The Web site is devoted to the history of knight Order of Our Lady of Bethlehem
I t a l i a n o / Ð ó ñ ñ ê è é / E n g l i s h
The order of Our Lady of Bethlehem (it. Ordine Militare e Ospedaliero di S. Maria di Betlemme) is the military order founded on 19th January 1459 by Pope Pius II for defending of the Island of Lemnos (Bull: «Veram semper et solidam»)
As Pius II alluded in a Bull from the 16th March 1464 «Magnae Devotionis Tuae»: prince Dagobert de Amorosa, the descend of an ancient Caesarean origin Byzantine house, is becoming the first inherited Supreme Magister of the Order of Our Lady of Bethlehem. The Earl Antonio Crispo Di Sira is appointed as chancellor of the Order.
The prince Dagobert de Amorosa
(engraving of XVIII century)
In 1479 the knights of the Order suffered defeat and, after the final capture of Lemnos by the Turks, had to leave the Island forever. The remained knights together with the Supreme Magister moved to Naples, Italy. From this moment the order of Our Lady of Bethlehem stopped act as a holistic military organization. Following the disposition of Pope Innocent VIII, the main part of Order’s property came into possession of the Order Rhodes and Malta.
Prince Dagobert de Amorosa closed his eyes on the 5th of October 1482 in Naples and was buried in the church of St Dominica - S. Domenico Maggiore di Napoli. He didn’t have children.
The sepulchre of the prince Dagobert de Amorosa
According to the records in Pope’s Bull, the inherited name of Supreme Magister is becoming the possession of the Amoroso d' Aragona family, the direct descendent of the prince Dagobert de Amorosa by the branch of his older brother – the prince Giovanni de Amorosa.
On the 18th May 1484, the king Ferdinando I d’ Aragona granted to the Order the right to allocate on the territory of his kingdom. Naples is becoming the new retreat for the knights of the Bethlehem order and up to the beginning of XX century the main residence of Supreme Magister is located here. The prince Giovanni de Amorosa is gained with the honorable predicate to the family name - “d’ Aragona”. The prince died in Naples on the 15th September 1519 and was buried in the church San Giorgio.
Since the 1730, the prince Filippo Augusto Amoroso d’Aragona (1722 – 1744) is resuming the chivalric investitures in Neapolitan Kingdom.
By the decretal from the 2nd February 1860, the king of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies Francis II Bourbon has confirmed the inherited character of the Supreme Magistracy of the Order and rank it as the second dynastic Order of Caesarean family name Amorosa d’ Aragona, along with the Order of St. John of Acre and St. Thomas (founded by the prince Aminado de Amerusio in 1205), which was also the prosperity of the family by inherited right.
The fragment from Diploma
of Francis II: “… based on the Statute of The Military and Hospitaller Order of St. John of Acre and St. Thomas, issued on the 24th June 1498 in Naples by the prince Nicola de Amerusio d’ Aragona, and the other Statute of the The Military and Hospitaller Order of Our Lady of Bethlehem, issued on the 25th March 1730 in Naples by the prince Filippo Augusto Amoroso d’Aragona, both are recognized further in force. We accept with pleasure the request from applier and wish to provide him with the special certificate of Our King Favor, in respect with mention and not rebuttable Caesarean origin of his ancient family and his numerous prove of affection and faith to Our King Throne…”
The relationships with St Throne
Mutual relationships of the Order with St Throne often depended on the politic situations in Italy and were complex. Since the moving from the Island Lemnos, the Order didn’t present reasonable activity for many years. The inherited knights didn’t have own structure for more than two hundred years.
The period from the XVIII until the first part of XX century can be considered as the blossom of the activity of the Order of Our Lady of Bethlehem, the one of the most favorable and important in its history. The knight investitures were recovered since 1730 in the Neapolitan Kingdom.
In 1903 the knights headed by the Great Magister the prince Luigi Cesario Amoroso d’Aragona (1899 – 1931) were put up by Pope Pius X on the private audience. The inscription in the document «Benedizione Apostolica»
made by the Pope himself runs: “To our humble son, the prince Luigi Cesario Amoroso, the inherited Supreme Magister of the order of Our Lady of Bethlehem, and to all beloved knights of the Order, we give Our Apostolical Blessing”.
The order gains the auspices from the side of powerful prelate of Roman Curia, the cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, who served as Secretary of the Holy Congregation of the special spirituals in 1928-1929, and further as deputy of Governmental Vatican Secretary. Among the cavaliers of the Order in that period we can meet a lot of hierarchs of Catholic Church, representatives of monarchal families and governmental figures.
The Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani
In 1930 was issued the book «Libro d’oro dell' Imperial Casa Amoriense»
, which was republished later in 1932, 1945 and 1949. It listed the family names of noble and knight degrees granted by the princes Amoroso d’Aragona as to direct descendants and heritors of former Caesarean house "Amoriense" (found by Mihail II Travl, the Caesar of Byzantium in 820 – 829) and to the ranked as Supreme Magister of own dynastic orders.
The situation is significantly changes with the coming to power of Dictator Benito Mussolini, who assisted the creation of Vatican government, which started it’s politic existence after the signing of Lateran agreements in 1929. The administration of Vatican has generated a list of actions aimed to support the politics of fascist government of different countries. The Pope Pius XI approved the invasion of Italy to Ethiopia and its occupation, the fascist mutiny in Spain and the sending of part of Italian army to help Franco. On the 20th of June 1933 was concluded the concordat with Hitler. Finally, within the bounds of reconciliation between the Italian government and St Throne, by the fascist government of Mussolini and Sovereign Military Order of Malta was signed Concordat (legislative action # 1029) about the mutual official recognition, and following it, the fascist duce is becoming the cavalier of Order of Malta. The members of his government are granted with the value of the Order of Malta. We have seen a lot of parade portraits and photos of duce with the white Malta’s cross on the neck.
"ORBET" (OR-dine BET-lemme)
In 1924 the Supreme Magister Luigi Cesario Spiridone Amoroso d’Aragona (1899 – 1931) and following him the prince Pietro Amoroso d’Aragona are officially announcing the opposition against the dictatorial regime of Mussolini. The knights of the Order are creating the center of antifascist opposition called ORBET (the abbreviation is taken from the name “Ordine Betlemme”). The center’s history is full of samples of the heroic activity of its guerrilla-knights in different regions of the country. The groups of ORBET saved hundreds of Jewish families along the whole Italy. The guerrillas defended the freedom of the country with the weapon in hands. The center was hunt down by the national socialists under the personal instructions from Giacomo Suardo, the Deputy of the Ministry of Domestic Affairs, later the President of the Senate and member of Big Fascist Council until the suspending of Mussolini in September 1943. The Order of Our Lady of Bethlehem fall into the Black Book of Vatican as the “unrecognized order” (the publications Osservatore Romano L'Osservatore Romano from 1st June 1933, Rivista Araldica (1933 fasc. X, p. 479), L’Osservatore Romano 25th August 1938).
The members of the anti-fascist movement ORBET (Naples, 1944)
In 1944 the groups ORBET took part in the “four Naples days” (quattro giornate di Napoli) significant for the history of Italy. The story of that event is related with the heroic defend of Naples from the Nazi occupation. Naples was the first European city released by insurrectionary forces. In 1944 the residence of the Supreme Magister was moved to Rome, the building situated on the central street Via del Corso 26, near to famous Piazza del Popolo. In 1949 the same building was used for the Patronato Nazionale Assistenziale Ordine Betlemme – the National Helping Fond of the Order, which approve the efficiency of organization and coordination of the charity work of ORBET during the hard postwar period. In honor of these events, the special memorial medal ORBET
was found, and hundreds of Italian guerrillas were awarded with it for the heroic participation in the opposition. On the front side of the medal is the half-face of the prince Pietro Amoroso d’Aragona, on the back side are the cross of the order of Our Lady of Bethlehem and following inscription: “For the praise of them, who saw the light in the darkness, to show the way of freedom and fair. 7th day of October 1943”
Delegation of Naples near to monument of the Memory of the fallen knights ORBET (our days)
Pope John Paul II
In the 50th years of XX century, following the act ¹178 from the 3rd March 1951, the St Throne announced its recognition only of the Order of Malta (SMOM) and the Order of Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, leaving without mentioning the other knight’s institutions, equal to the “recognized” ones by the history and glorious past. The dynastical Orders of the house of Amoroso d’Aragona and the order of former House of Savoy, together with many others, were ignored by the St Throne.
During the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, the relations with the Order of Our Lady of Bethlehem are moving to the positive directions. On the 26th of July 2002, in the hall called “Sala Nervi”, in Vatican, the audience of the knights of the Order of Our Lady of Bethlehem and Pope John Paul II took place. The event gathered 50 delegates from the different regions of Italy, who came together with children and grandchildren. During the audience, the St Pope was granted with the painting – the portrait of John Paul II with the symbols of the Order of Our Lady of Bethlehem
, pictured by the earl Antonio Crispo. The Pope passed the Apostolic blessing to the knights and all the attending. The audience was finished by ceremonial representative of the military honors by Swiss Guards of the St Throne.
On the 26th of October 1980, the chevalier of the Order of Our Lady of Bethlehem Bartolo Longo (10.02.1841 – 05.10.1926) was blessed by Catholic Church, and was also named in the encyclic of the Pope John Paul II as “Rosarium Mariae” - “the Apostle of Rosary”. His beatification has become a sensational event in the history of the knights of the Bethlehem Order. His portrait in knight’s of the Order of Our Lady of Bethlehem full regalia was placed into the main hall of «Pontificio Santuario di Pompei» (Pompey, Italy).
