Order of Santiago

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This article deals with the Spanish Order of knighthood. For the Portuguese Order, see Order of St. James of the Sword.
Sign of order, 17th century

The Order of Santiago (Galician: Orde de Santiago, Spanish: Orden de Santiago) was founded in the 12th century, and owes its name to the national patron of Galicia and Spain, Santiago (St. James the Greater). Its initial objective was to protect the pilgrim of St. James' Way and to make the Muslims of the Iberian peninsula step back.

After the death of the Grand Master Alfonso de Cárdenas in 1493, the Catholic Kings incorporated the Order to the Spanish Crown and the pope Adrian VI forever united the office of grandmaster of Santiago to the crown in 1523.

The first Republic suppressed the Order in 1873 and, although the Restoration was reestablished, it was reduced to a nobiliary institute of honorable character ruled by a Superior Council dependent on the Ministry of War, which was also extinguished after the proclamation of the second Republic in 1931.

The Order of Santiago, together with the Calatrava, Alcántara and Montesa, was restored as a civil association with the kingship of Juan Carlos I with the character of a nobiliary, honorable, and religious organization that remains as such.

St. James' Cross[edit]

The Order's insignia is a red cross simulating a sword, with the shape of a Fleur de Lis on the hilt and the arms. The knights wore the cross stamped on the Royal Standard and white cape. The cross of the Royal Standard had a Mediterranean scalp in the center and another one at the end of each arm.

The three Fleurs de Lis represent the "honor without stain", which is in reference to the moral features of the Apostle's character.

The sword represents the chivalrous character of the apostle St. James and his martyr ways, since he was decapitated with a sword. It can also symbolize, in a certain sense, to take the sword in the name of Christ.

It is said that its shape originated in the era of the Crusades, when the knights took with them small crosses with sharpened bottoms to stick them in the ground and carry out their daily devotions.


Álvaro de Luna y Jarana (between 1388 and 1390; June 2, 1453), Constable of Castile, Grand Master of the military order of Santiago, and favorite of King John II of Castile.

Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia, the centre of devotion to this Apostle, is neither the cradle nor the principal seat of the order. Two cities contend for the honour of having given it birth, León in the kingdom of that name, and Uclés in Castile. At that time (1157–1230) the royal dynasty was divided into two rival branches, which rivalry tended to obscure the beginnings of the order. The Knights of Santiago had possessions in each of the kingdoms, but Ferdinand II of León and Alfonso VIII of Castile, in bestowing them, set the condition that the seat of the order should be in their respective states. Hence arose long disputes which only ended in 1230 when Ferdinand III, the Saint, united both crowns. Thenceforth, Uclés, in Cuenca Province, was regarded as the headquarters of the order; there the grand master habitually resided, aspirants passed their year of probation, and the rich archives of the order were preserved until united in 1869 with the "Archivo Histórico Nacional" of Madrid. The order received its first rule in 1171 from Cardinal Jacinto (later Pope Celestine III), then legate in Iberia of Pope Alexander III. This first Grand Master was Pedro Fernández de Castro, also known as Pedro Fernández de Fuentecalada, a soldier of King Ferdinand II and a former crusader.

Self-portrait of Diego Velázquez with the order cross that he was awarded in 1659. Legend has that the king himself painted the cross over the 1656 picture.

Unlike the contemporary orders of Calatrava and Alcántara, which followed the severe rule of the Benedictines of Cîteaux, Santiago adopted the milder rule of the Canons of St. Augustine. In fact at León they offered their services to the Canons Regular of Saint Eligius in that town for the protection of pilgrims to the shrine of St. James and the hospices on the roads leading to Compostela. This explains the mixed character of their order, which is hospitaller and military, like that of St. John of Jerusalem. They were recognized as religious by Pope Alexander III, whose Bull of 5 July 1175, was subsequently confirmed by more than twenty of his successors. These pontifical acts, collected in the Bullarium of the order, secured them all the privileges and exemptions of other monastic orders. The order comprised several affiliated classes: canons, charged with the administration of the sacraments; canonesses, occupied with the service of pilgrims; religious knights living in community, and married knights. The right to marry, which other military orders only obtained at the end of the Middle Ages, was accorded them from the beginning under certain conditions, such as the authorization of the king, the obligation of observing continence during Advent, Lent, and on certain festivals of the year, which they spent at their monasteries in retreat.

The mildness of this rule furthered the rapid spread of the order, which eclipsed the older orders of Calatrava and Alcántara, and whose power was reputed abroad even before 1200. The first Bull of confirmation, that of Pope Alexander III, already enumerated a large number of endowments. At its height Santiago alone had more possessions than Calatrava and Alcántara together. In Spain these possessions included 83 commanderies, of which 3 were reserved to the grand commanders, 2 cities, 178 boroughs and villages, 200 parishes, 5 hospitals, 5 convents, and 1 college at Salamanca. The number of knights was then 400 and they could muster more than 1000 lances. They had possessions in Portugal, France, Italy, Hungary, and even Palestine. Abrantes, their first commandery in Portugal, dates from the reign of Afonso I in 1172, and soon became a distinct order which Pope Nicholas IV in 1290 released from the jurisdiction of Uclés.

