The Priestly origin of our Order has intrigued me and no less because of the following paragraph in the book “The Temple and the Lodge” (p 16)
“Freemasonry and the Anglican Church have co-habited congenially since the beginning of the seventeenth century. Indeed they have done more than co-habit. They have worked in Tandem. Some of the most important ecclesiastics of the last four centuries have issued from the lodge; some of the most eloquent and influential Freemasons have issued from the Ministry”. (1)
Although the exact date of founding of our Order is unknown it does go back to the early days of Masonic History.
It is reported to have been known by a number of names — “The Holy Order of Wisdom”, “White Masonry”, “Order of Melchisedek”, “Templar Ne Plus Ultra” to mention a few, sometimes I called “The Priestly Order of the Temple” but presently has the official title “The Holy Royal Arch Knight Templar Priests”.
I wonder if there is some relationship with the “Holy Royal Arch” part of the name of our Order? Is there any relation ship with the Hiramic Legend? I understand that although Hiram was King Solomon’s Supt of Works not only was he a leader of men he was also an expert craftsman and very devout – he is reported to have gone into the Temple morning and noon to pray and seek inspiration and in the evening after the workmen had left he returned to give thanks to the Great Architect. He never forgot to consecrate his duties by solemn prayer. I don’t quite see how this relates to the KTP degree — or does it?
However without question our Order is one of the few Masonic organizations whose membership is small and is gained by invitation only. What is unique about it is that membership is limited to Installed Masters of the Craft who are Knight Templars.*
I have found three different sources which claim that the year 1686 was that of the revival of the Order. It was heard of at an early date in the hill of Ayeshire, Scotland. (Regret can find no further details)
John Yarker (1833 – 1913) who was associated with many Masonic activities, creditable and otherwise, is reported to have organized a Tabernacle of the Order in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, ‘England and a governing Grand College. According to this gentleman the Order existed as early as 1686 which date is referred to as the Year of Revival. It is regretted that Yarker did not document his evidence.
The first recorded date referring to the Order is one hundred years after the Year of Revival and is in England, and no Ireland, indicating that a conclave was instituted in Manchester, England, May 20 1795. Jerusalem Preceptory No.5 Knights Templar, Manchester, England. In its Minute Book, dated 1812 – 1816, there is this reference:-
“The degree of the United Sacred Band of Royal Arch Knights Templar Priests is an old York Degree, as they printed warrants first in 1786 and the Encampment at Bottoms has a very old one granted to that body. The Degree with the Bands or Unwarranted Encampment dates its era from the Year of Revival or 1686 and it is interesting to read the names of the members of the Priestly order and in many cases, it gives the occupations.” Then follows sixty-five names of men who signed between May, 1813 and March 1864. (3)
There are a number of references to the Order of the Knight Templar Priests in the History of the Grand Lodge of Ireland Vol.1. On Page 443 there is a facsimile of a KTP certificate dated 7th October 1799 which reads as follows:- “We the President and 7 Masters of the United Secret Band of Night Templar Priests held under the sanction of Lodge No. 606 and 603 and on the Registry of Ireland, and it was agreed that Br. John Ferguson and the rest of the Brethren of Lodge No. 508 should establish a Band in Dromore it being the certain distance each Band that is 6 miles he shall have no 5 with the greatest pleasure and make no delay in establishing it and that no other town or place shall have any claim on it more than ours” and signed by the President and 7 Masters = this was copied from the Original which apparently is in possession of Lodge No 203, Magerally, Co. Downs. The facsimile includes the seals of the President and the 7 masters which to me are rather interesting – (5)
The President’s Seal has a Cross with the words “IN RI SUPR EMUS” the other seals are numbered and each has a different image and one or two words as follows:-
No.1 – A “Lion” and the words “LET TRUTH”
No.2 – A “Fouled Anchor” and the “STAND”
No.3 – The “Sun” and the words “THOUGH THE”
No.4 – A “Five Pointed Star” with the word “UNIVERSE”
No.5 – A “Face with Wings” and the word “SHOULD”
No.6 – A “scull” with the words “SINK INTO”
No. 7 – A “Crown” with the word “RUINS”
Perhaps part of the Ritual at that time was for each master to give the word/s of his Seal thereby unitedly giving the complete sentence:-
“LET TRUTH STAND THOUGH THE UNIVERSE SHOULD SINK INTO RUINS”
But there is no explanation or comments attached. I suppose it is natural to wonder about its date in view of the modern English text and spelling. However no matter what the true date of the Original it is rather interesting, particularly from a historic point of view. Sorry I do not know the meaning of the words on the President’s seal. I am curious to know just when the above words were superseded by the words our Pillars repeat today.
