Ecclesiastic Merit Cross, 1859-1918, Part I

Figure 1: Gold Ecclesiastic Cross on combatant ribbon. Image from the author’s archive.

Figure 2: Silver Ecclesiastic Cross on combatant ribbon. Image from the author’s archive.

Introduction:

The Ecclesiastic Merit Cross was issued from 1801 to the end of the empire in 1918.  They were issued to recognize distinguished wartime service by military Field Chaplains which involved personal sacrifice and or bravery while ministering to the troops under fire or at the front. During the period in which these crosses were issued they went through a number of changes. This blog will discuss those crosses issued from 1859 until the end of the empire in 1918.

Decoration Numismatics:

Date Issued: 

Gold Ecclesiastic Cross, second issue:  The second version of the cross was issued from 1859 – 1918. 

Silver Ecclesiastic Cross second issue:  The second version of the cross was issued from 1880 – 1918. 

Reason Issued:  To recognize distinguished wartime service by army Field Chaplains.  In order to qualify this service had to involve self-sacrifice and bravery while administering to the troops either under fire or in the battle area.  The cross was also issued as a reward many years of meritorious service as a chaplain in peacetime.

Classes or Types:  This cross was issued in two classes and two grades within each class until December 13, 1916 when swords were added to the award thus creating three grades in each class.

  • First Class on war ribbon with swords, (after December 16, 1916) (Gold Ecclesiastic Merit Cross)
  • First Class on war ribbon, (November 23, 1801-1918) (Gold Ecclesiastic Merit Cross)
  • First Class on civil ribbon, (1880-1918) (Gold Ecclesiastic Merit Cross)
  • Second Class on war ribbon with swords, (after December 16, 1916) (Silver Ecclesiastic Merit Cross)
  • Second Class on war ribbon, (November 23, 1801-1918) (Silver Ecclesiastic Merit Cross)
  • Second Class on civil ribbon, (1880-1918) (Silver Ecclesiastic Merit Cross)

Interesting Facts:

  • This is the second version of the first and oldest official Austrian decoration in the form of a cross
  • The crosses were created at the suggestion of the Apostolic Field Vicar, Count Von Hohenwerth
  • The crosses were first awarded for the wars with the French Republic in 1790
  • This cross was authorized to replace previously awarded Military Honor Medals that although not exactly appropriate had been issued to reward military ecclesiastics for meritorious services.
  • Those holding merit medals had to surrender them in order to receive the first version of this cross
  • The original crosses were gold and silver respectively but after 1911 were gold gilt over silver and silver gilt
  • The center medallion of the gold cross was changed from blue to white in 1859
  • The crosses were renamed from gold and silver crosses to first class and second class ecclesiastic crosses respectively on May 9,1911
  • On May 9, 1911 when the award was renamed and the criteria for issuing it was altered there were no surviving previous recipients
  • Upon the death of the recipient the crosses had to be  returned to the War Ministry Oberstkammereramt

 Hallmarks: 

  • The Mark of Vinc Mayer and Sons
  • The Mark of  Friedrich Rothe
  • The Vienna Essay Office Mark

Design:  A Latin Passion Cross with trefoils at the ends and a round loop shaped suspension eye on the top arm.

Figure 3: Silver Ecclesiastic Merit Cross, obverse, Image from author’s archive.

Obverse: The arms of the cross have a deep grove (2 mm) inside the edge which follows the contour of the cross. A second finer and shallower outline lies within the first. In the center of the cross is a 16 mm round, applied medallion with an edge in the same material as the cross. The medallion is enameled white for the first class crosses ( see Figure 1) and blue for the second class crosses. The center medallion has an inscription in the same metal as the cross. The inscription reads PIIS / MERITIS (Pius Merit) in two lines.

Reverse:  The reverse of the cross including the center medallion is the same as the obverse.

Weight:

  • Gold Cross Type I ( 1859-1878, see variations below) = 20.5 grams
  • Gold Cross Type II ( 1911-1918, see variations below)  = 28 grams
  • Silver Cross Type I ( 1859-1880, see variations below)   = 17 grams
  • Silver Cross Type II ( 1880-1918, see variations below) = 20.5 grams

Size: 

  • Type I Gold Cross (1859-1911):  As described above with a white 17 mm in diameter center medallion and a round suspension ring. The size of this cross is 58 mm long and 51 mm wide.
  • Type II Gold Cross:  As described above with a 16 mm White center medallion and a ball shaped suspension eye. The size of this cross is 53 mm long and 48 mm wide. This third type of cross which was issued from September 5, 1911– 1918.
  • Type II Silver Cross issued from 1859 – 1880 are 58 mm long and 51 mm wide with a 20 mm in diameter blue center medallion and arms that are 8 mm in width and trefoils that are 17 mm in diameter.
  • Type III Silver Cross (1880-1911):  As described above with an 17 mm in diameter blue center medallion and a round suspension ring. The size of this cross is 58 mm long and 51 mm wide.  This second type of cross was issued from 1880 – 1911.
  • Type IV Silver Cross:  As described above with a 16 mm blue center medallion and a ball shaped suspension eye.  The size of this cross is 53 mm long and 48 mm wide. This type of cross which was issued from 1911 – 1918.

Variations: 

  • Type I Gold Cross:  As described above with a white 17 mm in diameter center medallion and a round suspension ring. The size of this cross is 58 mm long and 51 mm wide. This first type of cross was issued from 1859 – 1878.
  • Type II Gold Cross:  As described above with a 16 mm White center medallion and a ball shaped suspension eye. The size of this cross is 53 mm long and 48 mm wide. This second type of cross was issued from September 5, 1911– 1918.
  • Type III Gold Cross:  As described above with a blue or white center medallion and a spade shaped suspension ring.  This cross has a separate plaque attached to the upper arm of the cross with the word PIIS engraved in it.   This type of cross was issued from 1801 – 1880
  • Type I silver Cross:  As described above with a 20 mm blue center medallion and a spade shaped suspension ring.  This is the first type of cross which was issued from 1801 – 1880.
  • Type II Silver cross issued from 1859 – 1880 are 58 mm long and 51 mm wide with a 20 mm in diameter blue center medallion and arms that are 8 mm in width and trefoils that are 17 mm in diameter.
  • Type III silver Cross:  As described above with a 17 mm in diameter blue center medallion and a round suspension ring. The size of this cross is 58 mm long and 51 mm wide. This second type of cross was issued from 1880 – 1911.
  • Type IV Silver Cross:  As described above with a 16 mm blue center medallion and a ball shaped suspension ring.  The size of this cross is 53 mm long and 48 mm wide. This type of cross which was issued from 1911 – 1918.

I hope you enjoyed this blog. Next time I will finish my description of this decoration. Until then my best wishes

Rick

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