The exact origins of the four Chapter degrees in its current form as part of the York Rite are unknown, but the degree of Royal Arch Mason is generally considered the most widely known and talked about degree in the Masonic system. This is because it had traditionally been part of the third degree until the formation of the United Grand Lodge of England.
Although glimpses of Royal Arch Masonry vocabulary appear in Masonic literature from the 1720's, the first verifiable appearance of Royal Arch Masonry is in Ireland in the 1740's during a Dublin procession. According to Lodge No. 21’s records, the “Royal Arch” was carried in a procession by “two excellent Masons” through Youghal, Ireland, on December 27, 1743. The degree is also mentioned disapprovingly in Dassigny’s “A serious and impartial inquiry into the cause of the present decay of Free-masonry in the Kingdom of Ireland” published in Dublin in 1744. Separate notes in this work indicate that the rite was practiced in Dublin, London and York, and described it as an “organis’d body of men who have passed the chair” (i.e. served as the Master of a Craft lodge).
In 1749, the Grand Lodge of Ireland issued warrants to Lodges 190 and 198 to establish “Royal Arch Lodges”. From Ireland, the Royal Arch spread to England, where it fueled the rivalry between the two Craft Grand Lodges in existence at that time. In 1717, the original Premier Grand Lodge of England had been formed in London to govern Craft Freemasonry in England. From 1751, its claim to represent the whole of English Craft Freemasonry was contested by the Antient Grand Lodge of England. In the ensuing debate, the newer Grand Lodge became known as the “Antients”, while the older was referred to as the “Moderns”. In 1746, Laurence Dermott, later the Grand Secretary of the “Antients”, had been accepted into a Royal Arch Chapter in Dublin, which at that time was open only to those who had previously served as Master of a Craft lodge. He regarded the Royal Arch as the fourth degree of Craft Masonry. Under his influence, the “Antients” championed the Royal Arch degree in England, while it was met with hostility in the “Moderns”.
At the beginning of the 19th century, when the “Antients” and the “Moderns” moved from rivalry towards union, the role and purpose of the Royal Arch became a sticking point. The “Antients” viewed the Royal Arch as a fourth degree of Craft Freemasonry and worked it as part of the Craft ceremonies, while the “Moderns” held that Craft Freemasonry consisted of three degrees only and that the Royal Arch was at the most an extension of the third (Master Mason’s) degree which was to be administered separately. When the “Antients” and “Moderns” merged in 1813 to form the United Grand Lodge of England, this was possible only after reaching a compromise on the role and purpose of Royal Arch Masonry. After the union, the “Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch” would be fully recognized by the United Grand Lodge, but become a separate order with all Craft Lodges permitted to work the ceremony.
On November 10, 2004, the Grand Chapter of the Holy Royal Arch in England declared the Royal Arch to be a separate degree in its own right, albeit the natural progression from the third degree, and the completion of “pure, Antient Masonry”, which consists of the three Craft degrees and the Royal Arch. Following this decision by the Grand Chapter in England in 2004, there are currently significant ritual differences between Royal Arch Masonry as worked in England and Royal Arch Masonry worked as part of the York Rite in the USA, however, fraternal inter-relations remain as before.
Royal Arch Masonry in Pennsylvania
While there was much discontent and disagreement over the Royal Arch between the Grand Lodges of England during those early years, the Freemasons in Northern America had been performing Royal Arch ceremonies, as well as some others that are now more familiarly part of Knights Templar and the Red Cross of Constantine, until the end of the 18th century.
Royal Arch Masonry in Pennsylvania can be traced back to December 3, 1767 by a set of Minutes of Royal Arch Lodge No. 3, "Ancients" which became known as Jerusalem Royal Arch Chapter No. 3. After the independence of the American Colonies in 1776, Freemasonry in the United States remained relatively little influenced by the rivalry between the “Antients” and “Moderns” in England and by this time the colonies began to establish their own Masonic practices. It also follows, that by 1783, the Brethren of Royal Arch Chapter No. 3 resolved upon a special night of meeting apart from the normal stated meeting night, thus separating it as a separate entity from the Blue Lodge. This Chapter also went on to "warrant" other Chapters and formed a "Grand Holy Royal Arch Chapter" of it's own accord. Due to this, this "Grand Chapter" was unlawfully constituted in the eyes of the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and was at odds with them over its legitimacy. Therefore, the Grand Lodge formed a Committee to investigate the forming of a recognized Grand Chapter.
Traditionally, the Degree of Royal Arch Mason was conferred upon Past Masters of Symbolic Lodges, and as more Past Masters wished to join a Chapter and become Royal Arch Masons, the need for more "recognized" local Chapters became evident. Therefore, on November 23, 1795, the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, Free and Accepted Masons offered the following:
"And whereas, it is the prevailing wish of the Royal Arch Masons within this jurisdiction that a Royal Arch Grand Chapter should be opened, under the immediate sanction of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania; Be it further resolved, that all past and existing officers of the Grand Lodge having duly obtained the degree of Royal Arch, and all past and existing officers of Chapters of Royal Arch Masons, duly and regularly convened under the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, be considered as members of the Grand Royal Arch Chapter, and that all members of regular Chapters shall be admitted to their meetings, but not have any vote nor speak to any question, unless requested."
And on November 30, 1795 the Committee reported that had met with several brethren of the new Grand Chapter, and they had agreed to the recommendations. The Committee offered the additional recommendation: "Resolved, That there now exists a perfect harmony among the brethren in Pennsylvania, and that the several brethren who have been suspended be and are hereby restored, and that all matters and things done in the Grand Lodge, affecting the private and individual rights of the said brethren, be and are hereby done away and repealed."
This resolution was ultimately adopted by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, and thus, the Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Pennsylvania became the first such Grand Chapter to be initiated and founded by its Grand Lodge. Today, it remains the only one in the world established as such.
Royal Arch Masonry in Gettysburg
Established on March 23, 1886, Good Samaritan Royal Arch Chapter #226 has been working in the community to increase Masonic awareness and relations, and further the Masonic education of the Blue Lodge members.