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The Red Cross of Constantine, or more formally the Masonic and Military Order of the Red Cross of Constantine and the Appendant Orders of the Holy Sepulchre and of St John the Evangelist is a Christian Order of Freemasonry. Candidates for the Order must already be members of Craft Freemasonry (lodge) and Royal Arch Freemasonry (chapter); they must also be members of the Christian religion, and ready to proclaim their belief in the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
The Masonic and Military Order of the Red Cross of Constantine is a three-degree Order of masonry, and with its "Appendant Orders" a total of five degrees are conferred within this system. Installation as a “Knight of the Red Cross of Constantine” is admission to the Order’s first degree. There are two more degrees which follow, and also the two other distinct Orders of Masonry (both Christian in character) which are under the control of each national (or regional) Grand Imperial Conclave of the Order.
On admission to the Order a member becomes a Knight-Mason, or a Knight of the Red Cross of Constantine. This ceremony is known as installation, and is performed in a ‘Conclave’. A Conclave is the regular unit of this Order, and the name for any assembly of members of the Order’s first degree. The ceremony is short and simple, but teaches valuable moral lessons to the candidate, based upon the story of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, and the Battle of the Milvian Bridge.
On election to serve as Viceroy (the second in command of a Conclave), a member must be admitted to the second degree, by which ceremony he becomes a Venerable Priest-Mason, or an Installed Eusebius. This ceremony is performed in a ‘College’ of Priests-Mason. A College is the name for any assembly of members of the Order’s second degree. The ceremony is highly spiritual in nature, and incorporates more overtly religious symbolism and ritual. Having received this degree the Installed Eusebius or Priest-Mason is entitled to serve as Viceroy in his own, or any other, Conclave or College. In general this degree may only be conferred on those elected to serve as Viceroy of a Conclave, although exceptions are possible by dispensation.
On election to serve as Sovereign (the leader of a Conclave), a member must be admitted to the third degree, by which ceremony he becomes a Perfect Prince-Mason. The ceremony is performed in a ‘Senate’ of Princes-Mason. A Senate is the name for any assembly of members of the Order’s third degree. Having received this degree the Prince-Mason is entitled to serve as Sovereign in his own, or any other, Conclave or Senate. Except by dispensation, this degree is only ever conferred on those elected as Sovereign. As with all masonic degrees, it may only be conferred on a person once - therefore a person becoming Sovereign for a second time, or in a different Conclave, would be appointed and installed into office, and would not go for a second time through the full degree ceremony.
Two additional Christian Orders of Masonry are under the control of the Grand Imperial Conclaves (national ruling bodies) of the Red Cross of Constantine. One is the Order of the Holy Sepulchre and the other is the Order of St John the Evangelist. Each of these Orders consists of a single degree or ceremony, and although the two Orders are conferred separately, they are usually conferred on the same day, one straight after the other. It is a rule of most jurisdictions that a member of the first degree of the Red Cross of Constantine must subsequently take these two Appendant Orders, before he may be considered qualified to proceed to the second and third degrees of the Red Cross of Constantine.
The Masonic Order should not be confused with the identically named Order of the Holy Sepulchre within the Roman Catholic Church. Although both Orders recall the same historical events, there is no actual connection between them. The Masonic Order of the Holy Sepulchre has a long and complex ritual of symbolic meaning, based upon the legend of knights guarding the supposed place of burial of Jesus Christ. Both the Masonic and ecclesiastical Orders take the Jerusalem Cross as their symbol, but whereas the ecclesiastical Order displays this cross in red on a white shield, the Masonic Order displays the cross within a circle set at the centre of a Cross potent; on the jewel (medal) of the Order, this badge is further enclosed within a black and gold lozenge. A meeting of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre takes place in a ‘Sanctuary’, and the presiding officer is called the 'Prelate'.
This Order is conferred in a short ceremony of an overtly Christian character; it is common for the Order of St John the Evangelist to be conferred on the same day as the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, one ceremony occurring straight after the other. A meeting of the Order of St John the Evangelist takes place in a ‘Commandery’, and the presiding officer is called the 'Commander'. The jewel of the Order of St John the Evangelist features a silver eagle with its wings extended, to which a crown is added in reference to the role of Commander, or any member of the Order who is a current or past Commander. The eagle is a traditional symbol of St John the Evangelist.
Tracing the precise origins of these Orders has proved problematic to historians, not least due to the large number of fraternal organisations whose titles include, or have historically included, the phrase "Red Cross". It seems likely that the Order of the Red Cross of Constantine was being worked in England by 1780, but following several re-organisations the earliest documented date of the Order in its present form is 1865, when its constitution was formally established by Robert Wentworth Little. In time it became one of the ten 'additional' Masonic Orders (or families of Orders) controlled from a common headquarters at Mark Masons Hall in London. Following the establishment of Conclaves in overseas nations, a number of sovereign foreign Grand Imperial Councils (ruling bodies) have been established.