The York Rite is one of the
appendant bodies of Freemasonry in which a Master Mason may proceed
to supplement and amplify the Blue Lodge degrees, affording
historical background on the work and meaning of Freemasonry.
The York Rite takes its name from the old English city of York.
The York Rite is not a religion in itself, it does, however, develop
themes based on the Medieval Crusades.
The York Rite confers degrees
beyond the Blue Lodge's three degrees. In the York
Rite, A Master Mason may become a member of three bodies that
consists of nine additional degrees: Chapter - Mark Master,
Past Master, Most Excellent Master, and Royal Arch Mason; Cryptic
- Royal Master, Select Master, and Super Excellent Master;
Chivalric Orders - Illustrious Order of the Red Cross, Order of
Malta and the Order of the Temple. . In none of these is
any memorization required to advance from one degree to another.
There are many easily learned parts that any interested Mason may
acquire and participate in the conferring of the work. In the
York Rite, most of the work is by a cast of characters made up to
portray more vividly the message and the cast is robed to add to the
impressiveness of the lessons.
Many believe the Sublime Degree of Master Mason to be
the ultimate degree of Freemasonry and that all others are added and
explanatory. Most students of Freemasonry agree that the story
of the Craft as presented in the three degrees is incomplete and
that the degrees offered in the York Rite of Freemasonry complete
the story and answer many of the questions in the mind of the newly
made Master Mason.
The York Legend
The oldest document that refers
to ancient Freemasonry is the Regius Poem, or Halliwell Manuscript.
James O. Halliwell discovered an ancient manuscript in the
archives of the British Museum in 1838. Scientists have
concluded from the type of parchment, language, and lettering that
this document was written in approximately 1390 A.D. The poem
consists of 794 lines of Old “English verse and covers several
subjects, most directly applicable to Freemasonry. While this
manuscript was probably written in the 14th century, it
refers to a period of Masonic history in England in the late 10th
century. It relates the Legend of York, which follows below
and is the basis for the prominence the city of York has occupied in
Masonic lore since the first millennium. Regulations for the
government of the craft are included in the poem, as are fifteen
articles and fifteen points dealing with ethical, moral and
spiritual responsibilities of the ancient craftsmen. These are
as applicable to us today as they were 1000 years ago.
Athelstan, the grandson of
Alfred the Great, ruled England from 924 to 940 A.D. He
completed the subjection of the minor kingdoms in England, begun by
his grandfather, and has been hailed as the first King of all
England. The Regius poem and other ancient legends relate that
Athelstan was a great patron of Masonry, and that he constructed
many abbeys, monasteries, castles, and fortresses. He studied
Geometry and imported learned men in these arts. To preserve
order in the work and correct transgressors, the king issued a
Charter o the Masons to hold a yearly assembly at York. He is
also reputed to have made many Masons. The legends proceed to
relate that Athelstan appointed his brother, Edwin, as Grand Master
and that the first Grand Lodge was held at York in 926. The
accounts state that the constitutions of English Masonry were there
established and were based upon a number of old documents written in
Greek, Latin and other languages. Aside from the direct
implications of this legend, it is interesting to note that the King
and Prince were patrons of Masonry and as such were probably
speculative, rather than operative members of the craft. The
fact that this concept prevailed as early as 1390 A.D., and possibly
earlier, makes is easier to account for the fact that so many
speculative members of high rank joined the craft in the 17th
and 18th centuries.
What is the Chapter or Royal Arch Masonry?
The Royal Arch Chapter is the second of the four
York Rite Bodies of Masonry (the first is the Symbolic Lodge, where
the first three Degrees of Masonry are conferred.) Chapters confer
four degrees: Mark Master, Virtual Past Master, Most Excellent
Master, and Royal Arch.
Royal Arch Freemasonry provides an outstanding
opportunity for Master Masons desirous of Further Light in Masonry
to explore some of the deeper mysteries of the Craft. The four
degrees of the Chapter are truly some of the most profound and
impressive within the whole Family of Freemasonry.
Most impressive of all is the Royal Arch Degree
itself. It is here that the True Word of a Master Mason is
rediscovered in a beautiful ceremony that takes the candidates
through the destruction of King Solomon’s Temple, the seventy years
of the Babylonian Captivity, and the ultimate return to the Holy
Land to help, aid, and assist in the rebuilding of the Temple of the
So important is the Royal Arch to Craft
Freemasonry that at the Act of Union in 1813, the United Grand Lodge
of England issued the pronouncement:
"Pure Ancient Freemasonry consists of but three
degrees and three degrees only, namely, that of Entered Apprentice,
Fellowcraft, and Master Mason, including the Holy Royal Arch."
Every Master Mason aspires to attain the summit of
Ancient Craft Masonry. Many feel with regret that it is not
practicable for them to share in all the light shed by the several
bodies, but all wish most earnestly to receive all the light and
instruction which pertains to the Ancient Craft-the origin and
foundation of the Institution.
In the life of every Master Mason, moreover, there comes a time when
he realizes that he has not yet attained that goal, that he Is not
yet in possession of all the rights and light of a Master Mason, as
these were known and understood by his ancient brethren.
The preparatory Degrees conferred in the Chapter
are those of Mark Master Mason, Past Master and Most Excellent
Master. All are beautiful, all are interesting, all teach
valuable lessons, but the Most Sublime Degree of Royal Arch Mason is
more august, sublime and important than all that precedes it.
It brings to light many essentials of the Craft contained ONLY in
this Most Sublime Degree and explains many cryptic passages of the
first three Degrees incomprehensible to the Master Mason.
Without knowledge of these the Masonic character cannot be complete.
