The Order of “The Red Cross of Constantine” is, like the York Rite Sovereign College of North America, a Masonic body for which membership is by invitation only. It is considered by many to be the highest honor that can be awarded within York Rite Masonry. A potential candidate must have demonstrated a high level of dedication and performance in his Masonic activities, be proposed for membership by a member knight, and pass a unanimous ballot in an open Conclave.
Knights Companions of the Order meet in Conclaves of the Red Cross of Constantine and a member must be a Royal Arch Mason in good standing and subscribe to a belief in the Christian religion as revealed in the New Testament. Membership is by invitation and each Conclave has a prescribed membership limit.
This Order of Masonic Knighthood is based upon Trinitarian Christianity and was traditionally founded by Constantine the Great after the Battle of Saxa Ruba in 312 AD. While no direct connection can be made with that legendary Order, the principles and attributes have been carried over into and are emulated within this branch of modern Freemasonry.
The Red Cross of Constantine is officially The Masonic and Military Order of the Red Cross of Constantine and the Orders of the Holy Sepulchre and St. John the Evangelist, the latter two of which are called the Appendant Orders. There are also two chair degrees conferred on the Viceroy and Sovereign of a Conclave, and two honorary orders: Knight Commander of Constantine and Knight Grand Cross.
The purpose of the Constantinian Orders are to commemorate the first elevation of Christianity from the position of a despised and proscribed heresy to that of a legally recognized and honored religion, to cultivate the social virtues, appeal to the intellectual and moral qualities, preserve as far as possible the customs of the fraternity and bring about good fellowship and understanding between all branches of Masonry.
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.
The Order of the Red Cross of Constantine
First Degree – Knight-Mason
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.
Second Degree – Priest-Mason (or Installed Eusebius)
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.
Third Degree – Prince-Mason
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.
The Appendant Orders
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 Order of the Holy Sepulchre
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’.
The Order of St John the Evangelist
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.
Since at least the 18th century, Freemasonry has incorporated symbols and rituals of several medieval military orders in a number of Masonic bodies, most notably, in the “Red Cross of Constantine” (derived from the Military Constantinian Order), the “Order of Malta“ (derived from the Sovereign Military Order of Malta), and the “Order of the Temple” (derived from the historical Knights Templar), the latter two featuring prominently in the York Rite.
Tracing the precise origins of these Orders has proved problematic to historians, not least due to the large number of fraternal organizations 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-organizations, 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, London. Following the establishment of Conclaves in overseas nations, a number of sovereign foreign Grand Imperial Councils (ruling bodies) have been established.