Beatification of blessed Bartolo Longo
Bartolo Longo (the picture presented in the «Pontificio Santuario di Pompei»)
The Order of Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem
In the 80th years the cooperation with the directions of the oldest knight Order, which was found in the time of crusade and existing up to now - The Order of Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (Ordo Eguestris S.Sepulcri Hierosolymitani), is outlined. The Supreme Magister and the Supreme Prior of this Order, in accordance with the rule, are appointed from the high hierarchy of Catholic Church by the Pope.
The catholic (Latin) patriarch of Jerusalem, the great Prior of the Order of Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem Michel Sabbah in the residence of the Order of Our Lady of Bethlehem (Italy)
Within the bounds of cooperation, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem the Supreme Prior of The Order of Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem Michel Sabbah has visited the residence of the Supreme Magister of the Order of Our Lady of Bethlehem in Bari (Via Vittorio Veneto 5) on the 10th of January 1988. The chevaliers of the Bethlehem Order headed by the Supreme Chancellor the marquis Paolo Cecconato (on the photo).
The Order in Italian Kingdom
Soon after the crash of Mussolini regime, the King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy has confirmed by Savoy edict Prot.Ug/ ¹ 371 ¹ 1/B
from the 30th of October 1943 and Prot.Ug/ ¹ 394
from the 18th of January 1944, that the prince Pietro Amoroso d’Aragona is the direct descendant and inheritor of Amorites – Phrygian Cesarean dynasty with the title “Cesarean Highness”. By the same edict he recognized the Order of Our Lady of Bethlehem and the Order of St. John of Acre and St. Thomas, has accepted from the prince Pietro Amoroso d’Aragona the title of Big Cross of the Order of Our Lady of Bethlehem (the letter of Ministry of the Royal Household
from the 18th of December 1943) and granted the prince with the title Gran Cordone of the Order of St. Maurice and Lazarus (the letter of Ministry of the Royal Household
from the 4th of February 1944). The dynastic status of both Orders of Amoroso House is finally defined in Italian Kingdom, they are allowed to proceed the new investitures, the chevaliers are permitted to wear openly the Order’s signs.
It’s worth to mention, that the document was issued after the infamous publications of L’Osservatore Romano (1933, 1938). The decretal is stressing the independent from time and politics situation status of knight institution of the line of Amoroso d’Aragona. Finally, the Royal civil court held in Bari on the 20th June 1945, ¹ 3383 R.G Sentenza ¹. 786 and the court ¹ 4419 R. G. Sentenza ¹ 1006, 1945, both have confirmed the dynastic rights of Supreme Magister of the Order of Our Lady of Bethlehem and the competence of official performance of the chevalier’s titles for knights of the Order, despite the fascist period publications of Vatican (Osservatore Romano, Rivista Araldica), mentioning that these issues are containing many incorrect information about the Order of Our Lady of Bethlehem.
Remarkable, that at the same time the analogical tribunal from the 18th July 1945 (N° 475 of the Royal Civil Court of Naples) recognized the prince Antonio de Kurtis Galiardi – Focas (famous in 50th as popular actor of Italian cinema under the pen name “Toto”) as the direct legal descendent of Caesarian dynasty the Komnenos of Byzantium, owing all the rights and privileges of this family. In the contemporary noble catalogues he is stated as “His Imperial Highness Antonio Griffo Focas Flavio Ducas Komnenos Gagliardi de Curtis of Byzantium".
"De Curtis Griffo Focas” is the second Imperial dynasty, recognized at the same period in Italy equally to the House of Amoroso d’Aragona.
Since the middle of last century, the counterfeit orders are appearing in Italy via the actions of many enterprising "princes" and other persons, who copied the name of their organizations from the famous knight Orders. In 1931, the mgr Eftimios Yuakim created the fictitious Order called “the Order of our St Maria lady of Bethlehem” (Santa Maria Nostra Signora di Betlemme), which was convicted by St Throne later. The situation became more serious in the 40th, in connection to the annihilation of Royal Fecial Council and removal of the governmental control over the legality of noble titles in Italy. Up to today there are several counterfeit Orders with the different interpretations of the name of Our Lady of Bethlehem: “Apostolic Order of our lady of Bethlehem” and “the Order of knights of Bethlehem Order of East” launched by the “ adopted descendants” of Amoroso d’Aragona (“prince” Antonio II Tiberius Dobrinya d’Aragona and “prince” Pier Pasle de Sharne). Similar examples are: “Ecumenic Hospitaller Order of St. John chevaliers of Malt” and “the Order of St Constantine and St George”, created by the “prince” Francesco Amoroso Komnenos Angelo Flavio Lascaris Paleologo d’Aragona. Such organizations were never recognized and have nothing in common with the line of Amoroso d’Aragona and its history, what was proved many times by the legal descendant and current head of dynasty the prince Angelo Maria Amoroso d' Aragona.