According to Pick a Night * (p.244) the earliest references to the Order in Ireland go back to 1806 and many certificates have been preserved. As part of a Rite in Ireland in the 18th Century it was known as the White Mason, (4). By 1810 about 40 Irish Warrants were spread over Scotland (2)
In Scotland the Order was controlled by the Early Grand Rite. Today there are four Tabernacles with a total membership of just under 200.
In Lancashire, England, where it was generally known as the Sacred Band of Royal Arch Knight Templar Priests. The Rite is also said to have been practiced from 1780 onwards in York, Bristol, Bath and Salisbury encampments. (2)
The Order was for some time taken under the protective wing of the Allied Masonic Degrees but the Grand College was happily re-established at Newcastle in 1925 (P&Kp233). Recent years have seen considerable expansion and today the Order is controlled by the Grand College of Great Britain and Tabernacles Overseas with its Headquarters in York. The 1992 Year Book the Grand High Priest reports – “We have admitted just over 400 members this year and have had just over 200 new members in new tabernacles. We have once again gone against the general trend and increased our subscribing membership by over 260 and are now approaching the 5600 mark”. Incidentally Tabernacle Mo.168 was warranted in 1992 giving a total membership of 5594 as of the 30th June 1992. Candidates for admission under England must be Knights Templar and Installed Masters of the Craft.
Tabernacles have been erected in Australia and New Zealand and, fro the latter country the degrees were carried to America in 1933 and a sovereign Grand College was constituted in amity with that of England.
In Canada we have 13 Tabernacles with a membership of 596 according to the 1992 Year Book.
What are the Objects of this Order?
It is described by Wylie B Wendt, K.G.C. an American historian in his very good history of the Order as:-
“A small invitational group of intimate friends, who like to be together occasionally, all dedicated to the York Rite of Freemasonry, especially Templary. The Order is awarded to the conferred upon installed Commanders of the commanderies of Knights Templars, for devoted service in the past and in the hope that this devotion and loyalty will continue into the future. It is one of the highest honours that can be awarded to a York Rite Mason.”
I would humbly hazard an opinion that the objects of our order are as follows:-
1. An award by invitation to those who have made a major contribution to Freemasonry through being Past Masters of the Craft and being Knights Templar. Thereby giving an example of leadership, devotion and discipline.
2. Its sign symbolizes the spread of Light over the land and water and gives Hope to those who accept its precepts.
3. It makes one re-examine the whole of one’s past personal and Masonic history and encourages one to seriously consider how all that slowly and painfully accumulated experience must be put to its proper use in the service of God and Mankind.
4. We find how the ancient truths which have come down to us over the centuries are applicable today and that through our faithfulness and participation in this esteemed Order we are charged to apply them.
This paper was read to the Meeting of York Tabernacle No.93 at the Installation Meeting held 29th April, 1993.
(1) The Temple and the Lodge (Baigent and Leigh 1989) p.16
(2) Brief History by H.B. Raynor p.1
(3) “What is the Order of HRAKTP?” by Wylie B. Wendt p5
(4) The Pocket History of Freemasonry – Pick & Knight (1991)
(5) History of the G.L. of Ireland Vo. 1 p.443
(6) KTP Ritual
(7) KTP Year Book 1992 p15
* Since 2014 these two conditions are no longer requirements for membership. (Editor)