It has been said that "The Royal Arch stands as the rainbow of
promise in the Ritual; it stands as the promise of the resurrection;
of that which was lost and that which shall be recovered."
All who are Exalted to that Most Sublime Degree, particularly by
those who are seeking ·to complete their Masonic education; will
justly appreciate the value of Royal Arch Masonry. It reveals
the full light of Ancient Craft masonry, presents it as a complete
system in accordance with the original plan and confers at last the
rights and light of a Master Mason in fact as well as in name.
It truly leads to a fuller understanding of the purposes and spirit
of Freemasonry, for standing upon this towering summit we are able
for the first time to perceive the completeness of the Ancient Craft
and to understand how all its forms and ceremonies, from the Entered
Apprentice to the Master Mason's Degree, are the preparation for the
final goal, the Most Sublime Degree of Royal Arch Mason.
The Mark Master Degree
History of the Mark Master Origin
of Mark Masonry cannot be doubted. Operatively considered, and
even Speculative, it has enjoyed special prominence for centuries,
records of the custom of the adoption of Marks by theoretical
brethren according to existing records dating back to the 8th day of
June, A. D. 1600.
Mark Masonry formerly consisted of the degrees of Mark Man and Mark
Master Mason. These degrees, in the sense given to the word
"degree," were wholly unknown to the Operative Freemasons of the
Middle Ages. They were undoubtedly invented and put into
working order in Scotland. That they were founded upon the
custom established by the Operative Freemasons of Cologne and
Strasburg and later introduced into other countries of Europe, in
requiring the selection and registration of Marks, is clear.
There is little doubt that both the degrees were invented in
Scotland. Just when a special and elaborate ceremony (with a
distinctive legend) was first used it is not possible to decide.
The following quotation from Graham Mss. Dated 1726 but which
scholars believe is written in a style at least 50 years before is
"-now it is holden forth by tradition that there was a tumult at
this Errection which should happened betwixt the Laborers and masons
about wages and for to call me all and to make all things easy the
wise king should have said be all of you contented for you shall be
payed all alike yet give a signe to the Masons not known to the
Laborers and who could make that signe at the paying place was to
bayed as masons the Laborers not knowing thereof was payed as
foresaid- this might have yet if it was so were to Judge very
Mercyfull on the words of the wise King Solomon for it is to be
understood and also believed that the wise king meant according to
every mans deserving-"
The story of the Temple origin of the Mark Master Degree is a myth,
as is the legend of the Third degree. From all we know about
the time of origin of the Mark Degree, we are led to believe that it
was invented or fabricated later the Third or Master Masons Degree.
The Mark was and is directly associated with both Operative and
Speculative Freemasonry and from time immemorial it has been the
custom for the skilled craftsman to chisel his distinctive Mark on
stones fashioned by him, so as to indicate his workmanship.
The existence of proprietary marks on European Buildings may be
traced as far back as the 10th century. The Greek artists who
introduced the Byzantine style of architecture, for which the
Freemasons afterwards substituted the Gothic, probably brought them
over at that time.
But it was not until the 15th century that we were furnished with
any historical evidence that there was an organized systems of laws
by which the imparting, owning, and using of these marks was
The Mark degree is important because it is the connecting link
between operative and speculative Masonry. As early as 1599 we
find that non-operative Masons were admitted to operative Mark
Lodges. What this ceremony consisted of no one knows.
There may have been some moral teachings connected with it.
The records hover; merely show the payment of a fee and the
registering of a Mark.
The early history of the degree in what is now the United States is
very similar to that in the other countries and is very meager.
It was conferred in Lodges as part of the Lodge work as was the Most
Excellent and the Royal Arch. Apparently Lodges worked the
degrees as an inherent right and not under the authority of a
Ohio was no different in its practices than the rest of the country.
Almost as soon as Marietta was settled, American Union Lodge was
opened. This Lodge was originally a military lodge warranted
by the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts in 1776. After the close
of the war and the dissolution of the Army the warrant was in
possession of the Master, Jonathan Heart, who carried it to Fort
Harmar, near Marietta, where he was stationed. Under this
warrant American Union Lodge was opened in Marietta in 1790.
Unlike many of the early Masonic Bodies American Union Lodge did
keep fairly complete minutes, which have been preserved. From
these minutes we learn the American Union Chapter, under the aegis
of American Union Lodge, began holding meetings in 1792 and
conferred all of the degrees although the minutes refer to them as
steps rather than degrees and do not mention them by name until
1797. The degrees were the Past Master, Mark Master, Most
Excellent Master and Royal Arch.
With the organization in 1797 of what eventually became known as the
General Grand Chapter and with the forming of Grand Chapters, the
degrees of Mark, Past, Most Excellent and Royal Arch came under the
jurisdiction of Chapters operating independently of Symbolic Lodges.
The Degree of Mark Master is a continuation of the
lessons taught in the 2nd (Fellowcraft) Degree. The Degree
teaches that although we are often misunderstood, underrated and
traduced, there is ONE who will make the rejected stone the Head of
The Mark Master Degree is based on the ceremony of
registering a craftsman's mark in those years distinguished by
operative craft masons and their temple building. Some
scholars say it may be one of the earliest Masonic degrees.
The candidate for the Mark Master Degree
represents a humble laborer in the quarries of King Solomon’s
Temple. This degree expands on the lessons of charity first
introduced in the Entered Apprentice Degree and developed further in
the Master Mason Degree. It also encourages the thoughtful
student of the Craft to be true to his heart and be ever willing to
stand up for what he knows to be right, even if that position is
degree of Mark Master teaches us to discharge our several duties
punctually and with precision, the duty of assisting a distressed
brother is forcibly illustrated. Historically the degree
illustrates the process by which the work on the temple accomplished
by each craftsman was identified.
