ordre du Saint-Sepulcre.svg Order of Knights of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem . The spiritual roots lie in the 14th century - and thus long after the Crusades - in the custom of being knighted at the grave of Christ, papal constitution in the 19th century as a Knight of the Holy Sepulcher , papal recognition in 1847, The seat of the Order and the Cardinal Grand Master is in the Palazzo Della Rovere in Rome , the Grand Prior is the Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem . The Knightly Order of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem (Ordine Equestre del Santo Sepolcro di Gerusalemme) is classified as "sotto la protezione della Santa Sede - under the protection of the Holy See".

Orders of knights that continue to exist today as a religious institute

  • Insignia Germany Order Teutonic.svg German Order or Order of the Brothers of the German House of St. Mary in Jerusalem, also known as the Order of Teutonic Knights (Ordo Teutonicus, OT), founded in 1190 in the port city of Akkon as a nursing order with field hospital during the 3rd Crusade, papal recognition in 1191 by Pope Clement III. , converted into an order of knights from 1198, third great knightly order of the Crusades . Since the fall of the Teutonic Order in what would later become Prussia , many Habsburgs were grand masters of the order. The seat of the order and the grand master is the grand master's office in Vienna . The Teutonic Order has been divided since 1929 into the clerical order ( regular canons ) with the priestly and lay brothers (OT) who have made a solemn profession, the community of the familial as lay people without religious vows (FamOT) and the incorporated religious institute of the Teutonic Sisters .
  • Arms of the Mercedarians (Version without Crest) .svg Mercedarian Order (Order of Our Lady of the Ransom of Christian Prisoners), founded around 1218 by St. Peter Nolascus , King James I of Aragon and St. Raimund of Peñafort based on the model of the Mendicants as a royal, military and religious order. After 1317 the Mercedarians were converted into a clerical order. In 1690 they were officially assigned to the mendicants . The knightly branch of the Mercedarians separated from the clerical Mercedarian order in the 14th century. Most of the Mercedarian Knights converted to the Order of Montesa . In Spain and Italy there were still autonomous commendants of the Mercedarian knights, now separated from the Mercedarian mendicants. To this day the Mercedarian Knights are active in charities, especially in the welfare of the poor and prisoners. In 2002 the Mercedarian Knights were again placed under the jurisdiction of the General of the Mercedarians. The knight branch is led by its own high master ( governatore ). Since the reunification of the branches of the order, the Mercedarian knights have been familiars of the clerical Mercedarian order.
  • Cross men with star.jpg Knightly order of the Knights of the Cross with the Red Star (lat. Ordo militaris Crucigerorum cum rubea stella), founded in the 13th century as a lay brotherhood, 1237 papal recognition as a religious community . The Knights of the Cross with the Red Star were never constituted as an order of knights with military functions (order of knights as their own designation), but from the beginning they were active in nursing and pastoral care and were composed as a regular canon order .

Papal Order of Merit

According to information in the " Annuario Pontificio ", the official papal yearbook, five orders of knights are given. These are not religious orders, but orders of merit.

Spiritual orders of knights

Order of knights still in existence

Historical orders of knights

Crusades in the Holy Land:

  • Cross-Pattee-red.svg Knights Templar (Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem), founded in 1118 or 1119 by nine French knights, headed by Hugo von Payns and Gottfried von Saint-Omer ; dissolved in 1312. Existing orders of this name are not approved by the Holy See .
  • Cross-Moline-Heraldry-red.svg Order of St. Salvator, founded around 1118 as an Aragonese knightly order
  • Cross of order of mountjoy.svg Order of Montjoie , Spanish knightly order 1172, named after a mountain at the gates of Jerusalem, which lived according to the Cistercian rules, in which the charitable purpose was in the foreground and which soon became part of the Knights Templar
  • Lazarus cross.svg Order of Saint Lazarus , founded in the 11th century record as Hospitaller Order of the sick, the needy, the dying, and travelers (see, in particular, the lepers Leprosium , hospital or the green cross of pharmacists to care). In the 12th century it was converted into a spiritual knightly order, as a result of the admission of leprous knights from other orders who were no longer tolerated there because of the disease; In 1244 a contingent of knights took part in the battle of La Forbie.

In Spain and Portugal, other orders of knights emerged as part of the Reconquista , which were also joined by knights from all over Europe to take part in the fight against the
Moors on the Iberian Peninsula, which the Pope had declared a crusade :

  • Cross monreal.svg Order of San Salvador de Monreal , Spanish knightly order, founded around 1124, only existed for a few years
  • Cross Alcantara.svg Order of Alcántara , the first of the Spanish order of knights that was founded in 1156 to fight the Moors and his headquarters for a long time in Alcántara in Extremadura entertained
  • Cross Calatrava.svg Order of Calatrava , Spanish knightly order, which was founded in 1158 in the fight against the Moors and had its headquarters in Calatrava in southern Mancha for a long time
  • Cross Santiago.svg Santiagoorden , Spanish knightly order that has been under the patronage of St. James since 1170
  • Croix Gueules.pngOrder of San Jorge de Alfama , Spanish knightly order, founded in 1201 in the battle against the Moors, united with the Order of Montesa in 1400
  • Cross wing saint michael.png Order of the Wing of St. Michael , Portuguese Knightly Order (Ordem de Sao Miguel da Ala) , founded in the fight against the Moors in the 11th century
  • Ordem Avis.svg Knightly Order of Avis , Portuguese split from the Order of Calatrava, later 11th century
  • Cross montessa.svg Order of Montesa , Spanish knightly order, founded in 1316 in the fight against the Moors, to which part of their property on the Spanish mainland was transferred when the Templars dissolved.
  • OrderOfCristCross.svg Order of the Knights of Christ , Portuguese order of knights from 1319 (model of today's award of the Order of Christ)

