The Grand Imperial Conclave of the Military and Masonic Order of the Red Cross of Constantine and the Orders of the Holy Sepulchre and of Saint John the Evangelist, are governed from the Registry of the Orders which is situated at 86 St. James's Street, London. The five ceremonies embodied within these Orders form a complete Rite comprising three individual 'rituals of admission' and two additional 'chair degrees'. The whole is considered by many to constitute the third pillar of Christian Freemasonry.

The earliest record of the degree, The Red Cross of Constantine, was in the late 1700's when the Early Grand Rite of Scotland actively conferred the ceremony as part of their series of forty-six Degrees: it appeared as twenty-third on the roll, the Holy Sepulchre being the twenty-fourth, and St. John the Evangelist the twenty-fifth, all bestowed in a Council of the Trinity.

There is also evidence that London publisher, William Finch, was selling the ritual of 'The Red Cross of Constantine' in 1812, while another entitled 'The Red Cross of Rome & Constantine' was published by Richard Carlile in his Manual of Freemasonry in 1825. This contains excerpts of a ceremony remarkably similar to that in use today. As far as England and Wales were concerned however, there was no regular Masonic authority controlling the degree until 1865, when a Grand Conclave of the Order was established at the instigation of Robert Wentworth Little, an employee at Freemasons' Hall.

Little asserted that the new body was a revival of a much older organisation, being anxious that the degree be acknowledged as a regular 'Order of Chivalry' in accordance with the Articles of Union, 1813. He went to great lengths to authenticate his claim, yet was unable to establish a reliable pedigree; nevertheless, the Order spread at an unprecedented rate with over one hundred Conclaves being erected in nine different countries within ten years. There is little doubt that the appeal of this chivalric Order was due to the impressive nature of its admission ceremony coupled with subsequent advancement to the distinctive chairs (degrees) of Viceroy and Sovereign.

Since its emergence in London, more than a dozen sovereign Grand Conclaves of the Order have been formed around the world. That in England remains the mother Grand Conclave for all others save those of Germany and Greece, though the latter remain in amity. The grand body in Scotland continues with the older title of 'The Grand Imperial Council of the Imperial, Religious and Military Order of Rome and the Red Cross of Constantine', a designation which had been discarded in England by 1901.

The basis of this Order derives from the life of the Emperor Constantine and the crucial effect he had on Christianity. On the death of his father Constantius, at York in July 306, he was proclaimed Caesar by the Legions. Over the succeeding five years his counterpart, the Emperor Maxentius, gravely impugned his reputation which induced him to march on Rome in order to seek retribution. During the intervening period he is said to have had a visionary experience when, as related by Eusebius of Caesarea, he witnessed 'the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens'. He subsequently ordered that a new battle standard be constructed depicting the symbol he had observed, and appointed an elite troop of fifty legionaries to guard the standard in combat.

Red Cross of Constantine

Whilst every candidate for admission into this Order must be a Royal Arch Mason, he is also required to confirm his true belief in the Trinitarian Christian faith, as he is embarking on an experience demanding a clear sense of religious dedication. After undergoing the Rite of Lustration, he is received under the aegis of the ‘Thirteenth Apostle' and is enjoined to traverse the world in search of true enlightenment.

On completion of his figurative journey his attention is drawn to the imposing Standard of Constantine, around which much of the symbolism of the degree is centred. He is invited by the Sovereign to repeat an obligation of knighthood, following which he receives the accolade of a Perfect Knight-Mason. The mysteries of the Order having been communicated, he is invested with the Insignia of the Order, armed, installed, and duly proclaimed by the Herald. The historical legend of the foundation of the Order is then narrated, in which the Emperor's achievements are reviewed and wherein the new Knight is reminded of his commitment to uphold the tenets of Christian chivalry thus bringing the degree to a fitting climax.

The regalia of the Degree consists of a sash of Imperial purple and a Jewel of the Order, which comprises a red cross Flory bearing the gold letters IHSV which is worn on the left breast suspended from a purple ribbon.

Viceroy of Constantine

The office of Viceroy is constructed around the personality of Eusebius, a bishop who was contemporary with Constantine; this reveals an incongruity, as unfortunately there were two contemporary ecclesiastics of that name and therefore a measure of confusion exists as to whom the Masonic character represents. They were Eusebius of Caesarea, Bishop of Palestine, the church historian and Eusebius of Nicomedia, Bishop of Constantinople, Chamberlain to the Emperor, who baptised the sovereign on his deathbed.

