Friday, October 29, 2010


The Holy Royal Arch is a degree of Freemasonry. It is present in all main masonic systems, though in some it is part of 'mainstream' Freemasonry, and in others it is an 'additional' degree.
In the United States, Canada, Brazil, Germany, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Paraguay, Philippines, and parts of Scotland & Western Australia the Holy Royal Arch degree forms part of the York Rite system of additional degrees. In England it is a stand alone degree, but mainstream, being defined as part of "pure ancient Masonry" along with the three Craft degrees; a candidate for Exaltation into an English Holy Royal Arch Chapter is required to have been a Master Mason for four weeks or more. In Scotland the candidate must also be a Mark Master Mason, a degree which can be conferred within the Chapter if required. Once exalted a candidate becomes a companion, with Royal Arch meetings being described as a convocation.
The exact origins of the Holy Royal Arch are unknown except that it dates back to the mid 18th century. 

The precise history of the Royal Arch is unclear, but from historical documentation it can be shown that Royal Arch existed in London, York and Dublin in the 1730s. At that time the degree was an appendage of the Master Mason's degree, but as with the Craft Freemasonry of the time, the Antients and Moderns held very different views on the Royal Arch. The Antients then regarded it as a fourth degree and conferred it as such together with various other degrees within their Lodges, maintaining that a Lodge Charter or Warrant empowered them to carry out any Masonic work.
The Moderns, however, regarded it as being separate from Craft Freemasonry and as early as 1766 constituted the Grand and Royal Chapter of the Royal Arch of Jerusalem, parent of the present Supreme Grand Chapter.

The First Grand Chapter
Earliest records indicate that HRA members of the premier Grand Lodge of England formed the first Grand Chapter by signing the Charter of Compact at its meeting on 22 July 1766. The Grand Chapter became The Excellent Grand and Royal Chapter of the Royal Arch of Jerusalem, the first Grand Chapter in the world.

The Oldest Chapter
According to Supreme Grand Chapter of England, the oldest surviving Chapter in Royal Arch masonry is Chapter of Friendship No 257 (originally number 3), in Portsmouth, warranted in 1769.

Orders and Degrees
The Holy Royal Arch is affiliated to many different constitutions worldwide, many of which place different emphasis on the order.

England, Europe and Australasia: A Holy Royal Arch Chapter is required to be sponsored by a Craft Lodge and bears the same number (and in almost all cases the same name); however, the HRA is a separate Order from Craft Freemasonry. Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter is governed from the headquarters of the United Grand Lodge of England, but the administration remains distinct - though many officers of the Grand Lodge hold the equivalent office in the Grand Chapter. In these countries the Order of the Royal Arch consists of a single 'Royal Arch' degree, although there are three related ceremonies, one for the installation into each of the three Principals' chairs. As a compromise, at the union of two rival Grand Lodges in 1813 (one of which considered the Royal Arch a 'Fourth Degree', whilst the other almost totally ignored it) English Freemasonry recognised the Royal Arch as part of "pure, ancient masonry", but stated that it was not an additional degree, but merely the "completion of the third degree". However, this was merely a compromise position, and one which was in opposition to normal masonic practice, and consequently on 10 November 2004 (after much deliberation by a special working party) the Grand Chapter (at its regular meeting in London) overturned this compromise position, and declared the Royal Arch to be a separate degree in its own right, albeit the natural progression from the third degree, and the completion of "pure, ancient Masonry", which consists of the three 'Craft' degrees, and the Royal Arch. Words in the ritual which propounded the earlier compromise position were removed, by mandatory regulation. The English system of Royal Arch Masonry is found in most European states (outside Scandinavia, which has a unique system), and is currently being introduced to many eastern European states, including Russia and Serbia. 

Scotland: The degree is conferred in a Royal Arch Chapter which is within a wholly different administrative structure (the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Scotland). Due to a difference in ritual, Royal Arch Masons exalted in England may not attend Scottish Royal Arch Chapters without completing the Scottish exaltation ceremony. Before receiving the Holy Royal Arch Degree the Candidate must first have the Mark Degree and the Excellent Masters Degree. However, those Exalted in Scotland may attend Chapter in England, or indeed any Chapter, provided it be in Amity. Although English Royal Arch masons may also hold the Mark Degree, it is not guaranteed; the Excellent Master Degree is not practiced in England.

Organisational Structure
Chapters are ruled over by three Principals, who conjointly rule the Chapter, sitting together in the east of the assembly.

Chapters in England are grouped as either a Metropolitan area or Provinces (based on the old Counties), and Chapters overseas are grouped in Districts. Metropolitan, Provincial, and District Grand Chapters are ruled over by a Grand Superintendent who is appointed by the 'First Grand Principal' (see below) as his personal representative for the particular area. The Grand Superintendent is usually assisted by a Deputy, and always rules conjointly with a Second Provincial Grand Principal and a Third Provincial Grand Principal (the word 'Provincial' being replaced with the word 'Metropolitan' in a Metropolitan Area such as London, or the word 'District' in an overseas area controlled from England).

The Supreme Grand Chapter is ruled over from London by three Grand Principals, with a Pro First Grand Principal when the First Grand Principal is a Royal Prince, as is currently the case.

Chapter Officers
In addition to the three Principals, who rule conjointly, a Holy Royal Arch Chapter has elected and appointed officers with individual responsibilities within the Chapter. Similar offices exist at the Supreme Grand Chapter (national) level, and also at the intermediate level (Metropolitan, Provincial, or District), with appropriate prefixes to the titles.
  • Zerubbabel - Prince of Jerusalem
  • Haggai - the Prophet
  • Joshua - the High Priest (Josiah in Bristol and Irish Chapters)
  • Scribe Ezra
  • Scribe Nehemiah
  • Treasurer
  • Director of Ceremonies
  • Principal Sojourner
  • 1st Assistant Sojourner
  • 2nd Assistant Sojourner
  • Assistant Director of Ceremonies
  • Organist
  • Steward (there may be several Stewards)
  • Janitor

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