Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Belgian Tiara

Having recently read about the Belgian Papal Minister of War, I was thinking more about the part of the Kingdom of Belgium in the war against the State of the Church by the Italian unification movement. By tradition Belgium has always been a Catholic country but in those days (1860-1870) religious faith in Belgium was especially strong and the Belgians were, overall, not happy with the Italian liberal-nationalists invading the States of the Church, effectively to depose Pop Pius IX from his position as the local king in Rome. Hundreds of Belgians bravely volunteered for service with the Papal Zouaves, the army of the Pope named after the flamboyant style of their uniforms, grey and red, the style taken from Algerian fashion that was introduced by the French army during their North African service. The first papal military commander and the Belgian Minister of War for the Pope were veterans of service in North Africa and this probably explains why the general dressed his soldiers in Algerian style uniforms. However, as you read in the previous post, the assignment the Pope gave to Bishop Xavier de Merode was really an impossible one (everyone must have known that) and ultimately unsuccessful.

When it was over and the Pope lost his political authority he secluded himself inside the walls of the Vatican in protest. Many Catholic powers tried to show the Pope that they still respected his authority even while political circumstances forced them to come to terms with the new Kingdom of Italy. One of these was the court of King Leopold II of the Belgians. The Ladies of the Royal Court raised funds for the design of a very unique and magnificent papal tiara for Pius IX. This was a way many countries showed support for the authority of the pope, by sending him a new crown. The “Ladies of the Royal Court of the King of the Belgians” (then Leopold II) presented the crown to the Pope on June 18, 1871. The crown, often known as the “Belgian Tiara” was not like any other. It was designed by Jean-Baptiste Bethune of Ghent with a unique shape for the three jewel-encrusted crowns and the tiers decorated with the words, “CHRISTI VICARIO - IN TERRA - REGUM”.

Doing a little research I could not find agreement on what the three crowns are to symbolize since some said it was for the church on earth, in heaven and in purgatory and others that it stands for the three missions of Christians or the rule of God and others that one crown stood for papal rule of Rome, the second for rule over civil authorities and a third for rule over all monarchs. So it seems really no one knows. It is also not known if Pope Pius IX ever wore his Belgian tiara but it seems likely that he did not since he was old by that time and preferred to wear crowns that were as light as possible and the very elaborate and highly decorated Belgian tiara was quite heavy. That does not really matter though since it was a gift that did not need to be worn but was only to express the loyalty of the King, court and kingdom of Belgium for the sovereignty of the Pope, that they all remained loyal Catholics to him. From photographs it does not appear that any other popes wore the Belgian tiara either but kept it as a prized work of art and sentimental symbol. I am a little disappointed that the Popes decided to stop having a crown, the last one to wear his crown was Pope Paul VI in June of 1963.


  1. The Belgian tiara is one of my favorites in the papal collection (I also like the gothic-style tiaras of Leo XIII and Pius XI). I am more than "a little" disappointed that there have been no coronations since Paul VI. At a time when modern media would allow the whole world to participate in such a grand ceremony I feel as though modern generations have been rather cheated out of the spectacle. I also think it was an important symbolic act that stressed the authority of the Holy See and at a time when nothing much is seen as authoritative I think it is very much needed now.

  2. A magnificent tiara and a very interesting story!

  3. Thank you! Of course of the papal crowns I saw in looking for this picture, the Belgian crown was the most magnificent I think.

  4. How many poor homeless people could have been fed and housed from the cost of this travisty???? " And the Woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and guilded with gold, and precious stones, and pearls, and had a cup of gold in her hand..." Rev. 17:4.