Within the Masonic Order, the rank of Viceroy of a local Conclave (i.e. Eusebius) is a necessary preparation for advancement to the ultimate office of Sovereign. However, at Grand Imperial Conclave level, the functions of Viceroy and Eusebius are administered as two separate offices.

In a Conclave, this rank constitutes a degree in itself, and demands that all concerned must have previously been admitted to the Appendant Orders of The Holy Sepulchre, and of St. John the Evangelist. As Viceroy-elect, the aspirant is obligated in the presence of the Knights of the Conclave and subsequently admitted into a College of Priests-Mason; here he is consecrated, anointed and instructed how to proceed in the pursuit of perfection, after which the mysteries of the Priesthood are communicated. He is further invested with a white surplice, bearing the red-cross symbol of the Order - worn over the sash of the Appendant degrees - together with a white collarette, from which is suspended the ‘Jewel of the Order' surmounted by a mitre in gold charged with the letters X (Chi) and P (Rho), being the first two letters of Christos, the Greek word for Christ. Attention is also drawn to his Standard, the Labarum, a purple banner bearing the letters X and P in red. After installation as Viceroy of the Conclave he is presented with a Pastoral Staff as his symbol of authority.

Sovereign of a Conclave

Elevation to the rank of Most Puissant Sovereign signifies promotion to the final degree of the system; the summit of the Rite. This honour is conferred upon knights in recognition of selfless devotion to the Order, and who have received the accolade in the three degrees of the system and who have served the office of Viceroy. After the Sovereign-elect has been obligated before the assembled Knights, a Senate of Sovereigns is convened wherein specific Johannine scripture is evoked to inculcate the reverence demanded by this sublime ceremony. Gaining admission, the supplicant is invited to reflect upon the steps he has undertaken in order to attain his present exalted position and is exhorted to advance in solemn meditation and contemplate upon his pending responsibilities. On completion of this journey the mysteries of the Degree are communicated and the significance of the Standard of Constantine is explained in full; he is then clothed in a scarlet robe of 'regality' which is worn over the sash of the Appendant Orders. He is next invested with the collarette and jewel of his rank after which he is solemnly enthroned, presented with his baton of office, and proclaimed as a Perfect Prince-Mason.

The insignia of a Sovereign comprises the ‘Jewel of the Order' charged with the XP (Chi-Ro) symbol surmounted by an Imperial crown of gold, a stylised version of the traditional insignia used by the familial Constantinian Order of St.George.

It is acknowledged that from the outset the Craft was Christian in character; after the decision to 'universalise' Freemasonry in the early 1720s a noticeable void was created, with the consequence that the emergence and development of the Christian degrees apparently took place. There is little doubt that a debt of gratitude is owed to the unknown erudite brethren who contributed to the ritualistic expertise which has resulted in the rich legacy of profound and beautiful ceremonies that were created in order to stimulate the search for ‘the Lost Word'. It was against this background of progress and change that the Order of the Red Cross of Constantine and its Appendant Degrees eventually progressed to the unique position it holds within the structure of Freemasonry, rendering membership very desirable for every Christian Royal Arch Mason.

Knights of the Holy Sepulchre and St John the Evangelist

These additional Orders, the so-called 'Appendant Orders', comprise the Order of the Holy Sepulchre and the Holy Order of St. John the Evangelist. These degrees are of particular significance to the enlightened Christian Freemason.

Both the degrees are administered from 86 St. James's Street, London, by the Patriarchal Council, a body which is synonymous with that of the Grand Imperial Conclave, where the Grand Sovereign assumes the dignity of Patriarch and Grand Commander, while the Grand Eusebius, is acknowledged as the Grand Sub-Patriarch and Deputy Grand Commander.

Knight of the Noble & Invincible Order of the Holy Sepulchre

This, the first of the Appendant Orders, is founded around the legend of the search for the True Cross and the eventual formation of a unique militia designated to guard the holy relic. The ritual in use today is undoubtedly based on degrees found in the Early Grand Rite, i.e. Knight of the Christian Mark, and Knight of the Holy Sepulchre, both of which were published by Avery Allen in his Ritual of Freemasonry, around 1831 in the United States. It appears that Robert Wentworth Little incorporated much of the narrative embodied in these workings to formulate his own degree of the Holy Sepulchre, which was subsequently conferred with full ceremonial in 1868. However, much of the history recounted in these rituals was originally taken from the writings of Geoffrey of Monmouth (c.1100-54) and other doubtful sources, and today are known to be erroneous.

