On 16th May 2011 one of the most far-flung lodges of our English Constitution realised its dream of over a century to establish a Royal Arch chapter attached to it.
In 1872 Lodge of Harmony No. 1411 was consecrated in Valparaiso, Chile, the principal port and trading post of the country, dominated at the time by English merchants. It still meets in the same building where it started life, in a side street off one of the main thoroughfares and under the steep hills (cerros) of this rather scruffy but enchanting typical port city. It is the only Lodge under the jurisdiction of UGLE on the West Coast of all the Americas and falls within our District of South America Southern Division, which has its headquarters in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
So, why has it taken so long for the Royal Arch to reach Chile?
Lodge of Harmony was formed in the days before the current convention was agreed between Grand Lodges of the World, that no foreign Grand Lodge should form a lodge under its jurisdiction in a country with a local Grand Lodge already established. By 1872 the Grand Lodge of Chile had already been in existence for 10 years: so their support was needed by the Harmony founders to form an English lodge under the jurisdiction of UGLE, which was duly given.
The Grand Lodge of Chile works the first three degrees under the Ancient & Accepted Scottish Rite, which enables brethren to pass on to ‘higher degrees’ after reaching the final Craft degree of a Master Mason. Under this Rite, the Royal Arch is neither recognised nor required as a completion of the Third Degree, principally as the story of the Royal Arch is covered in ‘higher degrees’, particularly the 14º to 16º, albeit differently. Consequently, in Chile, particularly owing to this difference, there has been long resistance to allowing the very few Chilean lodges (3) that exceptionally practise the Emulation or York rites to attach a Royal Arch chapter to their lodges. Several appeals were made to the Grand Lodge during the 20th Century by these lodges to grant them leave to form Royal Arch chapters, even under foreign jurisdictions. It was not until June 2010 that the Grand Lodge of Chile, acting under the initiative of its outgoing Grand Master, Juan José Oyarzún, eventually passed a decree permitting Chilean lodges that practise the Emulation or York rites to form Royal Arch chapters.
Lodge of Harmony, as an English lodge, has never been under the same restrictions, a fact that was recognised under treaty between our respective Grand Lodges. However, as Harmony owes its formation to support from the Grand Lodge of Chile, lives isolated from other English lodges making inter-visiting only possible with Chilean lodges and consequently has not wanted to risk any potential offence to the Grand Lodge of Chile, with whom UGLE has been in amity since 1862, the Lodge has hitherto refrained from pursuing this course out of respect for Chilean masons. That self-imposed restraint was released with the issue of the decree from the Grand Lodge of Chile last year.
Knowing of the intentions of the Chilean Grand Master and in anticipation of realising the Lodge’s dream, 6 members of Harmony were exalted together into Lomas Chapter 2517 in Buenos Aires in April 2010 with another member, already a RA mason (exalted in London), joining at the same time.
The members of Harmony, supported by the District Grand Superintendent, E Comp Jock Rodger, lost no time in setting about establishing a RA chapter for the Lodge with the objective to be the first in the country to do so, after the issue of the Chilean decree. Having aborted an initial idea to consecrate a new chapter, the decision was taken for expediency to take over an existing chapter from England. As the only member living in England and best placed to make the necessary arrangements, E Comp Nick Bosanquet PDepGDC initiated the process last autumn and with strong support from Metropolitan Grand Chapter and the then Deputy Metropolitan Grand Superintendent, E Comp Charles Grace PGSN, in particular, a struggling London chapter was soon found as a potential candidate for transfer out to Chile.
After hearing the story and attracted by the historic nature of the project, the members of Wandle Chapter No. 2699, persuaded by their charismatic Scribe E, E Comp Alan Linton, readily agreed to the transfer, encouraged by the fact that their Chapter would not now sink into oblivion within just two years of celebrating its Centenary, but play a leading role in establishing the Royal Arch firmly in Chile. On 15th February this year, 14 Companions joined Wandle Chapter from the District of South America Southern Division – 8 from Chile (including E Comp Bosanquet) and 6 from Argentina, including the GS, the 2nd District Grand Principal, the 3rd District Grand Principal, the District GDC and District Scribe E. Meeting in a small chapter room at Clerkenwell Masonic Centre, it was perhaps fortunate that not all of these joining members could attend. The South Americans were represented by E Comp Bosanquet, who was elected Scribe E of the Chapter during this last meeting in London, a very sad occasion for the stoic ‘old’ members. In recognition of and gratitude for their magnanimous generosity, the South Americans subsequently elected all the London members to Honorary Membership.
There then followed a frantic period of sourcing chapter furniture and regalia as none existed in Chile. Following appeals to Provinces by E Comp Bosanquet, many generous Companions responded promptly to the call. Some items could be made up locally, for which copious specifications with supporting photographs from a chapter room set up in Duke Street, St James’s, were sent out to Chile. The most difficult items to find were going to be Banners and Ensigns, as these typically belong to Masonic centres rather than individual chapters, with Robes and Sceptres likely to prove challenging too. Furthermore, everything had to be in Chile well before 16th May, the day set for the first meeting of the Chapter in its new home.