Past Masters Degree
The Degree of Virtual Past Master teaches that
before one can rule, he must learn to obey; before one can govern
others, he must learn to govern himself. This Degree is part
of the Royal Arch Chapter because originally only Past Masters were
allowed to receive the Degree of Royal Arch. This Degree
therefore fulfills that requirement.
The Past Master Degree came into being because the
degree of Royal Arch was originally conferred on actual Past Masters
only. The (virtual) Past Master Degree was instituted to make
it possible for all worthy Brethren to receive the Royal Arch
Degree. This degree confers no actual status as a Past Master
upon the candidate, but it qualifies him for admission to the Royal
Arch. The first record of its conferral is found in England in
Past Master degree came into being because originally the Symbolic
Lodge only on actual Past Masters conferred the degree of Royal
Arch. This restriction prevented many worthy brethren from
receiving the full information of the degrees of Freemasonry.
The degree of Past Master was instituted in order to conform to
tradition and to make it possible for worthy brethren to receive the
Royal Arch degree. The conferring of this degree by a Chapter
gives a brother no rights as a Past Master in a Symbolic Lodge
unless he has actually served as Master of his Lodge. The Most
Excellent Master degree dramatizes the historical incidents of the
completion and dedication of King Solomon’s Temple. This
degree emphasizes the opportunity and obligation of Companions to
disseminate light and knowledge to less informed brethren.
The Most Excellent Master Degree
The Degree of Most Excellent Master is a very
beautiful and dramatic Degree. Here the Temple on which work
was halted so dramatically in the 3rd (Master Mason) Degree is
The Most Excellent Master Degree is a product of
American innovation. It was conferred in a Royal Arch Chapter
as early as 1783 in Middletown, Conn. It is a most spectacular
degree, and the pageantry with which it is conferred makes it one of
the most colorful in all Freemasonry. It is the only degree
that brings forcibly to our attention the completion and dedication
of King Solomon's Temple; the very idea upon which all Masonic
symbolism has been based.
The Royal Arch Degree
The Degree of Royal Arch is the capstone of the
Craft Degrees. It is concerned with the discovery of a crypt
and the value of the resulting discoveries to the Craft. In
this Degree, that which was lost in the 3rd (Master Mason) Degree is
The Royal Arch Degree is the climax of Ancient
Craft Masonry and Masonic Symbolism. It has been described as
"the root and marrow of Freemasonry." It is the story of
Jewish History during some of its darkest hours. Jerusalem and
the Holy temple are destroyed, and the people are being held captive
as slaves in Babylon. Here the candidate joins with his
Brethren as they are set free from captivity to return home and
engage in the noble and glorious work of rebuilding the City of
Jerusalem and the Temple of God. It is during this rebuilding
that they make a discovery that brings to light the greatest of all
treasures in Masonry - the long-lost True Word of a Master Mason.
All who are Exalted to that most sublime degree,
particularly by those who are seeking to complete their Masonic
education, will appreciate the value of Royal Arch Masonry. It
reveals the full light of Ancient Craft Masonry, presenting it as a
complete and unified system. No other degrees of Freemasonry
are so intimately linked with the Blue Lodge or have so ancient and
noble a history.
The Royal Arch Degree is set in a later period in
the history of the Jewish People. Events of the objects of the
Jewish people were preserved, discovered and restored. This
degree is the culmination of Ancient Craft Masonry for here we find
that which was lost-the word for which you were given a substitute
in the Master Mason degree is imparted to you in solemn and
These Degrees continue the
education, which the Master Mason received in the Symbolic Lodge.
Any Master Mason who wishes "Further Light in Masonry" should
What is the Council or Cryptic Masonry?
The Council of Cryptic Masonry is the third of the
York Rite bodies. A man must have completed the Symbolic
Degrees and have taken the Degree of Royal Arch before he can become
a Cryptic Mason. Cryptic Masonry consists of three Degrees:
Royal Master, Select Master and Super Excellent Master. They
were formerly known as Councils of Royal and Select Masters.
The Council of Royal and Select Masters, known as the Cryptic Rite,
fills what would be a significant void in the complete story of the
York Rite. The Degrees of Royal Master and Select Master are
sometimes called the Degrees of Preservation. The Council
Degrees are often referred to as "The Three Little Jewels" and are
to many, the most appealing in all Masonry.
A brief history of the
Council or Cryptic Masonry
While eminent Masonic scholars have frequently
disagreed with the exact history of the formation of the Cryptic
degrees, there is at least some general information on the degrees
with which most Masonic historians will agree. It is on this
information that we will concentrate here.
The Cryptic Rite is "one of the smallest but one
of the most important and certainly one of the most curious of all
the rites," according to Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia.
"Crypt" comes from a Greek word meaning "hide, conceal, or secret,"
and thus has come to mean a vault, cave, or other place of
underground concealment. The Cryptic degrees are centered on
stories involving a vault or crypt where certain treasures were
hidden beneath King Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem for very specific
purposes. Rob Morris, a very influential Mason in the 1800’s,
first called them “Cryptic”.
The origin of the Cryptic degrees were theorized to be invented in
France together with the other degrees that were included in the
Rite of Perfection, which later were collected into what is today
the Scottish Rite, and that the Cryptic degrees were brought to
America just like the Scottish Rite degrees by Stephen Morin from
France in 1761. When the Supreme Council for the Southern
Jurisdiction of the U.S. was organized in 1802 in Charleston,
the degrees, which are now in the Scottish Rite, were organized,
while some "detached" degrees, including the Royal and Select
degrees, which had previously been given were now dropped.
Some of those who had received these degrees then conferred them on
their own and established Councils in the process.
The Stuart theory is interesting and needs some explanation.