Their military history is linked with that of the Iberian states. They assisted in driving out the Muslims, doing battle with them sometimes separately, sometimes with the royal armies. They also had a regrettable share in the fatal dissensions which disturbed the Christians of Iberia and brought about more than one schism in the order. Finally they took part in the maritime expeditions against the Muslims. Thus arose the obligation imposed upon aspirants to serve six months in the galleys, which obligation still existed in the eighteenth century, but from which exemption was easily purchased. Authority was exercised by a grand master assisted by a Council of Thirteen, which elected the grand master and had the right to depose him for due cause; they had supreme jurisdiction in all disputes between members of the order. The first grand master, Pedro Fernández de Castro, died in 1184. He had had 39 successors, among them several Spanish Infantes, when, in 1499, Ferdinand the Catholic induced the pope to assign to him the administration of the order. Under Charles V, Pope Adrian VI annexed to the crown of Spain the three great military orders (Alcántara, Calatrava, and Santiago) with hereditary transmission even in the female line (1522). Thenceforth the three orders were united under one government, though their titles and possessions remained separate. To discharge the detail of this administration, Charles V instituted a special ministry, the Council of Orders, composed of a president named by the king, whom he represented, and six knights, two delegates from each order. To this council belonged the presentation of knights to vacant commanderies and jurisdiction in all matters, civil or ecclesiastical, save the purely spiritual cases reserved for ecclesiastical dignitaries. Thus ended the autonomy of the orders, but not their prestige.

Internal Organization[edit]

Prerequisites for entrance into the Order[edit]

In its beginnings, entrance into the Order was not difficult, but after mid-thirteenth century it became more complicated.

Once the Reconquest was finalized, the candidate that wished to join the Order of Santiago must have proved in his first four last names to be of noble descent by blood and not by privilege, whose proof must likewise refer to his father, mother, and grandparents. He also needed to prove, in the same way, that neither him nor his parents or grandparents had worked in manual or industrial labor.

People who were Jewish, Muslim, heretic, or converted Christian (or a mix of these), no matter how far removed it was, could obtain habit of the Order. This was also the case with any who had been or was descendant of someone who had been punished for acts against the Catholic faith, nor he who was or was decedent of an attorney, moneylender, notary public, retail merchant, or worked where they lived or would have lived from their trade, neither he who had been dishonoured, nor he who neglected the laws of honor and executed any act improper of a perfect gentleman, nor he who lacked the proper means by which to sustain himself. The prospect then had to live three months in the galleys and reside for a month in the monastery to learn the Rule.

Later the King and the Council of the Orders abolished a great number of these prerequisites.

The Convents[edit]

Another element that was important to the infrastructure of the Order of Santiago were the convents, both male and female.

Aside from the convents for friars of Uclés and San Marcos de Léon, the Order had other convents in Villar de Donas (Léon), Palmella (Portugal), Montánchez (Cárceres), Montalbán (Aragon) and Segura de la Sierra in Jaén.

In 1275, the Order also counted with six convents for nuns, who called themselves mothers superior. The wives and family of the friars could stay there when they went to war or died. The friars only professed conjugal chastity, but not everlasting, and because of this they could leave the convent and marry. The convents that are mentioned are: Santa Eufemia de Cozuelos (Palencia), founded in 1502; Convento de Sancti Spiritus of Salamanca, given to the Order in 1233; San Vicente de Junqueras (Barcelona), founded in 1212; San Pedro de la Piedra (1260), in Lérida; Santos-o-Velho (1194), in Lisboa and the Destiana (León). The convents of Membrilla (Ciudad Real) and the Mothers Superior of Madrid (1650) came after these dates.

Territorial Division[edit]

The Order was divided several provinces, with the most important ones being Castilla and León because of their number of properties and vassals. At the head of each province there was a Military Commander with their headquarters in Segura de la Sierra (Castilla) and Segura de León (León), respectively. The province of León was divided into two parties, Mérida and Llerena, and in each of them there were various encomiendas.

The most important internal subdivision of the military orders were called "encomiendas", which were local units directed by a knight commander of military order. The "encomienda" could place the headquarters or residence of the knight commander in a castle or fortress or in a small town and was the administrative or economic center in which the rents of the estate and properties relevant to that "encomienda" were paid and received; it was the habitual residence of the knight commander and some other knight.

Each "encomienda" had to sustain, with its rent, not only the knight commander and the other knights living there, but it also had to pay and arm a certain number of spears, that had to turn to the callings of his Master perfectly equipped to take part in those military actions that they wished to take on. All of them formed the armed retinue or army of the Order, which answered to the orders of its Master. The rents of land, pastures, industries, toll and right of way, along with taxes and tithe, constituted the revenue that helped maintain the Order. The revenue was allocated between rents of the respective "encomiendas" and rents of the sleepwalk board that financed the Master of the Order.

Present day[edit]

Uclés Monastery, parent and headquarters of the order, Cuenca Province.
Cross of the Order of Santiago.

Today the Order of Santiago still exists under the Spanish crown. Currently there are 35 knights and 30 novices in the order. Admission to the order is determined if the applicant has noble ancestry. Until 1653 nobility was checked by looking at only the paternal grandparents' family history. Changes have been made so that maternal grandparents are included in verifying noble ancestry. Other qualifications to join the order are that the applicant must be a practicing Catholic, be of legitimate birth including parents and grandparents, and not be descended from non-Christians.[1] As of 1655 some of the new duties of the order is to defend the belief of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.[2]

Their symbol is a cross of Saint James, a red cross terminating in a sword (cross fleury fitchy in heraldry), which recalls their title de la Espada, and a shell (la venera), which they doubtless owe to their connection with the pilgrimage of St. James.

See also[edit]

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company. 


  1. ^ The Military Order of Santiago (n.d). Retrieved December 7, 2007, from http://www.chivalricorders.org/orders/spanish/santiago.htm#FOOTNOTE_13
  2. ^ Cardinale, H. E. (1983). Orders of Knighthood, Awards and the Holy See. Buckinghamshire: Van Duren Publishers.

External links[edit]