Commander's Cross.

The Order of St. Joseph – an ancient award of Tuscany

Commander's Cross.
Order of St. Joseph. Commander’s Cross.

The Order of St. Joseph is a dynastic award of the House of Habsburg of Lorraine, who ruled Tuscany since 1765. Presumably, the Order of St. Joseph existed as early as the 16th century as a monastic brotherhood, but received the status of an award during the Napoleonic Wars. The regalia remains valid to this day and is awarded for merits in the field of charity, art and literature. Today, the order consists of about 130 knights.

The main characteristics of the Order of St. Joseph:

Author unknown.

Country: Italy.

Date of establishment: March 09, 1807.

Number of degrees: 3.

Grand Cross Size: 92.80mm x 83mm.

The size of the Commander’s Cross: 74.3 mm x 104 mm (with a crown).

Material of the Order of the Grand Cross: Silver.

Size of the Knight’s Cross: 58 mm x 40 mm.

Materials of the Knight’s and Commander’s Crosses: Silver with gilding, gold, enamel.

Order of St. Joseph Grand Cross.
Grand Cross.

Order history and versions

The Order of St. Joseph is rightfully considered an award of Tuscany, although formally it is related to two countries: Italy and Germany. A dual situation developed in connection with the wars waged by Napoleon Bonaparte in Europe. The emperor redrawn the borders for his own political reasons and deprived the rulers of hereditary possessions for the slightest manifestation of disloyalty. The Duke of Tuscany Ferdinand III, who ascended the throne in the troubled times of the Great French Revolution, did not escape the sad fate.

The Order of Saint Joseph was founded at a time when the Duke of Tuscany had already lost his principality. For a long time, Ferdinand sought to remain neutral, but England forced him to join the anti-revolutionary coalition under the threat of an invasion of Livorno. In 1793, the British officially declared war on the French, and the ruler of Tuscany was reluctantly drawn into the conflict. Three years later, Napoleon’s troops occupied part of the Apennine Peninsula, but the duke then managed to stay on the throne. Ferdinand concluded an agreement with the emperor that forbade the enemies of France from being in Tuscany. In addition, the duke had to pay a large indemnity and maintain a French military corps. However, the aggravation of the political situation forced the ruler to abdicate in 1801, and as compensation, Napoleon granted him the ancient German church principality of Würzburg.

Order of St. Joseph Grand Master Sigismondo d'Asburgo Lorena.
Grand Master Sigismondo d’Asburgo Lorena.

The Falerists argue about the reasons that prompted Ferdinand to found the order.

The official version says that the duke conceived the award with thoughts of returning to Tuscany, so the regalia should be considered Italian. However, the assumption seems closer to reality that the order is one of those awards that simultaneously established the states formed by the will of Napoleon on the territory of Baden and Bavaria. The rulers sought to prove their loyalty to the authorities and marked officers who served in the imperial army with regalia.

In 1806, during a long visit to Paris, Ferdinand managed to woo the emperor, who shared his desire to receive the ancient and respected Order of the Golden Fleece, but all his attempts remained in vain. The duke decided to offer the idol some kind of compensation and made Napoleon the first knight of the Tuscan order.

Order of St. Joseph Joseph Dorffmeister. Painting Portrait of Ferdinand III, 1797.
Joseph Dorffmeister. Painting Portrait of Ferdinand III, 1797.

Attributes and degrees of the Order of Saint Joseph

At the time of its establishment, only one degree of the order was supposed, three more appeared only after the collapse of the Napoleonic empire and the return of the duke to Tuscany. The founder himself, the Grand Master, was at the head of the organization, and the rest were awarded titles:

  • Knight Grand Cross – an award for high-ranking dignitaries.
  • Commander – with the assignment of a hereditary title.
  • Knight – with the right to personal nobility.

The charter prescribed to mark civil and military persons of the Catholic faith with regalia “for personal merit, or for useful services rendered to the state.” Later, the condition regarding religion was abolished. The list of owners of the regalia includes the names of Senator Gino Capponi, French General Felice Pascual Bacocchi, archaeologist Jean-Francois Champollion, and Russian businessman Anatoly Demidov.

The regalia was a six-pointed cross covered with white enamel, with an oval medallion in the center depicting St. Joseph. The commander’s insignia included a silver star and a red and white ribbon, which was supposed to be worn over the shoulder. The insignia has remained unchanged since its inception and is today registered with the European Intellectual Property Office.

Order of Saint Joseph. Commander's Cross.
Order of Saint Joseph. Commander’s Cross.
The current state of the Order of St. Joseph

The Order of Saint Joseph today has the status of a dynastic regalia, the last changes to the statute were made in 1994. After the abolition of the Duchy of Tuscany, the descendants of the founder retained the right to present an award for special services to Tuscany. Grand Master Sigismondo d’Asburgo-Lorena bestows a knighthood for outstanding achievements in the field of culture and art. The official temple of the organization is the church of San Giuseppe in Florence, on March 19, the annual solemn mass is held in the temple.