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National Order of Civil Merit

Date established: 2nd/14th August 1891

Number of classes: Grand cross and six classes

Being awarded for: to civil servants, clergymen, diplomats, foreign nationals and alike as a token of gratitude on behalf of the nation and the Monarch

Shape: Urdy cross with circular centre and oak branches in between the cross arms

Ribbon: white, bordered with a green and crimson (or red) stripes on either sides

Other names: Order of merit, Order “For Civil Merit”, Order of National Merit

Obverse: White enamelled cross with red enamelled central medallion, bearing the royal cypher of its founder (enamelled in white). On the outer ring of the central medallion is inscribed the name of the order – „ЗА ГРАЖДАНСКА ЗАСЛУГА“ / translation: for civil merit / and a small six-pointed star in between two dots at the bottom. The oak leaves are enamelled in dark green (apart from the last two classes).

Reverse: White enamelled cross with red enamelled centre, bearing a crowned Bulgarian lion rampant (in most cases with superimposed Saxon shield upon his chest). On the outer ring is inscribed “2 АВГУСТЪ 1891“ /2nd August 1891/– the date when the order was founded. The oak leaves are enamelled in dark green (apart from the last class and certain earlier issues).

Associated decorations: Ladies' cross of the Order of Civil merit

The Order of Civil merit has been founded by Prince (Knyaz) Ferdinand I whose cypher is inscribed on all order badges. The intention for the establishment of this new order was to introduce a suitable and unified means of expressing gratitude to the increasing number of civil servants within Bulgaria. This new award would enable the government and the Monarch to award the merits of those who have distinguished themselves through their consistent and valuable work.

The Order of Civil merit ranks below the Royal Order of St. Alexander in the hierarchy of the Bulgarian orders and just above its military variation – the Order of Military merit.

Contrary to the popular expectation, the majority of the recipients of the Order of Civil merit, prior to the Balkan wars, were foreign nationals. This includes a few orders adorned with diamonds – a special prerogative of the Monarch.

The so called issues of the order are: 1) The so called Princely issue which has been awarded from 1891 onwards. These badges feature a rounded top crown suspensions with descending lappets. The reverse oak twigs are not enamelled and are either hand-crafted or stamped. There are at least two variations of this issue – both very similar to one another. The slight differences are in the shape of the lappets and oak twigs on the reverse. Also, the initial issue did not include crown suspensions for V and VI classes. The crown suspension has been added as an option to the fifth and sixths classes only around 1900 with the second sub-emission of the Princely issue.

2) The second major type actually replicated the previous, but instead of the rounded-top crown, a new type has been introduced – a flatter on top crown with curved upwards and outwards lappets. Due to the numerous manufacturers of the orders, there are several minor variations in the design of the oak twigs, crown lappets, enamel and rims of the cross.

3) The third master issue is the one minted during the reign of King Boris III. It bears the same features as the one minted during his father’s reign, though the quality of manufacture was not as high as the old issues. A general rule is that order of this period lack the Saxon shield on the reverse of the badge.

A notable and very rare issue was a festive issue of the order, called ‘flat reverse issue’. It features a flat (single) reverse medallion bearing an amended design of the Bulgarian lion and the inscription has been amended to include the name of the ex-king Ferdinand I – “ФЕРДИНАНД I 2.VIII.1891” separated via two six-pointed stars.

It is important to note that the tint of the green and crimson colours of the ribbon vary throughout the history of the order.

Grand Cross

The Grand Cross has been officially introduced in 1933. Prior to this date though, the 1st class of the order has been referred to and being awarded as a regular Grand cross decoration. In practice, the introduction of the Grand cross badge simply meant that the existent first class was to be renamed accordingly, while in its place was introduced a Great cross badge – I class decoration.

The badge of the Grand cross (I class prior to 1933) represents a 75mm (65 mm for Boris III emissions) wide white-enamelled gilded-rimed cross suspended form an elaborately designed, gilded and enamelled royal crown. There are two major types of crown. First type has rounded top and descending lappets. This type of crown has been used during 1891-1900. The second type of crown has many sub-types but the main features include a flatter top and lappets which are twisted upwards and outwards.

The badge is attached to a wide white order sash (about 10cm wide) with green and crimson (red) border stripes. The sash is worn over the right shoulder and across the chest, having a rosette and/or bow near its end.

