In the final part of this series we examine where the Holy Royal Arch may have originated.
Neville Barker Cryer, tells us that from their earliest period, Operative Masons were always divided into two groups, Straight or Square Masons and Round or Arch Masons. The reason for this was that the straight work needed less skill and therefore commanded less wages than that of the Round or Arch man whose ability to make arches, bridges and all kind of curved work commanded more skill and therefore more wages.
The Square mason obviously used the square, to check the accuracy of his work, while the Arch mason was given the compasses to assist him with making curves. The colour of the Square mason was blue, whilst the Arch mason was red. And we are told these colours are clearly illustrated on the original coat of arms of the Society of the Masons granted by Edward VI.
But this does not help any further with seeking to discover where the Holy Royal Arch originated. Like England, we know that in Ireland, the moral teachings of Masonry have been in existence since at least 1507. That was the date inscribed on the square that was found in Limerick when excavating the city’s Baal Bridge, which flows over the River Shannon. Although corroded with time the inscription reads:
I will strive to live with love & care
Upon the level. By the square
In fact, we can go back even further to one of the traditional heroes of Celtic mythology, Goban Soar, the stone mason. In Irish the word Soar, denote both “Free” and “A mason”. And legend tells us that it was the Goban, that built Ireland’s famous round towers, but that’s another story.
But in 1751, you will no doubt recall, a rival Grand Lodge was formed in London, calling itself the Grand Lodge of England according to the Old Institutions. The new Grand Lodge accused the first or Premier Grand Lodge of having introduced many innovations and claimed that they alone preserved the ancient customs and practices of Masonry. They dubbed the older body, the “Moderns” and they assumed the title of the “Antients”.
One of the innovations the “Moderns” had introduced was the reversing of the passwords and signs of the first and second degrees so as to confuse irregular masons that tried to gain access to regular Lodges. Another innovation that offended the “Antients” was to turn their aprons upside down so as the gentlemen would not look like mechanics.
Now the Brethren that formed this rival Lodge were looked upon, for many years as traitors, schismatics and men that had not only set out to destroy the Premier Grand Lodge, but were in violation of their Masonic obligation. However, in his book Masonic Facts and Fictions, Henry Sadler was able to prove that in the main, the founders of that rival Grand Lodge were in fact Irishmen, temporarily resident in London and who had not been made welcome in English Masonic circles. Humble men, whose only wish was to practice the Pure and Antient Freemasonry in the form they had known in their native country, under their own Grand Lodge, to whom they owed their allegiance.
Now you might well ask what this has got to do with our subject this evening, again I refer to Harry Mendoza. The Premier Grand Lodge did not recognise the Royal Arch as part of Freemasonry, though some of their members were exalted in a separate Chapters. However, the Grand Lodge of the Antients argued that the Royal Arch was the fourth degree and could be worked in a lodge under the authority of the lodge warrant. You will notice the four principal banners are represented on their seal.
But a rather unfortunate incident occurred. In 1766, some members owing allegiance to the Premier Grand Lodge set up the first Grand Chapter and exalted as the First Principal of the Order, Lord Blayney, the then Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge. This caused problems because it was felt such an action would imply recognition of the Order, so somebody tampered with the Charter of Compact, the document setting up the Chapter, and altered the date to 1767 and put the letter P in front of the words Grand Master, implying that at the time of his exaltation Lord Blayney was a Past Grand Master and by this date they claimed he acted in a private and not an official capacity.
In respect of the ritual used at the time, John Hamill tell us:
“Surprisingly, little is known of the early Royal Arch Ritual. Some French manuscripts said to date from the 1760s give the skeleton of a ceremony centreing on the discovery of a vault containing the Sacred Name, but the earliest English manuscript ritual dates from as late as 1780. Nor can we rely on printed exposures, for the Royal Arch did not attract the same publicity and curiosity as the Craft and the earliest printed (Royal Arch) exposure is Richard Carlile’s of 1825.”
To return to the Irish connection, another interesting point is that many Masonic students honestly believe that the Holy Royal Arch developed and was first practiced, in Ireland. In 1743, we read in an Irish newspaper that “…the royal arch (was) carried by two excellent masons…” as part of a St John’s Day procession though the Town of Youghal, Co. Cork.
However, there is more controversy here when Fifield Dassigny’s wrote the following in his book “A serious and impartial enquiry into the cause of the present decay of Free-masonry in the Kingdom of Ireland”, published in Dublin in 1744:
“…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 had 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 this 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.”
But whatever the intrigue, recognition of the Royal Arch was essential to the Union of the two Grand Lodges and this was achieved in 1818 by the somewhat ambiguous wording of the Preliminary Declaration of the Book of Constitution, which states…
“…pure Antient masonry consists of three degrees and no more, namely the entered apprentice, the fellowcraft, and the master mason, including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch…”
In conclusion, like the Craft, the origin of the Holy Royal Arch has been lost and we have no records to give it the antiquity or history we would like, but I would encourage all Master Masons to consider membership of this beautiful Order and complete the cycle of what is considered, under the English Constitution and being “Pure and antient Masonry”
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