The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (Latin: Ordo equestris Sancti Sepulcri Hierosolymitani) is a Roman Catholic order of knighthood under the protection of the Holy See and governed by a Grand Master, the Supreme Pontiff. Membership is reserved solely for practicing Catholics, and the investiture ceremony requires a pledge of fidelity to the Holy Father and defense of the Faith that only the faithful can undertake.
The equestrian order was one of the most important social classes in ancient Rome, and as such it is not surprising that its members were frequently found at the center of political events. While a few equestrians – particularly those who held the most prestigious senatorial positions – could attain a level of power that was comparable to or even higher than the political rank of a senator, most were largely involved in the politico-administrative class, and their influence was limited to local areas. The equestrians themselves, however, were a powerful group whose privileges and social status made them very popular with the citizens of Rome and a source of pride for their families.
From the time of the Principate onwards, becoming an equestrian was a major social event in the life of a family and a way to distinguish a nobleman from his peers. A man who achieved the honor of being a member of this social class could be identified by several insignia, including a plain gold ring and a toga with a small purple stripe. This distinction was also reflected in the naming of many of Rome’s roads.
In later times, the equestrian order came to be considered one of the most prestigious honors that could be bestowed by the emperor. Those who received the title of equestre romanus, for example, were able to hold public office as magistrates and had special seating at the Comitia Centuriata. In addition to these honors, an equestre romanus was entitled to a very large amount of land and to possess a number of slaves. In addition, the emperor himself could confer this honor upon the children of his most prominent subjects and it was often used to mark a son’s status as heir apparent.
Today the equestrian order continues to promote a spirit of service, both in the spiritual and social aspects of its membership. In addition to strengthening its members’ practice and faith, the Order also works to assist Christians in the Holy Land and upholds the rights of the Church in the Holy Places. The membership of the Order is worldwide and is divided into Lieutenancies, with the Western USA Lieutenancy consisting of the dioceses of Arkansas, New Mexico and Oklahoma. In order to join the Order, a candidate must be nominated by an existing Member of the Order and go through a period of formation. This is overseen by the Section Head and Delegate of the Lieutenancy. The candidate is then approved by the Grand Magisterium. A Lieutenancy is not a geographic area but a group of Members who have agreed to support the work of the Order together.