Crusades in the East:

  • LivonianShield.svg Brothers of the Sword (Brothers of the Knighthood of Christ in Livonia, lat. Fratres miliciae Christi de Livonia ) was an order of knights founded by crusaders from the area between Soest and Kassel in 1204 or 1205, which took over the protection of Livonia. It was incorporated into the Teutonic Order in 1237 as the Livonian Order
  • Dobrzynski braty.svg Order of Dobrin (lat. Fratribus militiae Christi in Prussia ), Polish-German knightly order, founded in 1228 by the Polish Duke Konrad of Masovia, mostly German members. He was in the 1234 Teutonic Order incorporated

Late Middle Ages:

Secular orders of knights

From the first half of the 14th century, courtly orders of knights emerged, which were based on King Arthur 's legendary round table .

Currently existing orders of knights

Historical courtly orders of knights

Knight societies

Knight associations are not orders of knights in the classical sense. They are more to be seen as a political or value-oriented community of interests. Most of the current knight associations are now regulated according to association law and are viewed as such.

Medieval knight associations

In the late Middle Ages, various ( imperial knightly ) aristocratic societies emerged, especially in southwest Germany . As political interest groups, they tried - with varying degrees of success, but in the form of imperial knighthood until the end of the Old Empire - to counterbalance the rising power of the cities and sovereigns.

Modern knight associations

With the Romantic era , the medieval ideal of knights was revived. In 1790 the Austrian Councilor Anton David Steiger founded the “ Wildenstein Knights on Blue Earth ” as “Hainz am der Wilde ”. The old knightly society was dissolved in 1823 at the instigation of Prince Metternich . Presumably from then on the members met in secret. At the Congress of Vienna , as a result of the mediatization of principalities a. a. On the initiative of Joseph von Laßberg and Werner von Haxthausen, the secret knights' association was founded. In the middle of the 19th century, more knight associations emerged in Bavaria and Austria; The Schlaraffia was established in Prague in 1859 and is still active today with around 10,000 members worldwide. In 1884 32 such associations are said to have existed.

After the dissolution of most of the orders of knights during the National Socialist era , some fraternities were revived in the 1950s and some fraternities were founded, especially in Germany (currently 20 fractions) and Austria (around 21 fractions).

See also


  • Images and descriptions of all high clergy, secular and female knight orders in Europe . Bürglen, Augsburg 1792 (reprint: Reprintverlag Leipzig, ISBN 3-8262-1807-8 ); further edition: Stage, Augsburg 1792 ( digitized ).
  • Alain Demurger: The Knights of the Lord. History of the spiritual orders of knights . C. H. Beck, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-406-50282-2 .
  • Kaspar Elm : order of knights . In: Walter Kasper (Ed.): Lexicon for Theology and Church (LThK) . Volume 8, Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1999, ISBN 3-451-22008-3 , Sp. 1205f.
  • Giorgio Falco: Spirit of the Middle Ages - Church, Culture, State . Heinrich Scheffler Publishing House, Frankfurt am Main 1958.
  • Feliciano Novoa Portela, Carlos de Ayala Martínez (ed.): Order of knights in the Middle Ages . Theiss, Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 3-8062-1974-5 (collection of articles).
  • Jürgen Sarnowsky : The spiritual orders of knights. Beginnings - structures - effects . Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2018, ISBN 978-3-17-022579-4 .
  • Rodney Stark: God's Warriors, The Crusades in a New Light . Haffmans Tolkemitt GmbH, Berlin 2013, ISBN 978-3-942989-85-5 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Order of knights  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. a b Kaspar Elm : Order of Knights . In: Walter Kasper (Ed.): Lexicon for Theology and Church (LThK) . 3. Edition. Volume 8. Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1999, Sp. 1205f. ISBN 3-451-22008-3 .
  2. a b c "Vatican warns of non-recognized orders of knights" , Catholic International Press Agency kipa / apic, October 21, 2012.
  3. a b c La Santa Sede e gli Ordini Cavallereschi: doverosi chiarimenti (Prima parte) ( Memento from September 25, 2015 in the Internet Archive ), October 16, 2012 (Italian).
  4. a b c La Santa Sede e gli Ordini Cavallereschi: doverosi chiarimenti (Seconda parte) ( Memento from September 25, 2015 in the Internet Archive ), October 22, 2012 (Italian).
  5. Cf. u. a. Hermann Kamp "Burgundy - History and Culture" (2011), p. 82ff.
  6. ^ History of the Mercedarian Order, official website
  7. Proof of belonging to the Roman Catholic. church
  8. Ulrich Nersinger: “Papal Knights Orders and Awards” , Zenit (news agency) , May 18, 2007
  9. ^ History of the Order of Constantine