The Stuart family ruled England starting in 1603, with a break from
1649 to 1660 after Charles II was executed by Parliament under
Oliver Cromwell. The last Stuart to reign, James II, was
forced to abdicate in 1688. After the Hanoverian family came
to the English throne in 1714 with George I, the Stuarts invaded
England in 1715 and 1745, by way of Scotland, which supported them,
but both attempts failed. The Stuarts and their supporters
lived in exile in France, which recognized their claim, and they
continued to try to regain their throne for many years with the
support of some in England. The Stuart exiles living in France
in the early 1700's, sometimes called "Jacobites" from the Latin
form of the name for James, were involved in Freemasonry. Some
Masonic lodges in France and Italy were made up completely of
Jacobites, and the grandson of James II, "Bonnie Prince Charlie" was
definitely an active Mason. In 1745, the same year he
attempted to invade England, he became the Grand Master of the
Masonic Knights Templar, and also formed a Chapter of Rose Croix.
The Jacobite Masons considered the death of Hiram Abiff to represent
the execution by the English Parliament of Charles I, the father of
James II, and the raising of Hiram Abiff to represent the coming
restoration to the English throne of the Stuart Kings. The
"Royal Master" was the Stuart claimant to the throne, who was called
by some the "Pretender" to the throne (at first James II, then his
son James III, and then the grandson, Charles), and the secret vault
was the place where the Jacobites plotted their return to power.
The "Select Masters" were the closest companions of the
"Pretender.". The ritual of the Select Master's degree can
easily be seen to be that of a secret political movement, if one
believes this theory.
The degrees of Royal and Select Master were not
originally combined into one system, each having been conferred by
separate parties and initially controlled by separate Councils.
As near as may be determined from conflicting claims, the Select
degree is the oldest of the Rite. It was customary to confer
the Royal degree on Master Masons prior to the Royal Arch, and the
Select degree after exaltation to the sublime degree. This
accounts for the fact that control of the Cryptic degrees vacillated
back and forth in many jurisdictions, even after the formation of
The Royal degree appears to have been developed
primarily in New York under direction of Thomas Lownds, whereas
Philip Eckel in Baltimore vigorously promulgated the Select.
It is claimed by Eckel that Grand Council of Select Masters was
formed in Baltimore in 1792, while it is definitely known that a
Grand Council of Royal Masters (Columbian No. 1) was organized
in 1810 in New York. It remained for Jeremy Cross to combine
the two degrees under one system, which occurred about 1818, and
this pattern was adopted in most jurisdictions as the degrees became
dispersed beyond the eastern seaboard.
The degree of Super Excellent Master is not allied
to the other two degrees of the Cryptic Rite, so far as its
teachings and traditions are concerned. The records of St.
Andrews Chapter in Boston indicate that a degree of this name was
conferred during the latter part of the eighteenth century.
The earliest positive reference to the Super Excellent in connection
to the Cryptic Rite is December 22, 1817, when Columbian Council of
Royal Masters in New York organized a “Lodge” of Super Excellent
Masters. The incidents, teachings, and ritualistic format of
the Super Excellent degree bear no resemblance in any former degrees
so named, which appears to justify the claim that it is American in
origin. This degree has been, and to some extent still is, a
rather controversial subject. It is conferred as one of the
regular Cryptic Rite degrees in some jurisdictions, whereas the
others confer it as an honorary degree only; in some instances,
separate Grand Councils of Super Excellent Masters have been formed.
Council or Cryptic Degrees
degrees of the Council of Royal and Select Masters are necessary to
fully complete your education in Ancient Craft Masonry. The
degrees of our Masonic system are not chronologically arranged and
in the degrees of Royal and Select Master, which many believe, are
the most beautiful and impressive of all, you learn of additional
incidents in the building of the first temple. During these
degrees you represent the Master Builder, Hiram Abiff, and learn why
the word was lost and the secret of its preservation and recovery.
The Super Excellent Master degree, though having no connection with
Ancient Craft Masonry, is a vivid dramatization of truth and
fidelity and never fails to impress those who witness it, either for
the first time or after many times. The degrees of the Council
will enable you to more fully understand your third degree of
Symbolic Masonry and the degree of Royal Arch.
Symbolism of the Council or Cryptic Degrees
This section is taken freely from Mackey's
Symbolism as written in Chapter XXXI of "The History of the Cryptic
Rite." It is not written verbatim, but rather was adapted to
the form of our present day ritual. Symbolism from other
authors has been incorporated. It is the belief of the Grand
Council, that if our members understand the beautiful symbolism of
our Order, they will become better members of their subordinate
Councils. We encourage you to study and learn more about our
great Order, as it is not possible to include everything of interest
or importance in this brief synopsis. We learn in the Royal
Master degree, that there was an agreement among our three Most
Excellent Grand Masters, that the word would not be communicated to
the Craft until the Temple was completed, and then only in the
presence of all three. We learn in the Master Mason degree,
how the Word was lost, and in the Royal Arch degree, how it was
recovered. In the Symbolic degrees, we have an account of the
loss of the Word, and we search but do not find. In the
Chapter, we search and find, but do not understand the significance
of what we have found. It is left to the Cryptic degrees for
enlightenment and explanation, to learn how the Word was preserved,
and what it means. In the Royal Master degree, we learn that
whatever may be the uncertainties of life, the reward is sure to the
faithful Craftsman. In the Select degree, we learn that the
Word is to be preserved in the Secret Vault of the Soul. While
in the Super Excellent Master degree, we find that catastrophe
overtakes the unfaithful, whether he be a prince or pauper, and that
without fidelity, success is impossible.
