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Papal chamberlain (Cameriere di spada e cappa) was one of the highest honours that could be bestowed on a Catholic layman by the Pope, and was often given to members of noble families. It was mostly an honorary position, but a chamberlain served the Pope for one week per year during official ceremonies. The office was abolished by Pope Paul VI.

Many came from families that had long served the Papal Court over the course of several centuries, while others were appointed as a high honor, one of the highest the Papacy conferred on Catholic laymen (often prominent politicians or wealthy philanthropists). They were originally selected from members of Italian royal and aristocratic families.

From the days of Pope Leo I (440-461) the pontifical household had included papal chamberlains who were personal attendants on the Pope in his private apartments. The number of papal chamberlains was never large, although their proximity to the Pope meant that many chamberlains would enjoy notable ecclesiastical careers and some were even promoted to the episcopacy. Their privileges were considerable. They ranked ex officio as Lateran counts, Knights of the Golden Spur (Order of the Golden Militia), and nobles of Rome and Avignon. Prior to Vatican II they provided personal assistance to the Pope on formal state occasions as members of the Papal Court. They were required to serve for at least one week per year during official ceremonies, and took part in Papal processions behind the Sedia Gestatoria, each wearing formal court dress and distinguished by a golden chain of office. Traditionally, Papal Chamberlains were addressed as "Very Reverend", and the higher degrees as "Right Reverend".

In ecclesiastical heraldry, laypersons so honored may display a golden chain surrounding their coat of arms.


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