Out of the blue and to enormous relief, through assiduous action by Provincial Grand Officers in Shropshire, Fitz Alan Chapter No.1432 in Oswestry, which had commissioned new Banners and Ensigns in 2010, most generously donated their old set. These were delivered to an exceedingly grateful E Comp Bosanquet by E Comp Mike Parry PPrGSN of Fitz Alan Chapter within days before a large box of kit was shipped out to Chile with everything else acquired from England.
Supreme Grand Chapter presented the Chapter with a fine set of Robes and surplices, whilst a set of long-forgotten Sceptres was discovered still in good condition in Buenos Aires during refurbishment of the District Grand Lodge premises earlier in the year and donated to the Chapter by the District Grand Chapter together with tools and an engraved trowel, the latter a personal gift of the Third District Grand Principal, E Comp Neville Glynn.
The day of the first meeting in Valparaiso fell on a Monday. So, in true South American fashion, the weekend before was fiesta time to celebrate the historic event. Six members of the District flew over from Buenos Aires to join the Harmony brethren for three days of parties, lunches and dinners in Valparaiso and along the coastal resort towns nearby, indulging in copious quantities of Chile’s famous seafood, wines and, of course, pisco sour – pisco being a 40-proof local liqueur made from grape. Between the partying, just enough time was squeezed in with the help of wives, girlfriends and even sons and daughters to provide finishing touches to the furniture and rig the temple for the momentous meeting.
The Masonic Hall in Calle Wagner is owned by Harmony along with two smaller lodges – one American, one German. The building has been ravaged by several earthquakes in its time and was largely rebuilt in the 1970s, like a ‘bunker’, with the help of funding from UGLE, after a particularly violent quake. As a consequence, the building was able to withstand the second most violent earthquake in the country’s history, in February 2010, without suffering too much serious damage. The last of the repairs (to damaged lavatories), again assisted by funds from UGLE, were being completed as the temple was being rigged for the first Chapter meeting. Miraculously, the large temple, with its magnificent entrance columns and painted wooden ceiling of the night sky, has survived these natural disasters and looked magnificent in its new livery as a Royal Arch chapter
The first meeting of Wandle Chapter in Chile conveniently coincided with its annual Installation meeting. Sadly but understandably none of the London members were able to make the long journey out. However, besides the 14 members, 9 guests attended to witness the historic occasion, mostly Chilean RA masons who were members of an Argentine chapter in Mendoza, the wine capital of Argentina just across the Andes from Chile’s Capital City, Santiago.
E Comp Jock Rodger, District Grand Superintendent, accompanied by E Comp Philip Thompson, Second District Grand Principal, and E Comp Neville Glynn, Third District Grand Principal, opened the Chapter soon after 8 in the evening. After important administrative matters to deal with the transfer from London to Valparaiso, a short ceremony was performed to reconfirm the dedication of the temple to include Royal Arch masonry, before installation of the new Principals – E Comps Philip Thompson as MEZ, Neville Glynn as H, and John MacGregor as J. E Comp Nick Bosanquet handed over as Sc E to Comp Francisco Díaz, only to find the Principals with typical local humour appointing him at the end as Steward, a task that he will find difficult to administer from over 7,000 miles away. Other offices were taken by Comps Dragutín Paic as Sc N and Fernando Bórquez as Treasurer, E Comps Dennis Crisp (DGDC) as DC and Ernesto Marcer (DGScE) as Principal Sojourner, Comps Germán Buchheister and Enrique Cánepa as 1st and 2nd Assistant Sojourners, Erwald Finsterbuch as ADC and Kurt Baum as Janitor.
Proceedings were completed by 10:15, when members and their guests, after viewing a display of Wandle Chapter artefacts brought out from England, retired downstairs to the bar with a roaring fire (being winter in the Southern Hemisphere) for Scotch and pisco sours before dinner of traditional Chilean fare and wines. Toasts as usual were not proposed until after midnight.
It is gratifying to see English Freemasonry leading the initiative to establish the Royal Arch properly in Chile. The determination and dedication of the Harmony brethren has enabled this. However, with a lack of experienced companions in Valparaiso, the commitment of the six members from Buenos Aires to fill key offices and enable the Chapter to function is nothing short of heroic, especially without the benefit of an EasyJet or RyanAir in South America.
The Chapter expects most, if not all, MM of the Lodge of Harmony to join and hopes also to attract Chilean masons in the future … but they will have to speak English.
Since this first meeting in Valparaiso, there have been two further meetings with double Exaltation ceremonies at each. The first of these, in early July, took place soon after the volcanic eruption in Southern Chile cast a dense ash cloud across the Argentine halting flights out of Buenos Aires. This prevented the Argentine members of the Chapter from flying across to Chile for that meeting. Without these senior experienced companions the meeting would have had to be abandoned. The MEZ of the Chapter sent a message to the Chilean members - “maybe The Almighty is testing us to see if our Chapter is strong enough; look for Plan B”. An SOS was sent to the Chilean companions of the Mendoza chapter, who had attended the May meeting, for help. In a display of true Masonic fraternity they appeared in force to assist - in itself another historic moment for RA Masonry in Chile. Since these events these Chilean companions have been given permission by the Grand Lodge of Chile to move the meetings of their Chapter from Argentina to Chile.
Overall a great result!