While St. Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, is credited with the discovery of the Cross of Christ and the erection of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (hence her canonisation), official records in the Vatican confirm that the knighthood of that name did not come into existence until after the capture of Jerusalem by the Crusaders in 1099. Godefroy de Bouillon as Advocate (defender) of the Holy Sepulchre, was requested by Daimar, Patriarch of Jerusalem, to form an exclusive troop of guardian knights to protect the holy site from the infidel. After Godefroy's death in 1100, subsequent novices were required to take their oath of fealty on his tomb situated within the church of the Holy Sepulchre. In due course, a red Jerusalem Cross was adopted as the insignia of the Order and the Pontiff Callixtus II formally approved it in 1122, from which time it has endured to the present day, becoming a Pontifical Equestrian Hospitaller Order with a Cardinal (Prince of the Church) as Grand Master.

The Masonic Degree of the Holy Sepulchre

Admission to this Masonic Order is only granted to brethren who are Royal Arch Masons and Knights of the Red Cross of Constantine. The beautiful ceremonial is enacted as two individual points within a Sanctuary of the degree, under the presidency of a 'Right Reverend Prelate', who is mitred and robed in a white surplice, and bears a pastoral staff; he is supported by a team of some 20 officers, including a full complement of Sepulchre guards. The narrative pertains to the vital period linking the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, with significant references being made to the scriptural readings of St. Mark. Having given proof of his eligibility, the aspirant, clothed with the purple sash of Constantine, is apprised of the noble qualities inspired by the three Theological Virtues, and is obligated in a manner which mirrors the rite observed by the original chivalric knights in the church on Mount Calvary. An historical oration is then delivered, prior to his enduring the rigours of symbolical warfare and after a successful outcome he is rewarded with formal recognition as a Brother Knight; he is then instructed in the Corporal Works of Mercy and the secrets of the Holy Sepulchre are communicated.

Knight of the Holy Order of Saint John the Evangelist

The second of the Appendant Orders may well have evolved from early workings of the Royal Arch, while there is also evidence of strong links with the Early Grand Rite where Knight of St. John was the 25th in that series of degrees. This ritual appears to have been refined with great care under the skilful pen of Robert Wentworth Little, who expanded it into the imposing ceremony that it is today; it was first performed under the aegis of the Grand Imperial Conclave in 1868.

It is based upon a tradition recorded by the Christian historian Philostorgius, around 410 AD, which refers to events that reputedly occurred at Jerusalem during the brief reign of the Emperor Julian 'the Apostate' (361-363 AD). These episodes have been studiously applied to depict the lessons of the Craft and Royal Arch ceremonies from a purely Christian viewpoint.

The Degree

A Commandery of St. John is formed after the closing of a Sanctuary of the Holy Sepulchre. It is convened by the 'Most Enlightened Commander' wearing the personal insignia of his rank and supported by a similar complement of officers. The candidate is admitted and recounts that, on visiting the ruins of the Temple, he has made a discovery, which unbeknown to him is focused upon profound Johanine writings. These prove to be highly consequential and as a reward he is instructed in the legendary origin of Masonic rites as a fitting preparation for the full honours of knighthood. The accolade is then conferred, signifying his reception as a Christian Knight of the Appendant Orders, after which he is duly invested with the appropriate Insignia. He is then entrusted with the secrets of a Knight of St. John, and installed and saluted by the assembled knights, after which, he is invited to unite with them and to ratify his vows to Christian brotherhood. The Commandery is then closed with due veneration.

The inter-connection of the Orders

As the knightly degrees of the Holy Sepulchre and St. John the Evangelist are defined as separate Orders, it may be questioned as to why they are appendant to that of Constantine. It should be appreciated however, that all are a pre-requisite step to the grades of Viceroy (Priest), and the ultimate office of Sovereign (Prince), which can lead to recognition at Divisional level, and possible promotion to Grand rank. However, while being administered by Grand Imperial Conclave they are not connected ritualistically, yet are based upon a chronological sequence of events. The three ceremonies of knighthood, con-joined with that of Priests and Princes-Mason form a complete series, and embody some of the most profound and beautiful ceremonial to be found within Freemasonry. As such, they form a noteworthy Masonic rite that has achieved international recognition, and one that is eagerly embraced by all those who are drawn to the realms of Christian Masonic chivalry.