Celebrating 300 years

With the spread of the Royal Arch across the world creating different rituals in each of the countries it has touched, John Hamill explains why international relations can be complex

In the news section of this issue there is a short piece on the change of Grand Chancellor in the Craft. That office has now been in place for just over five years and the question has been asked why, unlike the other ‘executive’ offices in the Craft, there is no equivalent of the Grand Chancellor in the Royal Arch? The simple answer is that, from a combination of historical reasons and the close administrative links between the Craft and Royal Arch in England, there is little in the Royal Arch for a Grand Chancellor to do.

There is no doubt among historians of the Royal Arch that it originated within the British Isles. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it quickly followed the spread of the Craft into what were then the Colonies and became firmly established in North America, the West Indies and Caribbean, India, Africa, the Far East and Australasia, in all of which it is still practised today.

After the Second World War, England was asked by various European Grand Lodges to assist in establishing the Royal Arch

The Royal Arch, however, never took hold in mainland Europe until the second half of the twentieth century. Apart from a short-lived Grand Chapter in France in the early nineteenth century, there is no evidence for any Grand Chapter being formed in Europe before the one attached to the National Grand Lodge of France in the 1930s.

Scandinavian countries that have the Swedish Rite do not work any of the degrees we have ‘beyond the Craft’, yet the degrees above the first three in the Swedish Rite are regarded as being equivalent to, but different from, our Royal Arch, Knights Templar and Ancient and Accepted Rite degrees. In other European countries and in Central and South America, the Ancient and Accepted (Scottish) Rite and the Rectified Scottish Rite were the preferred steps after the Craft.

Expansion in Europe

After the Second World War, England was asked by various European Grand Lodges to assist in establishing the Royal Arch, leading to the erection of Grand Chapters in Finland, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, Hungary and Estonia. That process continues today with English Chapters meeting by dispensation in Bulgaria, Russia and Macedonia. There are also Grand Chapters in Austria, Germany, Italy and Slovenia set up under the American Royal Arch system.

There is an added complication in that not all Grand Chapters work the same ritual. Some have preliminary degrees that are taken between the Craft and the Royal Arch. The closest rituals to the English traditions are the Grand Chapter of Scotland and those in Canada and Australasia – the majority of whose founding Chapters originally worked under either England or Scotland. Scotland works the same Royal Arch ritual as England but requires candidates to take the Mark Degree and the Excellent Mason before they can be exalted into the Royal Arch.

The English and Scottish ritual explains to the candidate how certain major discoveries were made when the Children of Israel returned to Jerusalem from their Babylonish captivity and were clearing the ground for the rebuilding of Solomon’s temple under Zerubbabel. The principal officers of English and Scottish Chapters are Zerubbabel the Prince, Haggai the Prophet and Joshua the High Priest.

While the import of the ceremony is the same in Ireland and the US, the discoveries were made at a different time, when the second temple at Jerusalem was being built under King Josiah. Their principal officers are King Josiah, Hilkiah the High Priest and Shaphan the Scribe, although in the US – the Great Republic – the High Priest is the senior of the three. As in Scotland, Irish and American Chapters include the Mark Degree and the Ceremony of Passing the Veils as preliminaries to entry into the Royal Arch.

Add to these differences the unique relationship between the Craft and Royal Arch in England – the bicentenary of which we will be celebrating next year – and you will begin to understand how complex international relations are within the Royal Arch. In all other constitutions the Craft and Royal Arch are entirely separate. The closest is Ireland, where the Grand Secretary is always the Grand Registrar of the Grand Chapter (the equivalent of our Grand Scribe E) and Chapters bear the number and, in very many cases, the name of the lodges to which they are attached.

Royal Arch acceptance

When, in 1813, the indissoluble link was forged by the acceptance of the Royal Arch as an integral part of pure ancient masonry, a number of links were put in place to strengthen the relationship. In particular, a preamble was made to the General Regulations governing the Royal Arch which, in short form, states that anything not specifically covered by the regulations is to be considered as bound by the Book of Constitutions of the Grand Lodge.

While the Grand Chapter is sovereign over the regulation and administration of the Royal Arch, the Craft is paramount and certain aspects remain in its sole remit. This is particularly so in regard to our relations with other constitutions. It is Grand Lodge, on the recommendation of the Board of General Purposes and its External Relations Committee, which grants recognition to other constitutions. The Royal Arch has a voice in such recommendations, as the President of the Committee of General Purposes of Grand Chapter is ex officio a member of the Board and sits on its External Relations Committee.

As recognition has always been a Craft matter, Grand Chapter does not formally recognise or exchange representatives with other Grand Chapters. It is, however, very happy to receive companions from, and to allow its members to visit Chapters under any Grand Chapter that draws its membership solely from a Grand Lodge recognised by the United Grand Lodge of England.

With all these differences, a companion wishing to visit a foreign Chapter would be wise to seek advice from the Grand Scribe E’s office in advance.

Published in SGC

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