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Knights of Da Gama

Afrikaanse blasoen

Knights of da Gama

The Knights of da Gama are a Roman Catholic fraternal order, founded in Durban, Natal, on St Edmund’s Day, 20 November 1943. Its arms were granted by the College of Arms under Letters Patent in 1957. The blazon reads:

 

Argent a Chief Azure overall in the honour point a Cross Paty Or and for the Crest on a wreath of the colours a Lily Flower Proper and Stalk and Stamens Or between leaves Vert.

 

As is usual in grants by the College of Arms, there is a motto illustrated with the arms, but not mentioned in the blazon. It reads: “Ut omnes unum sint.”

The deed of grant as quoted does not give a precise date, but bears this inscription on the back: “Recorded in the College of Arms, London. Anthony R Wagner, Richmond Herald and Registrar.” Wagner, who was later knighted, served as Garter King of Arms before retiring.

The Kings of Arms who countersigned the grant are Sir George Rothe Bellew KCVO, Garter Principal King of Arms; Sir John Dunamace Heaton Armstrong, KVO, Clarenceux King of Arms; and Aubrey John Toppin Esq, MVO, Norroy and Ulster King of Arms. Since the Duke of Norfolk, as Earl Marshal, is titular head of the College of Arms, his name and arms also appear on the grant.

 

About the arms:

This is a very simple and effective coat of arms, using only three colours. It would seem at first glance to be a breach of the rule of tincture, since it has a cross or (gold or yellow) on a field argent (silver or white). But in fact the cross stands on a field of two colours, namely blue (azure) and argent, and in this way it avoids breaching the rule.

Note that the blue part of the shield is a chief; in other words it is the top section of the shield (which can be between a third and a fifth of the shield’s height), not half the shield, in which case the escutcheon would be blazoned as being divided per fess.

In order for the cross to stand equally on the two colour fields, it is blazoned as being in honour point – a position raised from the centre point of the shield.

The cross is one of many forms of cross found in heraldry. This one is blazoned as a cross paty – in other words, it has broad arms tapering out.

The crest is a natural lily, symbolic of the Virgin Mary. This flower is to be found widely used in heraldry with this symbolism, notably in the arms of Eton College, alma mater of Prince William of Wales.

 

About the order:

The Knights of da Gama is described as a confraternity or sodality and gives its principal objects as “to influence and unite Catholic men within Southern Africa in the service of Christ through the sanctification of its members, and to strive by all lawful means for the material betterment of all people in the countries in which it is established”.

It would appear that the name of Da Gama was chosen because of the association of the bay of Durban, called Port Natal, with the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama (see below).

The application for a grant of arms was made by Ronald George Meyer, described as Supreme Knight of the Order.

The order was founded by the Rev Emmet Edward Neville, an Oblate of Mary Immaculate, and Alan Woodrow, an associate of the Royal Insitute of British Architects and a member of the Institute of South African Architects.

It functions across South Africa, wherever the Roman Catholic Church is active.

 

The order’s namesake and the Order he served:

The Knights of Da Gama take their name from the Portuguese discoverer of the route to India, Vasco da Gama (*c1460 +24-12-1524), who sailed past the territories that now make up South Africa in 1499.

Da Gama was ­– like all the Portuguese explorers who reconnoitred the African coasts – an officer of the (Portuguese) Order of Christ.[1]

This order’s involvement in the exploration of the African coast goes back to the appointment of Prince Henry[2] the Navigator (known in Portugal as the Infante Dom Enrique) as Grand Master of the (Portuguese) Order of Christ in 1420.

This knightly order resulted from the break-up of the Knights Templar, which had been one of the principal knightly orders involved in the Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem. It held vast estates across the European Continent to support its Crusader efforts, and maintained both a land army and a navy.

Following the suppression of the Templars in France by King Philip IV the Fair in 1314, the other sovereigns of Europe moved to take control of its possessions. It was eventually suppressed in most parts of the Continent (thereby enriching the kings and princes who seized the Order’s possessions, and certain of their nobles), but because of the history of the Reconquista (the recovery of southern Iberia by Christian rulers from the Islamic kingdoms) the kings of Portugal and of Spain realised the value of retaining the order under another name.

In this way the Order of Christ – made up of precisely the same knights who had constituted the Knights Templar in Spain and Portugal – came into being in the Christian kingdoms of Iberia.

