HISTORY OF THE ROYAL ORDER OF SAINT MICHAEL OF THE WING

 

As told by H.E. Dr. Carlos Evaristo, Vice-Chancellor and Delegate for the Foreign Delegation of the Royal Brotherhood of the Order of Saint Michael of the Wing[1]

 

 

“Most historic documents available agree that King D. Afonso Henriques founded the Order in 1171, after the taking of Santarém from the Moors on May 8th, 1147. However, my investigation concluded that this date only appears for the first time in Chapter 18 of the book A Crónica de Cister; written by Cistercian historian Frei Bernardo de Britto (1597-1602). The oldest known Constitution of the Order was also published by the Cistercians in 1630. It was under the jurisdiction of the Prior that the Order of Saint Michael was placed by the first King of Portugal although the grand mastership of the Order was held by all of the Monarchs of Portugal up until the 19th Century. In Vol. II pages 418 - 419 of the book De Iure Abbatum et Aiorum Praelatorum, published in 1691 by Abbott Ascanio Tamburinio, we find the transcription of then still extant but now missing Papal Brief issued by Pope Alexander III on January 4th, 1177 which recognizes the 'Ordo Equitum S. Michaelis siva de Ala', amongst other Orders, as having been founded in 1166 and not 1171. Given this is most probably the year as presented in the Julian Calendar, then still used in Portugal until the reign of King John I, and given the fact that there were 38 years difference between the Julian and Gregorian Calendars, I believe that the year 1166 as mentioned in the Papal documents corresponds to the year 1147 of the Gregorian Calendar. Therefore we are back to the year of the taking of Santarém from the Moors, the Miracle of the Sun that is said to have originated the Order and that year as the year of the founding of the Order. Friar Bernard Justinian's publication on orders printed in Venice in 1692 claims the Order of Saint Michael of Portugal had 23 Grand Masters from the first King of Portugal in 1165 until the Regency of Regent Peter II in 1667. The Order was most likely founded because a group of knights of the Order of Saint James from the Kingdom of Leon helped the first King of Portugal in the taking of Santarém. They were especially devoted to Saint Michael to whom their king had consecrated a shrine to the archangel for the consecration and protection of his knights. They were known as the Military Wing (Ala) of Saint Michael of the Order of Saint James. This explains why the cross of Saint James appears as the symbol of the Order. The miracle of the flaming wing in the sun comes from the fact that this particular group of knights prayed to Saint Michael for victory before the battle, having seen a flaming red wing in the sun. This account is according to the Cistercians. however. the petition for the canonization of King Afonso Henriques as submitted by King John III to the Pope refers that when the first king took Santarém from the Moors in 1147 he saw a flaming star that he took to be a sign that God wished this act. In reality, a call to NASA confirmed what another contemporary Spanish document relates: they witnessed the passage of an extraordinary comet with a fiery red tail similar in form to a wing! The Spanish chronicle similarly states that a group of Leonese knights from the Order of Saint James saw the wing of Saint Michael appear in the night sky when they aided the first King of Portugal in battle. Prior to the battle of Hastings the passage of Halley's comet also signified victory to the king and his knights as it was believed that only the angels could move stars and Saint Michael was the Prince of angels. Regardless of the date or what originated the Order, the fact remains, as Mr. Guy Sainty pointed out that it is the oldest Portuguese founded Order, as the earlier orders were adaptations or nationalizations of Catholic founded Spanish Orders. In my book on the History of the Order of Saint Michael I relate in greater detail these facts. The fact remains that the Order of Saint Michael of the Wing continues to exist in Spain where it is listed among Las Ordens militares de Espanã menos conocidas. It is in fact one of the seven ancient Orders which for centuries were subjected both in Spain and Portugal to the jurisdiction of the Cistercian Priors. These were of course the Orders of Malta, Calatrava, Alcantara, Montesa, Avis and Cristo. The escutcheon of the Spanish Order of Saint Michael is to be found sculpted on the façade of the Cistercian Monastery of Saint Mary of Osera in Galiza along side the escutcheons of the other six Orders. The Spanish records relate that their branch of the Order  was instituted by King Afonso Henriques during the time of Abbott Friar Martinho de Alcobaça (the first Prior at Alcobaça) and on April 24, 1191, during the Reign of King Afonso IX of Leon the villages of Trujillo, Santa Cruz, Zuferola, Lianoba and Albalá were given to the knights of this order who had settled down in Leon after the war. Five years later in 1196, the same King of Leon incorporated these knights in the Order of Calatrava and thus the still existent Spanish branch of the Order was established. The Order fell into what was termed as disuse after 1733 although it continued to be listed in books of orders published in the 17th and 18th centuries irrefutable proof however of its continuity. Historian Prof. Manuel Borges Grainha claims he found no books between 1733 and 1912 making any further reference to the Order and I am forced to agree with him. The Order in reality between 1733 and 1834, the year of the expulsion of the Cistercians and all other Orders from Portugal, was still subjected to the Priory of Alcobaça Monastery. King Miguel I exiled in 1834 (never abdicated), became a Papal Ward  and in 1848, with permission from his Protector Popes Gregory XVI and Blessed Pius IX restored the Order in exile and published new statutes recognized by the Church and