Royal Arch Masonry - Development of The Royal Arch Degrees

Development of The Royal Arch Degrees

The actual founding of Royal Arch Masonry is unknown. Until 1797, Lodges performed the Chapter degrees, as well as some others that are now more familiarly part of the Knights Templar degrees, such as Order of the Red Cross and the Knights Templar degree.

The Royal Arch degree's earliest, undisputed appearance is in Ireland and it was Irish Freemasons, and the Antients Grand Lodge in England, who championed it. According to Lodge No. 21’s records, the “Royal Arch” was carried in a procession by “two excellent Masons” through Youghal, Ireland, on December 27, 1743. Similarly, in Fifield Dassigny’s “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, it is recorded that: …a certain propagator of a false system some few years ago in this city 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. The Royal Arch proved very popular. In 1749, the Grand Lodge of Ireland issued warrants to Lodges 190 and 198 to establish “Royal Arch Lodges”. To this day, Royal Arch chapters (as these lodges were later renamed) are attached to, though worked separately from, Irish Craft lodges. - ref A Short History of the Grand Lodge of Ireland by Br. Robert C. Blackburn

In America, Fredericksburg Lodge in Virginia lists a conferral of the Royal Arch degree on December 22, 1753. There are Chapters noted as giving certain degrees as far back as 1769 in Massachusetts (St. Andrew's Royal Arch Chapter, Boston, MA, then known as Royall Arch Lodge), where the first Knights Templar degree was also conferred. Through a report compiled by the Committee on History and Research appointed by the Grand Chapter of Massachusetts in 1953 and 1954, it was found that St. Andrew's Royal Arch Chapter was the oldest constituted Chapter in the Western Hemisphere, having been officially constituted April 9, 1769, though the records implied that the Chapter had been working prior to that date, and perhaps as early as 1762. The report also states that it is unknown whether the Fredericksburg lodge in Virginia conferred only the Royal Arch degree or the entire series of degrees.

The April 30, 1793 minutes of St. Andrew's Royal Arch Chapter state that the so-called Excellent degree may have become the Past Master Degree, and that a similar degree by that name was conferred in 1790 by King Cyrus Chapter in Newburyport, MA. There was also a "Super Excellent" degree that simply disappeared from the St. Andrew's minutes after December 21, 1797, and it was postulated that it may have become the Most Excellent Master degree, first noted in the same minutes on February 21, 1798.

The Past Master Degree was already in existence by 1797, and appears in a few monitors of the era: it is one of the four degrees in the Webb Monitor (1797) and appears in Jeremy Cross' monitor in 1826.

The Most Excellent Master Degree is considered American in origin, although it has been postulated by Denslow and Turnbull that it was merely a rearrangement of preexisting material. They state that the first mention of it by name is when it was conferred on William S. Davis on August 28, 1769 in St. Andrew's Royal Arch Lodge, and that the degrees came from lodges originating from the Irish Constitution. Similarities between this degree and material in the 19° in the Early Grand Rite of Scotland are also enumerated upon, and they conclude that the degree is from that Rite.

As for the Royal Arch Degree, Turnbull and Denslow contend that "It is the most widely known and talked about degree in the Masonic system" because it had been part of the third degree until the formation of the United Grand Lodge of England. However, its age can only be guessed at, and the first working of it was at the aforementioned Fredericksburg, Virginia. Denslow and Turnbull also quote earlier Masonic historian Robert Freke Gould's assertion from documentation that the Royal Arch existed in Youghal (in County Cork, Ireland), some time prior to 1743. Dr. Fifield D'Assigny also wrote of it in Ireland in 1744.

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Other articles related to "development of the royal arch degrees, royal, royal arch degree, degree":

Development of The Royal Arch Degrees - Royal Arch Masonry in Canada
... Royal Arch Masonry in Canada, differs slightly from that explained above from an American perspective ... However it should be noted that recent changes to the Holy Royal Arch Degree in the UK, did not necessarily occur in Canada ... In most Chapters in Canada the Past Master degree is not worked, there are only a few exceptions ...

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