The Degree of Royal Master symbolizes a
Fellowcraft in search of more Masonic Light. His efforts are
eventually rewarded and he is admitted into a select fellowship that
has been entrusted with Cryptic secrets not yet available to the
majority of the craft. However, as Devine truth can only be
fully perceived by those who have attained an advanced state of
spiritual awareness, the Fellowcraft, now a Royal Master must
continue his quest until the Temple is completed.
This degree is held in the Council Chamber, and
represents the private apartment of King Solomon, in which he is
said to have met for consultation with his two colleagues during the
construction of the Temple. Its symbolic colors are black and
red -- the former being significant of grief and the latter of
martyrdom -- and both referring to the chief builder of the Temple.
The period of time referred to in the first and second sections of
the degree is different. In the first section, Hiram Abif is
active in the construction of the Temple. In the second
section, he is missing and the Temple is very near completion.
This is evident by the presence of the Ark of the Covenant and the
investiture of Adoniram with the responsibility of the Master
Builder. His search is not complete as he is instructed that
in due time he will receive his reward, and is returned to the Clay
Grounds to continue his labors. The Beautiful Piece of Work
(brought up by Adoniram), represents a pure and complete life,
offered to the Supreme Architect of the Universe, followed by an
admonition to remain content and in due time we shall receive our
reward. The reward will come after our life has been
completed, and is further symbolized by our entry into the 9th Arch,
after completing all the symbolic instructions of Ancient Craft
Masonry. The 9th Arch is usually considered the symbolic Gate
of Death. It is now high twelve, an appropriate time to cease
our labors and commune with the Supreme Architect of the Universe.
The number twelve is considered a sacred number in Mythology.
It is explained by some as being the product of multiplying the
three-sided triangle by the four-sided square. The triangle
represents the three equal attributes of Deity; His Omniscience,
Omnipresence, and Omnipotence (Universal wisdom, peace, and power).
Low twelve consists of the same numbers, but represents death, or
the midnight of life. Hiram Abif passes from the spiritual
trestle board to the temporal trestle board, where the eager
candidate, who is still pursuing his search for Divine Truth, meets
him again. Then he delivers the commentary on death, moving
slowly around the room, going in the same manner and direction as
the sun. He explains that all men are equal in the eyes of
God, from the youngest Entered Apprentice, to King Solomon.
Royal Master (Second Section)
As the first light of day comes from the East, we
are taught to look to the East for enlightenment. The step
symbolizes reverence toward the Alter. We alternate steps as
we pass through the degrees, up to, and including the Royal Master
degree. It is believed this has an allusion to the path of the
Sun crossing the Northern and Southern Hemisphere, between the two
signs of the zodiac, Capricorn and Cancer, in a zigzag motion.
When the two hemispheres are laid out end-to-end, with two parallel
lines on the sides, it forms an oblong square or the shape of a
Lodge. In the sign, Alpha is the first, and Omega is the last
letter of the Greek alphabet, equivalent to the beginning and the
end of anything. Alpha and Omega is adapted as a symbol of
Deity. This passage was at one time read from the Apocalypse
during the circumambulations, but is now read from the book of
Revelations. The equilateral triangle represents our three
Grand Masters at this point in the ritual. The broken triangle
represents the allegory of life. Some must go, and other must
remain and carry on. The number seven was sacred in Hebrew
Scriptures and ceremonies. The seventh day was the Sabbath
day; Solomon was seven years in the building of the Temple; there
are usually seven sabbatical years; seven days usually constituted
the feast periods; and seven represents completeness. In the
Temple, twelve loaves of bread (shewbread) were always kept upon a
table in the sanctuary (representing the twelve tribes of Israel).
It was a symbol of the bread of eternal life by which we are brought
into the presence of God. The principal article of furniture
in the Temple of Solomon at Jerusalem was the Ark of the Covenant.
The Cherubim surmounted it and between the wings of these fabled
characters was the Shekinah, or perpetual cloud, from which the
bathkol issued when consulted by the High Priest. The Altar of
Incense was made of wood and overlaid with gold, as was most of the
furniture of the Temple. On the four corners were horns, in
shapes like those of ram's horns. A censer was placed on the
top center of the Golden Altar, and in it sweet incense was burned
every morning. On the table of Holy Vessels were pots,
shovels, basins, flesh-hooks, and fire pans, as well as all the
other vessels or utensils necessary to the services of the Altar.
These were made of gold and brass.
The Degree of Select Master completes the
education of the craftsman with regard to the concealed mysteries of
Ancient Craft Masonry. It explains how the secrets, which were
found in the Royal Arch Degree, were preserved. He to complete
his spiritual building presents the candidate with additional
teaching, which will require future application. This degree
commences with a character by the name of Zabud. Zabud was a
friend of King Solomon, and appears in several of the Masonic
degrees. To most of our membership, Zabud is but another
character out of the past. Yet a reading of the Holy
Scriptures reveals that he was truly the friend and companion of
King Solomon, for Zabud was one of the sons of Nathan the Prophet.
Nathan was the chief advisor of King David, and it was through the
strategy of David, Nathan, and Bath-Sheba that Solomon came to the
throne of Israel, for the natural heir to the throne should have
been Adonijah. Zabud must have been about the same age as
Solomon, and probably frequented the Royal Court where he acquired
the friendship and favorable notice of Solomon, later developing
into a friendship, which caused King Solomon to refer to Zabud as
"my particular friend and favorite." The Deputy Master refers
to the number 27 which is also alluded to in the closing ceremony.
Although the closing ceremony states it a little differently, some
authors believe that 27 members were made up from one of each of the
twelve tribes of Israel, the three workmen who discovered the
triangle hidden by Enoch before the flood, nine Grand Masters of the
Arches, one of whom was Ahishar, and our three Grand Masters.