In addition to the badge and its sash, the set includes a 97mm eight-pointed star, made of four silver and four gilded alternating sets of rays. In the centre of the star is positioned the badge of the order without its crown suspension. The star is worn on the left side of the breast.

In the 1930’s, a slightly amended variation of the Grand cross breast star has been introduced. It’s slightly larger in size – 102 mm and its rays are made up of series of relief beads, rather than the usual smoothed rays.

The Grand cross set (or 1st class set, prior to 1933), has been awarded to the highest-ranking officials within the nation – ministers, senior clergymen, retired generals, major industrialists, foreign ambassadors, members of foreign royal houses and their suites, etc.

First Class (Great Cross)

Until the introduction of the Grand Cross in the 30's, the highest class of the order was the first class, which was being worn and often referred to as a Grand cross decoration. Theoretically, the transformation of the first class into a Grand cross grade meant that a new grade had to be introduced, similarly to the transformation with the classes of the Royal Order of St. Alexander in 1908.

The Great cross represented a 54-56 mm wide cross, similar in appearance to the Grand cross badge, but was instead suspended from a slightly thinner order sash with similar composition of the colours. It was worn again over the right shoulder.

The breast star for the later Great cross resembled the generic Grand cross breast star but is a bit smaller (about 84mm wide) and all eight sets of rays are made of silver.

Among the people who were decorated with this high decoration were ministers, chairmen of the National Parliament, diplomats, senior clergymen, major businessmen, foreign nationals with major merits to Bulgarian society, etc.

Second Class (Grand Officers' Cross)

The second class of the order represents a 54-56 mm in width badge. It’s being worn on a thin order ribbon suspended from the neck. In addition to the badge, holders of the grand officers’ cross also display a rhomboid silver breast star (88 mm) made of four sets of silvery rays and the order badge superimposed over the centre. It’s worn on the left side of the chest.

The second class sets have been awarded to ministers, diplomats, senior civil servants, clergymen and alike, depending on their social status and previous decorations.

Third Class (Commanders' Cross)

The third class of the Order of Civil merit represents a neck badge identical to the one from the second class set. The difference is that the third class decorations do not come with any breast star.

Again, awarding was made according to the recipient’s rank and merits – usually senior or mid-ranking civil servants, town mayors, diplomats, archbishops and alike.

Fourth Class (Officers' Cross)

The Officer’s cross represents a 48 to 51 mm gilt-rimmed cross, worn suspended from a triangular ribbon with a rosette and worn on the left side of the chest.

Among the people decorated with the IV class were clergymen, mayors, mid-level civil servants, police chiefs, etc.

Fifth Class (Knights' Cross)

The fifth class represents a cross with the same shape and dimensions as the fourth class, but instead of gilded, the rims and body of the cross is made of silver or silvered, including the oak twigs which are no longer enamelled. Unlike the higher classes of the order, the fifth class can be awarded either with or without a crown suspension, thus splitting the class into two variations. The fifth class was suspended from a ribbon folded in a triangular shape without a rosette.

This class was being awarded to a wide range of professionals – from town mayors, through police constables and municipal councillors, to journalists and scientists.

Sixth Class (Silver Cross)

The lowest class of the Order of Civil merit is the so called silver cross. It represented a 46 mm wide cross made entirely of silver or another metal alloy/silvered. It did not have any enamel either on the obverse or reverse.

Similarly to the 5th class, the silver cross could also be awarded with or without crown suspension. The ribbon was a triangular one, without any band or rosette.

Ladies' Cross

An award dedicated to ladies has been associated with the Order of Civil merit. It consists of three classes whose crosses basically replicated the last three classes of the actual order, but instead suspended from a thinner (26-27 mm wide) ribbon of the same colours, tied in the form of a double bow.

The ladies’ cross has only been awarded to female civil servants, journalists, charity activists and alike.

The first class for ladies represents the generic crowned cross of the IV class but, as outlined above, suspended from the bow-shaped ribbon.

The second class (the familiar V class badge) represents a white enamelled silver-rimmed cross. It has two sub-classes, depending on whether it is being suspended from the ribbon using a crown suspension or not.

The third class is similar to the former one, but instead of enamelled, the cross is fully made of a metal alloy and silvered (in rare cases solid silver), identically to the VI class of the order. Again, there’s the possibility of having or lacking a crown suspension element as a middle section between the cross and the ribbon.

Due to the differentiation based on the crown suspensions, some sources indicate that initially the Ladies’ cross has been considered as having 5 classes but this has soon been revoked.