The Order today
Already in the Republic Italy the verdict #102/1949 n. 160 R.G.
, from the 23rd of May 1949 issued by Tribunal of the Vico Del Gargano, has proved the legality of the Order in new Italian government and the trueness of the documents touching the recognition history of Heraldic heritage of the house Amoroso d’Aragona, including the Pope’s Bulls, ancient sovereign diplomas and royal decreets of the House of Savoy.
However, after the Law N 178 from the 1951, established the “Order for the deserts in front of Italian Republic” and cancelled the special perquisites of all earlier existing knight Orders in Italy (except for the Order of Malta and The Order of Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem), the Order of Our Lady of Bethlehem is getting the associative status with the residence in Bari (from 1957 up to now days).
According to the opinion of Italian Heraldic council, the current situation of the Order of Our Lady of Bethlehem is categorized as “non-national Orders” in Italy. Currently, the Ministry of Foreign affairs of Italy is working on the detailed list of such “non-national Orders”, which will consist of the earlier recognized dynastic Orders in the kingdom. The council would also pay attention to the Orders recognition by tribunals between 1946 (since the Monarchy abolishment) and 1951 (the cancellation of the rights of dynastic Orders and establishment of “Order for the deserts in front of Italian Republic”).
By the special permission of governmental authorities, the status “non-national Orders” was granted only to a few Orders of Royal Bourbon House of the Two Sicilies. It is expected that soon the same status would get the Orders of other sovereign dynasties, including the Houses of Amoroso d’Aragona.
Today the association of the knights of the Order of Our Lady of Bethlehem under the guidance of the prince Angelo Maria Amoroso d' Aragona is defining their main mission as charitable help to ill and distressed people.
The candidates to the chevaliers must be introduced by the delegates of the Order during the annual capitul in order to prove their deserts and nobility.
Within a limited time, only for the 26 years, i.e. from the 1st January 1904 to 25th September 1930, the chevaliers of the Order has became as following:
- 110 cardinals of St Rome Church
- 223 metropolitans and popes
- 25 princes of sovereign houses
- 75 diplomats and the representatives of governmental departments different countries
In accordance with the willing of the prince Luigi Amoroso d’Aragona (1959 – 1996), from the 1992, the right to be granted for the titles of both dynastic institutes of House Amoroso d’Aragona was extended to orthodox Christians and protestants, although earlier there were only the catholic knights.
Currently the Order of Our Lady of Bethlehem is consisting of more than 1000 members from different countries, among whom about 600 are living in Italy. In this country the Order is involving 5 provinces. The Catania region is considered as most significant according to the number of knights with established special Delegature under the patronage the Right Reverend mgr Pio Vittorio Vigo - incumbent Roman Catholic Bishop of Acireale (Cecilia). The Veneto province with the center in Venice is the second significant area under the guideline of mgr Rino Olivotto.
On the 20th June 2009 in Munich, Bavaria, was found new province of the Order for German knights with the head of prelate Munich mgr Adalbert Merlein. The open ceremony of the province was coincided with the 550 anniversary of the Order foundation and held in Cathedral. The raising to the knighthood of the Order of the Right Reverend apostolic exarch of St Throne for the byzantine rite catholic of Germany and Scandinavia bishop Mark Crick.
By tradition, the ceremony of accepting the new chevaliers is hold in Italy, in Cathedral San Sabine, Bari, and in the church San Salvador, Rimini.
The chevaliers of the Order are divided into 5 classes:
1 – The Knight of the Big Carcanet
2 - The Knights of the Big Cross
3 – The Commendatore
4 – The Oficer
5 – The Knight
In accordance with the Capitul (Cap.¹ IX, art. 63, 64, 74) and Decreet of the Supreme Magister from the 8th December 1994, each class has its own category:
1 - «Giustizia ereditario»
This category consists of the nobly born knights in minimum four generations, inherited the chevalier titles of the Order of Our Lady of Bethlehem by the direct men line. The category could only be granted to the representatives of ancient noble families with the right to descent the knight titles.
2 - «Gratia»
The category is granted to the chevaliers born in noble, or raised to a squireship now days.
3 – «Benemerito»
The category is associated with the chevaliers distinguished by a special deserts, whose ascendants by women line belonged to a noble families, or without the noble origin.
Capella of the Order of Our Lady of Bethlehem in Rimini
The data is provided by the administrative office of the Order of Our Lady of Bethlehem (Viadell'Immacolata, 13-31100 Treviso tel. 0422-261892 fax 0422-1780767)
Copyright © Comm. Evgeny Astafyev