Prince Henry was desirous of establishing a link with the legendary Prester John[3] as an ally against Islam, and conceived the idea of exploring the African coast southward from Morocco.

Da Gama was the third son of Estêvão da Gama, a nobleman who was commander of the fortress of Sines on the coast of the south-western Portuguese province of Alentejo. Vasco[4] is known to have been sent by King João II to Setúbal and the Algarve in 1492 with the purpose of seizing French ships in retaliation for French raids on Portuguese shipping.

Estêvão da Gama was named to lead an expedition to follow up on the explorations of Bartolomeo Dias.[5] Following the death of Estêvão, his elder son Paulo declined the appointment, and Vasco took command of the expedition, which was expected to find a route to India.

The fleet of four ships sailed from Lisbon on 8 July 1497, and was accompanied as far as the Cape Verde Islands by three vessels commanded by Dias.

Da Gama’s fleet reached St Helena Bay (on the north side of the Cape Columbine peninsula, near the modern-day port of Saldanha) on 7 November, leaving again on the 16th, but because of unfavourable winds did not round the Cape of Good Hope until the 22nd. On the 25th Da Gama anchored in Mossel Bay and erected a padrão on an island in the bay. On his orders the store ship was broken up, reducing his fleet to three.

They sailed again on 8 December, and on Christmas Day Da Gama recorded the name Terra do Natal in his journal – the coast so named appears to have been part of Transkei. He put in at the bay later called Port Natal a few days later, and on 11 January 1498 anchored at a river which he named Rio do Cobre (Copper River). On 25 January he reached the Quelimane River, which he called the Rio de Bons Sinais (River of Good Omens), and on 2 March he reached the city of Moussa Mbike (later known as Moçambique, and today called Lumbo).

He arrived at Mombasa on 7 April and Malindi[6] on the 14th. There he picked up a pilot who knew the route to Calicut (now called Kozhikode) in India, which he reached on 20 May. This voyage opened up the trade route to the Indies which was to be of crucial importance (for good and bad) in the involvement of Europe and the Church in Asia.

 

Afrikaanse blasoen:

Die wapen van die Ridders van da Gama mag in Afrikaans so geblasoeneer word:

 

Wapen: In silwer ’n skildhoof van blou; in die erepunt ’n breedarmige kruis van goud.

Wrong en dekkleed: Silwer en blou.

Helmteken: ’n Lelieblom van natuurlike kleur, met stam en meeldrade van groen.



[1] The Order of Christ’s influence on the Portuguese military has endured down the centuries.

Portuguese ships voyaging to the East bore the red cross of the Order on their sails, and the present-day Portuguese Air Force uses this same cross as an aircraft marking instead of a roundel.

The cross of the Portuguese Order of Christ is a red cross formy (with straight edges), bearing a white or silver fillet cross.

[2] Henry (*04-03-1394 +1460) was the third son of King João I of Portugal and Philippa of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt of England.

[3] Despite his influence on European thought over a number of centuries, Prester John never really existed except in rumour and legend.

The belief that a Christian king reigned in the East appears to have originated in reports that the rulers of a Central Asian khanate had Nestorian advisers. But the rumour factory that was Christian Europe under siege from Islam then invented a Christian emperor named John (in Latin, Johannes) in India, and a few generations later shifted him to Ethiopia.

Since the extent of the African continent was not known (in fact, the name Africa at the time belonged solely to the coastlands and mountains of the countries we now know as Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia), it appears to have been thought that sailing around the land to the south to reach Ethiopia would not even involve crossing the Equator.

[4] The name Vasco means “Basque”, and probably indicates a measure of Basque ancestry in the Da Gama family.

The Basque or Euzkara people are descendants of the first human inhabitants of Europe following the last Ice Age. Their language is unrelated to any other in Western Europe, and their bloodlines are unique.

[5] In 1488 Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope and planted crosses in the vicinity of Algoa Bay, but was forced by his crew to turn back.

[6] Both these ports are now in Kenya.


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  • Source: Information on the Knights of Da Gama and its arms from an e-mail communication from Matthew Charlesworth, quoting a letter written by J P Brooke-Little, Bluemantle Pursuivant, on 12 February 1958, to Alan Woodrow. Image of arms provided by Matthew Charlesworth. Information on Henry the Navigator, the Order of Christ and Vasco da Gama from various sources, including the Encyclopædia Britannica.

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    Comments, queries: Mike Oettle