The Select Master degree, or the building of the Secret Vault, took
place between the first and second sections of the Royal Master
degree. This is explained by saying that the secrets of the
Select Master degree were not brought to light until long after the
existence of the Royal Master degree had been known and
acknowledged. In other words, to speak only from the
traditional point of view, Select Masters had been designated, had
performed the task for which they had been selected, and had closed
their labors without ever being recognized as a class in the Temple
of Solomon. Their occupation and their very existence,
according to legend, were unknown in the first Temple. Whether
the punishment meted out to Ahishar was deserved, we should not
question, for the story is but a legend, teaching us that constant
watchfulness is necessary in waging the warfare of life, and only
those shall succeed who are constantly on guard. Considered
simply as a historical question, there can be no doubt of the
existence of immense vaults beneath the superstructure of the
original Temple of Solomon. Legend has it that Josiah,
foreseeing the destruction of the Temple, commanded the Levites to
deposit the Ark of the Covenant in this vault, where it was found by
some of the workmen of Zerubbabel, at the building of the second
Temple. Masonic legend, whether authentic or not, teaches that
there was an Ark in the second Temple, but that it was neither the
Ark of the Covenant, which had been in the Holy of Holies of the
first Temple, nor one that had been constructed as a substitute for
it after the building of the second Temple. It was that Ark
which was presented to us in the Select Master degree, and which,
being an exact copy of the Mossical Ark, and intended to replace it
in case of its loss, is best known to Freemasonry as the Substitute
Ark. In the Masonic System there are two Temples; the first
Temple in which the degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry are concerned,
and the second Temple, with which the higher degrees, especially the
Royal Arch, are related. The first Temple is symbolic of the
present life; the second Temple is symbolic of the life to come.
The first Temple, the present life, must be destroyed; on its
foundations, the second Temple, the life eternal, must be built.
And so we arrive at this result, that the Masonic Stone of
Foundation, so conspicuous in the degree of Select Master, is a
symbol of Divine Truth, upon which all Speculative Masonry is built;
and the legends and traditions which refer to it are intended to
describe, in an allegorical way, the progress of truth in the soul,
the search for which is a Mason's labor; and the discovery of which
is to be his reward.
Super Excellent Master
The Degree of Super Excellent Master is not a
Cryptic Degree. However it is placed here to prepare the
candidate historically for the Order of the Red Cross, which is the
first of the Commandery Orders. It teaches the candidate to
Walk in Faith, Promote Friendship and Practice Fidelity. In
598, Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, besieged Jerusalem, captured
the city and took into captivity the King, Jehoiachin (Jeconiah).
He replaced him on the throne with Mattaniah, the youngest son of
Josiah, and an uncle of the former King, who was but twenty-one
years old. Nebuchadnezzar changed Mathaniah's name twice,
although the reasons as to why are not clear. First to
Mattaniah, which means "gift of Jehovah" and then to Zedekiah, which
signifies "Jehovah is righteous." As one of the conditions of
his enthronement, there was extracted from him a solemn oath to be
subject and loyal to his King and to Babylon. Being subjects
of Babylon, naturally there were powerful parties in court
determined to throw off the yoke of the "barbarian" ruler, and, in
order to accomplish this, favored an alliance with Egypt. It
is natural that this palace clique and the priestly circle should
favor Egypt. The civilizations of the Nile were a dying one,
but its rulers and its aristocracy were living in wealth and luxury,
blind to the ominous forces threatening their existence. The
royal crowd of Jerusalem was of like character, and attracted by the
same glitter and pretense. Against this royal party was
arrayed the strength, courage, and oratory of Jeremiah of Anatoth,
the prophet, a descendant of one of the earlier High Priests of the
Jews, and a small group of followers, who advised submission to
Babylon as the only means of preserving national entity, and claimed
for his position that he had direct command, and approval of Jehovah
himself. Into this maelstrom of contending and conflicting
forces was plunged a young man of twenty-one, immature,
inexperienced, over-shadowed for years by his princely relatives,
lacking in strength of character and resolution. To be sure,
at times he showed an inclination to follow the voice of the
prophet, but it was an inclination, which he did not have the
strength and resolution to pursue through to the bitter end, in the
face of intrigues, and the influence of royal favorites. The
story of his struggle with Jeremiah, his yielding to him on
occasion, his later stiffening of his neck in opposition to him, his
punishment of him, and of the conflict between Jeremiah and the
petty dignitaries of the court, is a fascinating one, and it gains
much in its appeal as it is portrayed in the degree of Super
Any Royal Arch Mason should take these Degrees as
it completes the Masonic Education, which he received during the
Symbolic and Royal Arch Degrees. Here is completed the Circle
of Perfection of Ancient Craft Masonry but to the followers of
Christ there is a definite need and desire for application of these
impressive lessons and beautiful ceremonies to the Christian
believer and his way of life
The fourth, and last, of the York Rite Bodies of
Masonry, Commanderies of Knights Templar serves as the crowning
glory in completing the Christian Path towards Masonic Light.
This is the only recognized Masonic Body that has religious
connotations, since it is based on the Christian Religion and
virtues. As a consequence, while not all Masons will become
Knight Templars, every Christian Mason should to complete his
Masonic journey. Today's Knight Templar is a man dedicated to
the living Christ, and the defense of the virtues contained in the
practices observed by all true Christians.
In the Commandery, there are three 'degrees' or
steps, which are called Orders. These are The Illustrious
Order of the Red Cross, The Mediterranean Pass and Order of Malta
and The Order of the Temple; after the Orders of Knighthood and
Chivalry as known in Europe before the reformation. Hence, we
are called Chivalric Masonry.
