Provincial Grand Chapter of
Hampshire and Isle of Wight

An Introduction to the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch

The Craft and the Royal Arch

Since the early days of speculative Masonry the Craft and the Royal Arch have enjoyed a very close affinity. Today, the two Orders are administered side-by-side at Freemasons’ Hall in London and the regulations governing both are published together in the Book of Constitutions. The Grand Master, if an installed First Principal, automatically assumes the office of First Grand Principal in Supreme Grand Chapter. In addition, if likewise qualified, the Craft Grand Registrar, Secretary, Director of Ceremonies and Treasurer also hold the equivalent offices in Supreme Grand Chapter. The majority of Royal Arch Chapters are attached to a Craft Lodge and at least bear its number, if not its name.

Membership of the Royal Arch

A Master Mason is eligible to be exalted into the Royal Arch four weeks after the date of his Raising. Royal Arch meetings are termed convocations and are held in units called Chapters. Members of the Order are referred to as Companions. A single ceremony of “exaltation” is conferred on a Brother, who is then entitled to wear the distinctive and colourful regalia of the Order – he is also required to wear his Royal Arch jewel in his Craft Lodge. After progressing through various Chapter offices he will be eligible for installation into three successive Chairs and will then be entitled to be addressed as Excellent Companion. Provincial and Grand ranks are awarded in much the same way as in the Craft. The head of the Order in the Province is called the Most Excellent Grand Superintendent in and over Hampshire and Isle of Wight and he is the equivalent to the Provincial Grand Master in the Craft.

The Evolution of the Royal Arch

Shortly after the formation of the Premier Grand Lodge in 1717 the third or Hiramic degree began to be viewed as disappointing and anti-climactic, in that the genuine secrets were lost. As a result, it was inevitable that a further ceremony would be introduced to rectify the deficiency. This gradually developed into the Royal Arch and initially was used to distinguish Brethren, who had presided as Master of their Lodge. However, with time this requirement was eased and reduced to “…having passed the chair” and this resulted in a rapid increase in the popularity of the Royal Arch in the 1750s.

In 1756, a group claiming to adhere to the old principles of the Craft broke away from the Premier Grand Lodge and formed what became known as the Grand Lodge of the Antients. As a result, the original Grand Lodge was paradoxically labelled as the Moderns. There were many reasons for the schism, but over time they became focussed on the status of the Royal Arch. In essence, the Antients worked it as a fourth degree in their Craft Lodges, while the Moderns took the opposite view and officially refused to acknowledge it as part of the Craft, although they did set up a Body authorised to regulate it as a separate Order. Eventually common sense prevailed and in 1813 the two Grand Lodges came together under the leadership of the H.R.H. the Duke of Sussex to form the United Grand Lodge of England. This was possible because of a compromise or “fudge” that enabled the Antients and Moderns to reconcile their differences over the Royal Arch. This was formerly ratified in 1853 by the following Preliminary declaration to The General Laws and Regulation for the Government of the Craft: -

By the solemn act of Union between the two Grand Lodges of Free-masons of England in December 1813, it was “declared and pronounced that pure Antient Masonry consists of three degrees and no more, viz., those of the Entered Apprentice, the Fellow Craft, and the Master Mason, including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch”.

Thereafter, for 190 years Royal Arch Masonry laboured under the stigma that it was not a separate degree, but rather an adjunct to the Craft. Happily, this situation has now been rectified by the following addendum to the original wording: -

At the Quarterly Communication of 10th December 2003 the United Grand Lodge of England acknowledged and pronounced the status of the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch to be an extension to, but neither superior nor a subordinate part of the degrees that precede it.

As the Pro Grand Master stated on that occasion: - “The intention is not to change the wording, which many of us consider sacrosanct, but to permit it to be interpreted in a way which will allow us the freedom to recognise the Royal Arch as a sovereign and independent Order, whilst still being indissolubly linked to the Craft”

What does the Royal Arch add to Craft Masonry?

Freemasonry, as we know it today, developed towards the end of the Renaissance during a period that is appropriately described as the “enlightenment”. At that time it was thought that man had the potential, by means of self-analysis, to utilise his soul or psyche to perceive the presence of God within himself – the psyche being considered the bridge between the physical and sacred worlds. The Royal Arch ritual contains a great spiritual message that will enable every Freemason to contemplate his personal journey of discovery in the light of eternity. Only then will he be able to uncover true wisdom and achieve a complete knowledge of himself. It provides each Brother with a personal epiphany – a moment of sudden realisation of that light, which is from above. It is the vision that requires each one of us to shield our eyes from the brightness of the Divine presence and to bend with humility in realisation of our destiny.

Thus, the Royal Arch can truly be said to be the foundation and keystone of the whole Masonic structure.