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Royal Arch Degree

The early history of this Degree is involved in obscurity, but in the opinion of the late Brother W. J. Hughan, its origin may be ascribed to the fourth decade of the eighteenth century.

The earliest known mention of it comes in a contemporary amount of the meeting of a Lodge, No. 21, at Youghal, in Ireland, in 1743, when the members walked in procession and the Master was preceded by "the Royal Arch carried by two Excellent Masons' (see Excellent Master). Brother W. J. Chetwode Crawley published in his Caementaria Hibernica (Fasciculus 1, 1895) the following reference: "The earliest known occurrence of the words Royal Arch is met with in the report of the procession of the Youghal Lodge on Saint Johns Day, December 27, 1743."

The next mention of it is in Doctor Dassigny's A Serious and Impartial Enquiry into the cause of the present Decay of Freemasonry in the Kingdom of Ireland, published in 1744, in which the writer says that he is informed that in York "is held an Assembly of Master Masons under the title of Royal Arch Masons, who, as their qualifications and excellencies are superior to others, receive a larger pay than working Masons."

He also speaks of: A certain propagator of a false system some few years ago, in this city (Dublin), who imposed upon several very worthy men, under a pretense of being Master of the Royal Arch, which he asserted he hail brought with him from the city of York, and that the beauties of the Craft did principally consist in the knowledge of this valuable piece of Masonry. However, he carried on his scheme for several months, and many of the learned and wise were his followers, till, at length, his fallacious art was discovered by a Brother of probity and wisdom, who had some small space before attained that excellent part of Masonry in London, and plainly proved that his doctrine was false: whereupon the Brethren justly despised him, and ordered him to be excluded from all benefits of the Craft, and although some of the Fraternity have expressed an uneasiness at this matter being kept a secret from them, since they had already passed through the usual Degrees of probation, I cannot help being of opinion that they have no right to any such benefit until they m eke a proper application, and are received with due formality, and as it is an organized body of men who have passed the chair, and given undeniable proofs of their skill in architecture, it cannot be treated with too much reverence, and more especially since the character of the present members of that particular Lodge are untainted, and their behavior judicious and unexceptionable, so that there cannot be the least hinge to hang a doubt on, but that they are most excellent Masons.

This passage makes it plain that the Royal Arch Degree ovals conferred in London before 1744, say about 1740, and would suggest that York was considered to be its place of origin. Also as Laurence Dermott became a Royal Arch Mason in 174X it is clear that he could not have been, as is sometimes asserted, the inventor of the Rite.

Our old friend, Brother William Tait of Belfast, Ireland, promptly advised us when he made the happy discovery of what to this time is the earliest reference to the Royal Arch in a Lodge Minute Book, but the earliest Minute Book of the Degree actually being conferred is that of the Fredericksburg Lodge in Virginia on December 22, 1753. Vernon Lodge No. 123, Coleraine, County Derry, was warranted by the Grand dodge of Ireland May 8, 1741. Two of the old Minute Books of this Lodge, running from 1749-83, have been preserved. In the first of these under date of April 16, 1752, we find: "At this Lodge room.

Thos. Blair proposed Samson Moore a Master & Royal Arch Mason to be admitted a member of our Lodge." Hitherto the earliest reference to the Decree in a Minute Book was the Grand Committee of the Ancient, September 2, 1752; while the earliest Minute of the Degree actually being conferred is still that of the Fredericksburg Lodge, December 22, 1753. The second book of Vernon Lodge contains a record dating the Degree to an even earlier period than 1752. This occurs in a list of the members of a Lodge drawn up in 1767, where after each name is put the date at which he was made Royal Arch. The earliest date given of a Royal Arch reception is March 11, 1745, and the latest June 25, 1765.

Brother John Heron Lepper, contributing this information to Miscellanea Latomorum (1925, volume ix, pages 138-9) says: "A glance at the map will show how far Coleraine lies from Dublin, and to find the Royal Arch degree known in the former place within a year of Dassigny's famous reference in 1744, makes one wonder whether it could have been such a recent introduction into Ireland as his text claims."

