In the post war years of international uncertainty and godlessness, a small band of men in Natal pledged themselves to the knightly ideals of Charity, Fraternity and Duty and named this embryonic Order after Vasco Da Gama 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 - 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.
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 Knights subscribe to three basic principles: absolute loyalty to God and the country, a truly fraternal spirit of help and assistance and the unification of action as Catholic men.
Meetings are conducted with symbolic and dignified ritual approved by ecclesiastical authority. This ritual brings out the ideals on which the Order is based: Loyalty, Service and Sacrifice. The members live according to a Code of Honour which provides opportunities for fostering their personal sanctification, and promoting the lay apostolate.
The Knights have initiated a number of projects that promote the Catholic perspective in society, like yearly Golf Days, ‘Put Christ back into Christmas campaign and their sale of Christmas cards, the proceeds of which go to charity; ‘Toys for Happiness’ collection for poor children; the Revcom membership and its commitment to keeping God’s name ‘hallowed’ and more recently their anti-abortion / pro-life campaign which advises and supports unmarried mothers during their pregnancy and confinement with their reintegration into family life.
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 - 1524), who sailed past the territories that now make up South Africa in 1499.
Da Gama was – like all the Portuguese explorers who reconnoitered the African coasts – an officer of the (Portuguese) Order of Christ
This order’s involvement in the exploration of the African coast goes back to the appointment of Prince Henry 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 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 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. 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 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.