History of the Knights Templar
The Order was founded in Jerusalem in 1118 by
Hughes de Payens Geoffroy de St. Omer and seven other French
knights. It was consecrated to the protection of pilgrims and
the defense of the Holy Land. The founding knights took
monastic vows and were known as "The Poor Knights of Christ".
King Baldwin II, the French King of Jerusalem
(1118-1131) installed the Order in a part of his Palace, on the site
of Solomon's Temple, for their residence, stables and armory, from
which it took its name of Knights of the Temple or Templars.
At the Council of Troyes in 1128 Pope Honorius II,
who gave it the strict Rule dictated by St. Bernard, a monk of
the Cistercian Order who became the first Abbot of Clairvaux,
confirmed the Order. The Knights also received the white
mantle as a symbol of purity of their life, to which in 1146 Pope
Eugenius added the red Templar cross.
The Order's battle honors in defense of the Holy
Land were many. Following the fall of Jerusalem in 1187 the
Templars withdrew to Acre. They remained at Acre with Grand
Master William de Beaujue until 1291 when the city was captured and
he was killed. The surviving Templars, with their new Grand
Master, were the last to leave the city. The Order withdrew to
Limmasol, Cyprus and had its Headquarters at the Temple Monastery in
After many years of sacrifices and rendering
services to both Christianity and civilization, this very rich and
powerful Order excited the envy and greed of others. The
principal malefactor was Philippe le Bel, King of France, who was
financially indebted to the Order. In 1307 Philippe arrested
all serving Templars in France with the intention of sequestrating
all the Order's possessions. However, these were hidden in a
secret place and have never been found to this day. Not able
to judge the Order himself, (it was only answerable to the Pope)
Philippe set about to coerce the Pope to suppress the Order, but the
Pope refused. Whereupon, the king dismissed him and created
his friend, the Bishop of Bordeaux, Pope Clement V, who readily
issued a Bull suppressing the Order in 1312. The Order then
reverted to its original status of a Secular Military Order of
Only in France were the Templars treated with any
severity, with Grand Master Jacques de Molay and others burnt at the
stake in March 1314 on an island in the Seine. In England,
Edward II (a patron) at first did not take any action against the
Order, but finally, he allowed the inquisitors to judge the Order at
the Church of All Hallows By-the-Tower. Edward then set about
reclaiming English Templar lands and possessions including the
London Temple, rather than passing them to the Hospitallers.
After Edward's actions The Templars sought refuge in Scotland where
they were welcomed.
Prior to his martyrdom in 1314 Grand Master
Jacques de Molay invested Jean-Marc Larmenius with his powers.
Larmenius was unanimously recognized as the new Grand Master
following de Molay's death. He gathered together the dispersed
remnants of the Order and in 1324 gave the Order the Charter of
Transmission. This Charter is still one of the governing
documents of the Present Order.
The Order continued in secret with an
uninterrupted line of Grand Masters until 1705. In March of
that year a number of French nobles held a convention of Templars at
Versailles. They elected Philip, Duke of Orleans, later Regent
of France, as the Order's 41st Grand Master. Thus as Regent of
France and Grand Master of the Temple it provided an official
renewal and legitimization of the Order of the Temple as a Secular
Military Order of Chivalry and also its right to resume the use of
"sovereign" in its title.
After the death of the Duke of Orleans in 1723,
three Princes of Bourbon were Grand Masters of the Order until 1776.
That year the Duke of Cosse Brissac accepted the Grand Mastership
and remained in office until his execution during the French
Revolution in 1782. Having foreseen the coming events he
passed on the Order's archives and the Charter of Transmission to
Radix de Chevillon. The Order survived the Revolution and went
through a period of prosperity in France during the early C19th with
many people of high office asking to be admitted.
Between 1818 and 1841 the Order expanded greatly
with over 20 Convents in France and Priories set up in Great
Britain, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland. Legations were also
established in Sweden, Brazil, India and in New York.
In 1940 when France and Belgium were invaded by
Nazi Germany, Emile Joseph Isaac Vandenburg who lived in Brussels
was Grand Master. In order to safeguard and ensure the
survival of the Order he handed over his rights to a Portuguese
neutral, a nobleman, Count Antonio Campello Pinto de Sousa Fontes
who became the Regent pending an election of a Grand Master.
Since these times many Grand Priories have claimed Autonomous
status. However, in 1989 an International Federative Alliance
was formed with the intention of electing a new Grand Master.
History of the Knights of Malta
Military and Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem, called of
Rhodes, called of Malta (generally known as the Order of Malta),
came into existence between c. 1080 when a hospital for
pilgrims was established in Jerusalem near the Abbey of St Mary of
the Latins, and 1113, when the hospital, its administrators and
dependencies were recognized by the Pope as an Order of the Church,
dedicated to the care of the sick poor. Half a century after
its foundation it assumed military as well as Hospitaller functions,
and by 1200 it was playing a major role in the defense of the
Christian settlements in Palestine and Syria which had been set up
by the Crusaders. From its origins it was endowed on a massive
scale in Western Europe and it developed an international structure
to manage these properties for the benefit of its work in the East.
Palestine with the rest of the Catholics in 1291, the Hospitallers
of St John took over the island of Rhodes, off the coast of Asia
Minor, which became their base for naval operations against Muslim
shipping. They ruled the island as a semi-independent state
until 1522. They were then given the island of Malta, which
they held until 1798. During the centuries of the Order's
government of Rhodes and Malta it became recognized as a sovereign
With the loss
of Malta the order's military functions ceased, and Hospitaller work
again became its only duty. It moved its headquarters to Rome
in 1834. It is still regarded by many states (though not by
all) as a sovereign subject of international public law. The
seat of the Grand Magistracy in Rome, under the present Grand
Master, HMEH Fra´ Andrew Bertie, has the right of
extra-territoriality recognized by the Italian state.
