The Ancient and Accepted Rite is a Masonic Order of Degrees ‘beyond the Craft’. It is the culmination of a series of Masonic developments which followed the creation of the first Grand Lodge in London in 1717. Its origins lie in the ‘Rite of Perfection’, which emerged in Bordeaux in the mid eighteenth century.
From France it travelled to the Caribbean islands of Dominique and Martinique with Stephen Morin, a prominent French Mason and West Indian merchant. Morin had been commissioned by the French Grand Lodge as its Inspector for the Higher Degrees in the New World. With the assistance of Henry Franken, a Jamaican resident who later became his deputy, the Rite developed into a system of 25 degrees subsequently known as ‘Morin’s Rite’.
In 1767, Franken visited the American mainland to propagate the 25 degree system. Between this time and the end of the century, many ad hoc variations in the Rite appeared. They were influenced by new developments in Europe and the whims of a new generation of Deputy Inspectors during this era of political and social upheaval resulting from the French Revolution and the American War of Independence.
The 33 Degree system as we know it first appeared in Charleston, South Carolina, where in May 1801, the first Supreme Council of the Ancient and Accepted Rite of 33 Degrees was held. This became the Supreme Council of the Southern Jurisdiction of the United States of America, the Mother Council of the World as it legitimately proclaims itself today.
It was convened under the authority of the Grand Constitutions of 1786. These claim to be of European derivation under the authority of King Frederick the Great of Prussia, though historically there is considerable doubt about this. After over 200 years, these Constitutions nevertheless remain the basis of the organisation and governance of the Order worldwide.
The Supreme Council
The ‘Supreme Council for England and Wales and it’s Districts and Chapters Overseas was created under a patent granted in 1845 by the Supreme Council of the Northern Jurisdiction of the United States of America.
The Council comprises nine Sovereign Grand Inspectors General. They promote the wellbeing of the Order, govern its relations with other Masonic bodies, confer the Higher Degrees and consecrate new Chapters. They also manage the affairs of the Order, a function which in England and Wales is largely delegated to some 50 Inspectors General, each managing his own District. Gloucestershire and Herefordshire is one such District.
Gloucestershire and Herefordshire District
The District of Gloucestershire and Herefordshire has existed since 1949 following a series of changes in the administrative structure of the Ancient and Accepted Rite in England and Wales.
Our oldest Chapter, St Thomas No 49 was consecrated in Gloucester in 1873 into what was then known as the W (West) District. By 1919 this had changed its name to West Central District, which included Gloucestershire and Herefordshire, Staffordshire and Shropshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire. It was over 70 years before the consecration in Cheltenham of the second Chapter, Cotswold No 348, followed in 1944.
The post war period saw a growth in the number of new Chapters consecrated nationally. It included in our District, Downend and Ledbury in 1947. The same year the West Central District divided into two further Districts when we became part of the District of Warwickshire, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire. Two years later Warwickshire separated creating the District of Gloucestershire and Herefordshire as it exists today.
Further consecrations followed with Cheltonia Chapter in 1949 and Charity in 1952, and continued steadily over the next thirty years with Sabrina in 1954, and Staple Hill and St Aldwyn in 1960, Chipping Campden in 1977 and Stroud in 1978. Sympathy & Grace Chapter was consecrated in Wotton in 1985 with petitions from Hereford and Tewkesbury leading respectively to the consecration of Bishop Sara Chapter in 1995 and Theoc Chapter in 2001.
The past Sovereigns’ Chapter, St Mary & St Peter, (named after the patron Saints of the cathedrals of Hereford and Gloucester respectively), was consecrated in 2001. As a Chapter of Sovereigns present and past, its meetings move around the District between Hereford, Stroud, Downend (Bristol) and Cirencester, whose Masonic centres have the capacity to cater for the higher attendances it attracts. It does not perfect new members. Its meetings feature programmes of speakers. Its Enthronements enjoy the support of Inspectors General, District Recorders and other distinguished guests from surrounding Districts.
Compared to other degrees, the administrative structure in Rose Croix is very flat. Between Supreme Council in London and private Chapters, the District administration consists of two people only, the Inspector General assisted by the District Recorder.