in use until 1859 when Pope Pius IX published his Syllabus of 70 Errors and forbade all activity of secret orders including the Catholic ones. The King out of obedience complied and suspended the social organization of the Order reserving the Order solely as a dynastic honorific decoration he bestowed to those loyal to his cause. His order for the knights to disband as a social body only reached the headquarters of the Order in Porto, Portugal after the kings death so the knights were socially active as a group until 1868. The secret archive of the Order was discovered in the 1980's after some renovation on a building. The Order was continued in the person of the direct descendants of King Michael all of whom claimed the title of Hereditary Grand Master of the Order by birth. Grão Mestre Nato was a title they inherited with the title of Duke of Bragança, Count of Ourém and half a dozen other Duchies and Counties. Knighthoods in the Order were sparingly given out after King Michael died but just as in the case of the Spanish branch, the Order continued as long as the Grand Mastership was continued at it was in both cases. In 1981 a group of Portuguese men decided to restore the Order on their own as a secret society and when HRH the Duke of Bragança heard of this in mid-1980's he was surprised to say the least. Some of these persons were close confidants and that shocked him even more. Eventually he consented to reactivate the social compliment of the Order accepting the By-laws created in civil notary by these men. But a series of abuses committed in the Italy and British delegations caused HRH to suspend their activity altogether. The decrees prove that in the early 1990's HRH had formed a commission headed by the Duke of Viseu, his brother to revise new statutes for the Order more in line with those of the many Royal Confraternities or Brotherhoods existent in Portugal. This was done so that the by-laws or estatutos would be similar to those canonical ones used to govern private and public Associations of the Faithful. The idea was to guarantee that the Christian principles and morals be safeguarded in the Order for posterity' and only estatutos of this nature could guarantee these. These were prepared by Monsignor Canon Prof. Dr. José Geraldes Freire of the University of Coimbra, foremost Church historian and Fatima scholar and based on the statutes I created for the Royal Brotherhood of the Most Holy Miracle of Santarém, restored by the Bishop in 1997. Thus the Royal Brotherhood of the Order as a social body for those decorated or invested as knights of the Order came into being as the active social body of the Order. These statutes were approved by HRH by decree of June 10th, 2001 and substituted all previous statutes (1630, 1848 and 1981). They were submitted to the Bishops of Lisbon, Leiria and Santarém in whose Diocese the Order hold social activities. The Bishop of Leiria - Fatima and the Chancellors of the other two Diocese were all unanimous in stating that these did NOT require Church approval as the Royal Brotherhood was a private association which belonged to the Royal House's Order of Saint Michael and so it was the Duke's choice to adapt and approve whatever form of statutes HRH wished. The Order is thus Dynastic and similar to the Order of the Annuziata, Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus and Our Lady of Conception of Vila Viçosa which all have Royal Brotherhoods as active social compliments to the honorific decorations and titles bestowed. Therefore the Order is still and always should be regarded as a Catholic Founded Dynastic Order and not comparable to the Knights of Columbus or Order of Saint Lazarus. The Order of Saint Michael continues and HRH in 1986 before the Holy See and the Portuguese Government, which had nationalized all other Portuguese Orders as honorific decorations of the state in 1910, reaffirmed that he was Grand Master of the Orders of Our Lady of Conception of Vila Viçosa, Saint Isabel and Saint Michael of the Wing. Archbishop Cardinale who was revising the list of extinct Orders for the Pope thus removed these orders from the list as they were thought to have been extinct after the 1910 revolution in Portugal. So both the Church and Portuguese State did nothing to refute HRH's claims to ownership and continuity as they were true and legitimate. The State in 1910 knew that these three Orders were Dynastic. The Grand Mastership of Our Lady of Conception and Saint Isabel having passed down to HRH Dom Duarte Nuno after the death of King Manuel II and then from D.Duarte Nuno to D. Duarte Pio. Likewise the Order of Saint Michael from King D. Miguel to D. Miguel II and then to D. Duarte Nuno and D. Duarte Pio....  Lastly, as for the details of the medals ribbons, capes and standards to be used by knights of the Order, their design is to be found in many 16th century engravings and also in Elias Ashmole's 1672 publication The Institution, Laws and Ceremonies of the Most Noble Order of the Garter. ...  Red Ribbon was substituted in 2001 and the crown removed in conformance with the engravings depicting the medals of the Order published between the 16th and 19th centuries. The capes were also made now to resemble those of that era and not the ones that the 1981 group created based on the tunic-like Order of Malta. The medal with the crown and blue ribbon still can be bestowed by HRH as an honorific decoration, the new insignia being especially for the Professed Brother Knights.”

 

Order of St. Michael of the Wing with plaque & cross

 


[1] This statements were recently made by H.E. Dom Carlos Evaristo on a debate on the Order of St. Michael of the Wing held the forum rec.heraldry, with the participation of Guy Stair Sainty, Pier Felice degli Uberty, David Pritchard  

 

Recorded by Prof. Dr. Carl Edwin Lindgren, former North American Representative of the Foreign Delegation of the Royal Order of St. Michael of the Wing.