Royal Ark Mariner Degree

Otherwise known as The Ancient and Honourable Fraternity of Royal Ark Mariners

This degree, although worked under the aegis of the  Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons, and requiring every candidate to be a Mark Master Mason, has no historical connection whatsoever with that  degree. Mark Grand Lodge’s rule over the ‘Ancient and Honourable  Fraternity of Royal Ark Mariners’ is simply a quirk of fate. It stands  entirely alone and totally unrelated to any other degree in Freemasonry.

The history of the Degree is an obscure and difficult subject and the number of historical facts that have emerged over the  years have indeed been small. As a result the precise origins of the  Royal Ark Mariner degree are unknown.

The Degree is around two hundred years old and, as  its name suggests, it has a nautical flavour taking for its setting the  circumstances leading up to the Great Flood and the steps taken by Noah  to build the Ark by which mankind was preserved from perishing in the  ‘Universal Deluge’.

Like the Mark Master Mason’s Degree, which is based  on an established fact (i.e. the construction of the Temple at  Jerusalem), so the degree of Royal Ark Mariner is also based on an  actual happening, i.e. the Great Flood, as recorded in the Bible and as  verified in 1929 by the archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley, who not only  found clear evidence of the flood, but established that it had occurred  some 6,000 years previously.

The legend of Noah, his sons, the Ark and the Deluge  were enacted in the Mystery Plays of the seventeenth century and  continued as catechisms in many of the early Masonic rituals. By the  1750s there was a Degree of Noachites or Prussian Knights. However, the  first authentic record of the degree appears in the minutes of a meeting held in Bath in 1790. Numerous records exist throughout the country of  the ceremony of Elevation being performed since that date.

The claims that a Grand Lodge of Ark Mariners was  formed in 1772 and presided over by HRH The Duke of Clarence are not  substantiated by the known facts and thus later claims that this Grand  Lodge had fallen into disuse, only to be revived in 1871, do not really  stand up to any degree of scrutiny.

Whilst the degree seems to have been practised in a  variety of ways and in a host of different Lodges, there was almost  certainly no Grand Lodge presiding over the degree. We are, of course,  reminded of the widespread practice of the degree every time we enter a  Craft Lodge and observe the use of the dove bearing an olive branch by  the Deacons rather than Mercury, the messenger of the Gods, which we see in Mark Lodges.

It is interesting to note that, once again, the  ubiquitous Thomas Dunkerly, so important in the fortunes of many degrees in Freemasonry was also describing himself in 1793 as Grand Commander  of the Society of Ancient Masons of the Diluvian Order of Royal Ark  Mariners. It was Dunkerly who appointed one Brother Ebenezer Sibley,  another man of considerable ability in several fields, as his Deputy.  Shortly before Dunkerley’s death it was Sibley who welcomed Lord  Rancliffe as the next Grand Commander. Rancliffe held the office until  1799 after which time the Grand Lodge gradually withered and died. The  degree, however, survived and clung on tenaciously in a number of  places. In 1843 and attempt was made by Brother John F Dorrington to  revive The Grand Lodge of Royal Ark Mariners. It has to be said though,  that his Grand Lodge was even less successful than the 1793 body.

Morton Edwards, having been Passed to the Chair of  Noah, seems to have been fired with the ambition of reviving the Grand  Lodge of Royal Ark Mariners. Accordingly a meeting was held on 13 May  1870 in the Bow Road, London house of Brother Dorrington and it was  agreed to reconstitute a Grand Lodge.

Since a number of Mark Lodges had also begun to work  the degree there was some conflict with The Grand Lodge of Mark Master  Masons, which had been formed in 1856. This came to a head when Brother  The Reverend Canon Portal, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Mark  Master Masons announced, also in 1870, that since the degree of Ark  Mariner had been worked in Mark Lodges since 1790, the Mark would  protect the Royal Ark Mariner degree under a new Grand Master’s Royal  Ark Council. This is the reason for Mark Grand Lodge’s current control  of the Royal Ark Mariners.

The conflict and dissension continued well after 1870 until the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons simply purchased the Degree from Morton Edwards for the sum of £25! The receipt for this  transaction still hangs in the library of Mark Mason’s Hall in St.  James’s Street, London.

Since that time the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge  of Mark Master Masons of England and Wales and its Districts and Lodges  Overseas is automatically Grand Master of The Ancient and Honourable  Fraternity of Royal Ark Mariners. The degree of Royal Ark Mariner may  only be conferred on Mark Master Masons, the government of the two  degrees is inextricanbly linked and a Royal Ark Mariner Lodge is said to be moored to a Mark Lodge bearing the same number, irrespctive of age,  and generally bearing the same name.

Since the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons assumed  the responsibility of the Fraternity it has grown steadily with two  events being of note. In 1991 it was decided to use the December  Communcation of Mark Grand Lodge instead as the Annual Meeting of Royal  Ark Mariners and over the last three years this meeting has had to be  held at Freemason’s Hall, Great Queen Street in order to accomodate the  numbers wishing to attend.

More recently the Tracing Board has been  re-introduced, it having been out of favour for over one hundred years.  That it could be re-activated was in no small measure due to Gladsmuir  Lodge No. 367 (of this Province of Hertfordshire) who had kept a copy of their tracing board and with the assistance of the then senior members  of the Province they persuaded the ