The Military and Religious Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus
The Order of the Saints Maurice and Lazarus was officially established by the Papal Bulls “Christiani Populi” and “Pro Commissa Nobis” signed by Pope Gregory XIII on respectively 16 September and 13 November 1572; by which the Religious Military Order of Saint Maurice was placed under the Rule of St Benedict of the Cistercian Congregation first and then the one Saint Augustine. It was then merged de jure with the Hospitaller Order of Jerusalem of Saint Lazarus, one of the four oldest Crusade Orders (the others are The Knights of Saint John, the Knights Templar and the Teutonic Knights) dating to the first Crusades in the Holy Land and for some time with jurisdiction over the Knights of St John (current Sovereign Military Order of Malta). Through this, the two original Orders combined purpose and assets integrating each other. On that same occasion, the new Militia emblem was granted, with use of the green cross of the Knights of Saint Lazarus and the white cross of the Order of Saint Maurice, founded in 1434 by Duke Amadeus VIII of Savoy, widower, who withdrew with some gentlemen willing to live a monastic life with him to the hermitage of Ripaille, near Thonon and Lake Geneva.
The Grand Magisterium of the Order was entrusted to the Duke of Savoy Emanuele Filiberto, in a form that could be passed down to his descendants forever; with the obligation, at the time, to maintain two galleys in defence of the Holy See and to pay an annual “donation” of 15 thousand escudos. The Order’s purpose included hospitals, freeing the seas from pirates, fighting the infidels (that is the Muslims) and opposing Calvinists and Lutherans.
The Knights of Saint Maurice had already raised their insignia in 1571, covering themselves with glory in the battle of Lepanto, under the command of the Great Admiral of the Order, Count Andrea Provana of Leinì; and a few years later (1583) the same admiral defeated a barbarian fleet off the Hyères islands.
Admission to the Order (“Holy Religion, and Military Order of the Saints Maurice and Lazarus”) – reserved for persons of proven aristocratic rank – was regulated by extremely severe provisions with emphasis on the impeccable moral conduct of the Knights, ideally comparable to ascetic warriors. “Savoye bonnes nouvelles” was the motto with which the Herald of the Order joyfully announced admission to the new candidate.
The Knights of the Supreme Order of the Most Holy Annunciation were exempted from presenting noble proof and other documents, all holding, by right, the Grand Cross, maximum rank of the Order.
The military history of the Order continued for the following centuries until it reached an apogee of opulence and prestige in the mid XVIII century, in conjunction with its expansion in Sardinia. However, after the revolutionary and Napoleonic storm, the great changes in society and the new political and economic conditions made the need for profound reform clear. This was started with great courage, despite strong opposition, by King Carlo Alberto. With his Royal Magisterial Entitlements of 9 December 1831 he radically amended the Statutes and regulations to better adapt them to the new times. For example, the outdated distinction between those decorated by virtue of nobility alone and those received for particularly eminent merits.
On 19 July 1839, King Carlo Alberto signed a Royal Decree in which he established a prestigious new reward for the Royal Army, the Mauritian Gold Medal, created to reward ten lustra with excellent conduct in the Royal Armies, reserved for officers decorated with the Order of the Saints Maurice and Lazarus. In 1924 that reserve was abolished by H.M. King Vittorio Emanuele III who did not want to limit granting the Medal to the Knights of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus, but extend it to worthy Armed Forces Officers.
The reforms of Carlo Albert were just the prelude to a radical renovation of the Order performed by his son, Vittorio Emanuele II, in 1851. In fact, with his Royal Magisterial Entitlements of 16 March 1851, the Order lost its military religious character, essentially becoming an Order of merit. Further confirmation of the suppression of the rank of the Knights of Justice with proof of nobility already decided on 4 September 1849 removed its exclusively aristocratic character maintained till then. Making it accessible – though still with the traditional parsimony – to all types of citizen, as long as eminent for civil and military virtues, for important services to the State, for scientific, literary and artistic merits, or for highly charitable deeds.
With minimum variations to its particular legal structure, the Order continued its fundamental hospital, cultural (other primary and nursery schools were built), spiritual and agricultural mission until the institutional referendum of 1946.
With the fall of the Monarchy, the republic transformed the ancient, glorious order into a hospital body, destined, after a few decades, to an inglorious end through mismanagement. It was then replaced by a Foundation designed to safeguard the huge architectural and artistic heritage that had belonged to the Order.
Fortunately, the Order of the Saints Maurice and Lazarus, given its dynastic nature, belonging jure sanguinis to the Sovereign House (recognised internationally as such in the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713) preserves its validity intact regardless of any political upheaval. In fact, on 30 September 1973 the XVI General Grand Master H.M. King Umberto II wished to officially preside over a solemn celebration in the Abbey of Saint Maurice d’Agaune, in Switzerland, for the four hundred year celebration of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus.
Based on the clear hereditary transmissibility of the Grand Magisterium of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus, contained in the Papal Bull of Gregory XIII, his son, H.R.H. the Royal Prince Vittorio Emanuele, Duke of Savoy, Prince of Naples and Head of the Royal House of Savoy, is the current XVII Grand Master and Supreme Head of the Order. Through those prerogatives he gave the Order new Statutes, finally opening it to Dames.
The Order continues receiving the members of Italian and European nobility, and is open to those who distinguished themselves in the worlds of science, literature, art, industry and business, as long as they share the Order’s humanitarian and charitable purposes.
The Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus now has about four thousand members, both Knights and Dames, spread over 33 countries, where it is present with qualified regional and national Delegations led by H.E. the Grand Chancellor Cav. Gr. Cr. Nob. Johannes Niederhauser and with its Hospital Works chaired by HRH the Princess of Naples.
Two official annual ceremonies are held every year to which all those Awarded are invited. The first ceremony is celebrated in France, in the Abbey of Altacomba (Aix Les Bains) to commemorate the dead Princes of the House of Savoy. The second is a calling and meeting of the General Council of the Order and is held in Switzerland, usually in the Abbey of San Maurizio d’Agauno near Martigny.