(See also pages 99-100, volume 1, History, Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Ireland, by Brothers J. H. Lepper and Philip Crossle, and Transactions, Quatuor Coronati Lodge, 1923, volume xxxvi, pages 1934, where Brother Tait, among other items of interest relating to these records, points out with good reason that "even at this early date the Royal Arch must have been widely spread when we find it practiced in places so far apart as York and Virginia--Lonclon and Stirling--Youghall in the South and Coleraine in the North of Ireland.") A mention of the Degree occurs in the Minutes of the Ancient Grand Lodge for March 4, 1752, when A formal complaint was made by several Brethren against Thos. Phealon and John Macky, better known as " leg of mutton Masons " for clandestinely making Masons for the mean consideration of a leg of mutton for dinner or supper. Upon examining some Brothers whom they pretended to have made Royal Arch men the parties had not the least idea of that secret. The Grand Secretary had examined Macky, and stated that he had not the least idea or knowledge of Royal Arch Masonry but instead thereof he had told the people he had deceived a long story about twelve white marble stones, &c., &e., and that the rainbow was the Royal arch, with many other absurdities equally foreign and ridiculous.

The earliest known record of the Degree being actually conferred is a Minute of the Fredericksburg Lodge, Virginia, United States of America, stating that on December 22, 1753, three Brethren were raised to the Degree of Royal Arch Mason (a facsimile of this entry is in the Transactions, Quatuor Coronati Lodge, volume iv, page 222, also in Brother Hughan's Origin of the English Rite of Freemasonry), while the earliest records traced in England are of the year 1758, during which year several Brethren were "raised to the degree of Royal Arch" in a Lodge meeting at the Crown at Bristol

This Lodge was a Modern one and its records therefore make it abundantly clear that the Royal Arch Degree was not by any means confined to the .Ancient, though it was not officially recognized by the Grand Lodge of the Moderns, whose Secretary wrote in 1759, "Our Society is neither Arch, Royal Arch or Ancient." However, at the Union of Ancient and Moderns, in 1813, it was declared that "pure Ancient Masonry consists of three degrees, and no more, namely, those of the Entered Apprentice, the Fellow Craft, and the Master Mason, including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch."

This lends color to the idea that at some time or other the Royal Arch had formed part of the Master Mason's Degree, though when and by whom it was separated from it no one has yet discovered, for we may dismiss as utterly uncorroborated by any proof the assertion that Ramsay was the fabricator of the Royal Arch Degree, and equally unsupported is the often made assertion that Dunckerley invented it, though he undoubtedly played a very active part in extending it.

The late Brother W. J. Hughan, in his Origin of the English Rite of Freemasonry (1909, page 90), favors "the theory that a word was placed in the Royal Arch prominently which was previously given in the sections of the Third Degree and known 'as the ancient word of a Master Mason," and considers that "according to this idea, that which was once lost, and then found, in the Third Degree, in one of the sections, was subsequently under the new regime discovered in the 'Royal Arch,' only much extended, and under most exalted and dignified surroundings."

In England, Scotland, and the United States, the legend of the Degree is the same, though varying in some of the details, but the ceremony in Ireland differs much, for it has nothing to do with the rebuilding of the Temple as narrated by Ezra, but with the repairing of the Temple by Josiah, the three chief Officers, or Principals, being the King, Josiah, the Priest, Hilkiah, and the Scribe, Shaphan, not as in England, Zerubbabel, Haggai, and Jeshua, or as in America, High Priest, King, and Scribe.

At one time in England only Past, Masters were eligible for the degree, and this led to a system called Passing the Chair, by which a sort of Degree of Past Master was conferred upon Brethren who had never really served in the chair of a Lodge; now a Master Mason who has been so for four weeks is eligible for Exaltation.

In Scotland, Royal Arch Masonry is not officially recognized by the Grand Lodge, though the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons for Scotland was formed in 1817.

Dr. W. J. Chetwode Crawley, in his Caementaria Hibernica, Fasciculus I, says of the Royal Arch Degree, "It is not is. separate entity, but the completing part of a Masonic legend, a constituent ever present in the compound body, even before it developed into a Degree . . . if the Royal Arch fell into desuetude, the cope-stone would be removed, and the building left obviously incomplete."

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