Papal Gentlemen

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Count Christopher de Paus, wearing the formal court dress of a papal chamberlain of the sword and cape in Spanish Renaissance style, with a golden chain of office. He was appointed papal chamberlain by Pope Benedict XV in 1922.
Baron Wilhelm Wedel-Jarlsberg wearing the court dress of a papal chamberlain

The Papal Gentlemen, also called the Gentlemen of His Holiness,[1] are the lay attendants of the pope and his papal household in Vatican City. They serve in the Apostolic Palace near St. Peter's Basilica in ceremonial positions, such as escorting dignitaries during a papal funeral. They are the Papal version of the traditional court position known as valet de chambre (not the same as a modern valet).

History[edit]

Formerly known as Papal Chamberlains of The Sword and Cape (Italian: Cameriere di spada e cappa) before the Second Vatican Council, many came from families that had long served the Papal Court over the course of several centuries, while others were appointed as a high honor, one of the highest the Papacy conferred on Catholic laymen (often prominent politicians or wealthy philanthropists). They were originally selected from members of Italian royal and aristocratic families. Many of the current Papal Gentlemen come from families that have served the Popes for centuries. However, the rarely conferred title is now awarded to Catholic laymen throughout the world upon recommendation from bishops to the Pope.

From the days of Pope Leo I (440–461) the pontifical household had included papal chamberlains who were personal attendants on the Pope in his private apartments. The number of papal chamberlains was never large, although their proximity to the Pope meant that many chamberlains would enjoy notable ecclesiastical careers and some were even promoted to the episcopacy. Their privileges were considerable. They ranked ex officio as Lateran counts, Knights of the Golden Spur[2] (Order of the Golden Militia), and nobles of Rome and Avignon. Prior to Vatican II they provided personal assistance to the Pope on formal state occasions as members of the Papal Court. They were required to serve for at least one week per year during official ceremonies, and took part in Papal processions behind the Sedia Gestatoria, each wearing formal court dress and distinguished by a golden chain of office.

Clergy[edit]

Traditionally, priests who were given the title of Papal Chamberlains were styled as "Very Reverend Monsignor", and the higher degrees as "Right Reverend Monsignor". Today, this title has been abolished for clergy. Their monsignoral titles has been limited to three: Protonotary apostolic, Prelate of Honor, and Chaplain of His Holiness. All are styled simply "Reverend Monsignor".

Laity[edit]

Alfonso Giorgi (1824 - 1889)[3] in the uniforms of a Papal Gentlemen during the Pontificate of Pope Pius IX (1846 - 1878). The left picture shows the Spanish court dress with golden chain of office.

In ecclesiastical heraldry, laypersons so honored may display their coat of arms surrounded with the golden chain of office.

Notable Papal Chamberlains and Gentleman[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • Noonan, Jr., James-Charles (1996). The Church Visible: The Ceremonial Life and Protocol of the Roman Catholic Church. Viking. p. 196. ISBN 0-670-86745-4.