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Order of Calatrava (Spain)

Last modified: 2019-09-16 by ivan sache
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History of the Order of Calatrava

The Order of Calatrava was established on 1 January 1158 by Sancho III, King of Castile (1157-1158), being therefore Spain's older military order. The king confirmed in Almazan the decision taken a few months before in Toledo to transfer the fortress and the town of Calatrava, which had been abandoned by the Knights of the Temple, to Raymond (d. 1163), abbot of the Cistercian monastery of Fitero (Navarre). Raimundo and monk Diego Velázquez, a former soldier, offered their services to defend Toledo against an Almohad counter-attack. The project was pushed by Juan, Archbishop of Toledo, who offered material and spiritual support, so that a militia of more than 20,000 soldiers was set up.
The canonical confirmation of the Order of Calatrava was granted by the Bull signed on 25 September 1164 by Pope Alexander III (1159-1181). The order was officially affiliated to the Cistercian Order in 1187.

In 1195, Yaqub Al-Mansur (1160-1199) defeated Alfonso VIII (1158-1214) in Alarcos and seized the fortress of Calatrava. The surviving knights seized the castle of Salvatierra, isolated in the middle of Muslim lands, and kept it until 1211. In the aftermath of the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1214), during which Grand Master Ruy Díaz de Yanguas (d. 1221) was severely injured, the order reconquered the region and erected a new fortress, Calatrava la Nueva (New Calatrava).
The order was rewarded with a big territory (Campo de Calatrava), which was organized in commanderies; placed under the direct authority of the Holy See, the order maintained difficult relationships with the crown of Castile and territorial quarrels with the Orders of Saint James and Saint John.

The ever-increasing military power of the Order of Calatrava worried Ferdinand the Catholic (1474-1504). In 1487, following the death of Grand Master Garcia López de Padilla, the king was appointed Grand Master of the order by the Pope, as would be all his successors until now. After its decisive contribution to the Granada Wars, the order lost its military significance.
The Order of Calatrava still exists (website), forming the Royal Council of the Spanish Chivalry Order, together with the Orders of Saint James, Alcántara, and Montesa.
[Turismo y cultura en Ciudad Real]

Ivan Sache, 6 June 2019


Evolution of the Cross of Calatrava

The Cross of Calatrava was originally a simple cross flory, with fleurs-de-lis of limited size and represented like those of the French monarchy.
Rules and Bulls confirming the Order issued in the 12th century state that the friars of the Order of Calatrava had to wear the Cistercian habit, composed of a white tunic, a scapular with a cross on the chest, a cloak with a hood and a coat over the shoulders. The habit's colors and cloth should be compliant with Cistercian austerity.

As reminded by Francisco de Rada y Andrade (Crónica de les tres órdenes de Santiago, Calatrava y Alcántara, 1572), neither the Rules granted by the Chapter General of the Cistercian Order nor the canonical confirmations issued by the Holy See in 1164 and 1187 prescribe the use of a cross on the monk's habit. The only prescription is the use of a scapulary with a cross. The author believes that the original arms of the order, featured on its seals and banners, was a cross with chains beneath. Miguel Ramón Zapater (Cister militante en la campaña de la Iglesia contra la sarracena furia, 1662) confirms this, as "The standards used by the Masters during their campaigns had for arms chains and a black cross ion the beginning, soon changed to a red one".

The written descriptions are confirmed by iconographic sources from the 13th century.
The Florentine Codex of Alfonso the Wise's Cantigas de Santa María mentions the Order of Calatrava in cantiga No. 205. The companions illuminated miniatures portray the Masters of the Orders of Saint John and Calatrava among knights and soldiers. Shields, banners and helmets are decorated with crosses, as are the banners flying in the background. No cross is featured either on the knight's tunic or Cistercian white habit. Experts believe that the Codex was produced in the last quarter of the 13th century, during Alfonso X's late reign, and consider it therefore as a very reliable source.
Another representation of the knights of Calatrava is found on mural paintings in the castle of Alcañiz, seat of the Commandery granted to the order in 1179 by Alfonso II, King of Aragón. Here again, the knights are represented with a white habit and a black cross scapulary. The coat of arms is also profusely depicted.

Pope Luna (1394-1423), mostly known as Antipope Benedict XIII, whose authority was recognized by the Kingdom of Castile, modified the habit of the Order of Calatrava in a Bull signed on 26 June 1397 in Avignon; the knights were allowed to print a red trefoiled cross on their habit. The Chapter General of the Order validated the change in the color of the cross, seemingly as a tribute to the blood shed in the struggle against Muslims.
With time, the design of the ends of the cross' arms were made more and more complex, until the modern cross used by the today's Order of Calatrava and featured on the flag and arms of several Spanish municipalities.
[Tierra de Don Quijote, 16 June 2016]

Ivan Sache, 6 June 2019


Flags with the Cross of Calatrava used in medieval festvals

Manzanares Medieval Days

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Flag used in Manzanares Medieval Days - Image by Tomislav Todorović, 6 June 2019

The Medieval Day, organized every year since 2012 in Manzanares (Province of Ciudad Real) starts with the entrance of the flag of the Order of Calatrava in the town and its hoisting over the castle of Pilas Bonas. The flag (photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo; video) is white with red Cross of Calatrava, in its original design.

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Flags used in Manzanares Medieval Days - Images by Tomislav Todorović, 6 June 2019

Forked vertical banners (photo, photo, photo, photo, photo), white with the cross either red or black, are also used during the festival, as well as square white flags with the cross either red or black.

Ivan Sache, 6 June 2019


Alacaudete Calatrava Festival

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Flags used in Alacaudete Calatrava Festival - Images by Ivan Sache, 6 June 2019

In another medieval festival, the Calatrava Festival organized in Alcaudete, a former stronghold of the order in the Province of Jaén, white flags are used (photo, photo, photo), either rectangular or swallow-tailed, with the modern emblem of the order.

Ivan Sache, 6 June 2019