The Royal Arch is often referred to as the progression of a Masonic journey through the three degrees, culminating in the completion of that journey through pure antient Masonry. For many Masons who may not yet have had the pleasure of joining a Royal Arch chapter, this may be a conundrum and often wonder or question, why join the Royal Arch?
To help answer that question and to provide an entertaining and thoughtful proposition, Gladstone Group Vice Chairman Matt Casson in conjunction with Bob Paterson, Vice Chairman of the Liverpool Group, held an event at Liverpool Masonic Hall, Hope Street to explain the mysteries ‘Behind the veil’.Accompanying Matt and Bob, were Second Provincial Grand Principal Michael Threlfall, Deputy Grand Superintendent Chris Butterfield, Assistant to the Provincial Grand Principals Ian Sanderson, David Johnson and Paul Storrar, Liverpool and Gladstone Group Chairmen respectively.
David Johnson welcomed everyone to Hope Street Masonic Hall and once they were all settled down and seated, Grand Deputy Superintendent Chris Butterfield then introduced himself to those present who may not have previously known him and he gave a short talk about Royal Arch, the importance of joining a chapter and enjoying the wonderful ceremonies and companionship that a Royal Arch chapter can bring.
To follow, Kai Hughes who is a member of the University of Liverpool Chapter No 4274 presented a lecture of Royal Arch Masonry with explanations of the symbolism, meanings and everything you ever wanted to know about Royal Arch but were too scared to ask! Kai is extremely knowledgeable and gave a very interesting talk, discussing the origins of Royal Arch Masonry, and theories which abound as regards to the development and introduction of the Royal Arch ceremony.
Kai explained that in history there were operative stonemasons’ lodges whose membership grew by the addition of non-operative stonemasons, and that in Scotland membership routinely consisted of three ‘types’ entirely operative, mixed and speculative. At that stage there is some evidence that in Scotland the Royal Arch ceremony was being worked as a separate degree from the minute book of Stirling Rock, Royal Arch Chapter No 2, Scotland in 1743.
The first mention of a Royal Arch ceremony in England was from the minutes of a ‘Moderns’ lodge meeting at the Crown Inn, Christmas Street, Bristol dated 1758. However, the story behind the Royal Arch ceremony is even older still, with the historian Philostorgius describing the discovery of a vault underneath the foundations of the temple in Jerusalem, around 400 AD in his treatise ‘Church History’, which many believe was part of the origins of the development of the Royal Arch ceremony.
Kai then explained that the ‘Moderns’ founded the first premier Grand Lodge in 1717 and concentrated on the three degrees, with no official recognition as such of the Royal Arch ceremony, although it is thought that many lodges worked the degree in any case. In contrast the ‘Antients’ Grand Lodge who broke away in 1751, formally recognised the Royal Arch as an integral part of Freemasonry, and that it consisted of four degrees, designating the Royal Arch as the fourth degree.
Continuing, Kai then gave a fascinating insight into the ‘act of union’ in 1813 which brought the two Grand Lodges together and in an act of compromise and union, resulted in the declaration that ‘pure antient Masonry consists of three degrees and no more’. Thus, the Royal Arch is not considered as a separate degree but the completion of one’s Masonic journey.
It was then the turn of Neil Francis, Liverpool Group Secretary, to invite all present to explore the Egyptian chapter room. Making their way downstairs to the basement of the building, one enters a non-descript corridor lined with lockers and filing cabinets filled with various lodge and chapter ephemera, it does not prepare the visitor for the visual delight which is to follow.
The room is brightly decorated and very well lit, which only serves to highlight the amazing colours of the chapter banners, showing the 12 tribes of Israel, each resplendent in their motifs and striking yellow tassels. Equally magnificent and of amazing symmetry and beauty is the Egyptian plaster mouldings which form a border around the ceiling with scarabs and hieroglyphics painted in blue. The chapter room and adjoining dining room, are well worth a visit if you ever have opportunity to visit this fantastic building.
Neil took the time to explain all the different aspects of a chapter room, and described the various furniture, banners and positions of officers that make up a Royal Arch chapter. Taking questions about the room itself, the banners and other questions visitors had with regards to the layout of a typical chapter room, Neil, then further explained that due to the generosity of companion Albert Lay, a past member of Everton Chapter No 823 for over 60 years, that the room had been refurbished to the exacting standard we can enjoy today.
The visitors returned to the dining rooms where Matt Casson introduced the next guests, Liam Buchanan and Krisjan Cooper, who had both been exalted into Royal Arch earlier in 2023. Liam and Krisjan, took turns to answer questions about Royal Arch, their journey, their experience of the ceremony, (without giving anything away of course), which was humorous and entertaining in equal measure. At the culmination of the event, the attendees were left with a very positive experience of the Royal Arch, the only question left to answer is, which chapter to join?