The Commandery of Knights Templar
The Commandery orders
represent a new direction of Masonic thought and experience, in that
they no longer refer to Ancient Craft Masonry, but to ideals and
practices of chivalry and Christianity. The first Commandery
order, the Illustrious Order of the Red Cross, presents the story of
the Jewish Prince, Zerubbabel, and his efforts to secure permission
of the Persian King Darius to rebuild the second temple at
Jerusalem. The next order, Knight of Malta, is a complete
departure from Masonry based on the Old Testament and is the first
Christian order. Here, the candidate represents a knightly
warrior of the Crusades prior to his departure for the Holy Land.
The last order is that of Knight Templar, the crowning glory of the
York Rite system. Again, in this totally Christian order, the
candidate represents a knightly postulant who desires to unite with
a Commandery of Knights Templar during the era of the Crusades.
After several trials to test his faith, courage, and humility,
achieving his desire rewards him. Let us consider these orders
in more detail.
The Orders of
Knighthood, the Commandery of Knights Templar, are three in number.
The Order of the Red Cross, The Order of Malta, and The Order of the
Temple. Each of these portrays beautiful and impressive
lessons and explains the Christian interpretation of Freemasonry.
Order of the Red Cross
This order consists of two
sections: (1) Zerubbabel's (the candidate) admission to the Jewish
Council at Jerusalem, in which he is invested with permission and
authority to travel to Babylon and attempt to obtain leave from King
Darius to stop the enemies of the Jews from hindering their progress
in building the Temple, as well as to recover the holy vessels of
the Temple which were taken as booty to Babylon by King
Nebuchadnezzar when he destroyed the First Temple. Zerubbabel
is also given a sword to defend him; a sash to remind him of his
cause; and a password to get him by Jewish sentinels on his journey.
Unfortunately, he is captured and made prisoner upon reaching the
domains of King Darius. (2) At the court of Darius, Zerubbabel
renews his earlier friendship with the king, and is granted a
position in the royal household. He then participates in a
friendly contest with other nobles of the realm regarding the
question: " Which is greater? The strength of wine? The power of the
king? Or the influence of woman?" Zerubbabel contends for the
latter, and adds an additional factor: The force of truth.
After delivering his declamation on women and concluding in favor of
truth above all, Zerubbabel is declared the winner of the contest
and is granted his desires by the king. To perpetuate the
occasion, Darius creates a new order, the Illustrious Order of the
Red Cross, and after an obligation, makes Zerubbabel its first
member. Next follow the signs, grips, and words as well as a
historical lecture. The body is called a Council. The
cornerstone of this order is the all-important attribute of truth,
and the importance of keeping one's word. It foreshadows the
words of Jesus: "I am the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life."
Order of Malta
This Order actually consists of
two: The Order of St. Paul, or the Mediterranean Pass, which
is a preparatory order, and the Order of Malta itself. The
Order of Malta must be conferred in either full or short form.
The full form is quite elaborate and beautiful but, alas, is not
conferred by many Commanderies. The short form is but a
summary of the lessons taught in the full form, and this is what I
will describe here. The Order of St. Paul is based on
the story of Paul's shipwreck on the island of Melita (Malta).
The candidate represents a knight about to depart for the Crusades
in the Holy Land. He receives sustenance, both spiritual and
physical, to prepare him for the ardors of his journey. The
Order of Malta is a suitable preparation for the Order of the
Temple, in that it provides the candidate with additional New
Testament instruction, particularly in the eight Beatitudes.
The symbol of the order is the Maltese cross, symbolic of the
Beatitudes and the eight languages, which once were spoken by its
members. The candidate is created a Knight of Malta and
invested with words and signs specific to the Order. The body
is called a Priory.
Order of the
This Order begins with the
candidate, a Knight of Malta, who, after soul-searching reflection
and suitable answers to certain questions, seeks to unite with a
Commandery of Knights Templar. To test his faith, his directed
to perform a certain number of years of pilgrimage. Being full
of zeal and wishing to accomplish more useful deeds, he requests and
is granted remission. He assumes a most solemn obligation, and
then is obligated to a certain number of years of knightly warfare,
as a test of his courage and constancy. Having satisfactorily
performed these, he is admitted to the Asylum of the Knights
Templar, where he is a participant in certain memorial exercises to
KS, HKofT, GMHA, and Simon of Cyrene. Accompanying these
exercises is a reading of New Testament scripture and an
inspirational slide presentation. He is then required to
perform a time of penance in token of his humility. Following
this, he seals his membership in the Order in the most solemn,
impressive and binding manner, and is duly dubbed a member of the
Valiant and Magnanimous Order of the Temple. Again, he
receives certain signs, grips, and words, as well as an explanation
of the important accoutrements of Templary, the Grand Standard,
Baldric, Beauceant, Sword, and Spur. The body is called a
Commandery. The relevance of this sublime Order to the
Christian Mason can scarcely be overstressed. It provides a
vivid connection between the Craft and Christianity.
Especially relevant and meaningful is the address given by the
Prelate during the course of the ceremonies.
A Knight Templar
Commandery has 12 officers, in order of rank: Eminent Commander,
Generalissimo, Captain General, Recorder, Treasurer, Prelate, Sr.
Warden, Jr. Warden, Standard Bearer, Sword Bearer, Warder, and
Sentinel. Some jurisdictions also have a Marshal.
Members are styled "Sir Knight". At least 9 Knights must be
present to open a Commandery. Commanderies usually meet
monthly. The state governing body is the Grand Commandery.
The national body, to which Grand Commanderies must belong, is the
Grand Encampment of Knights Templar of the United States of America.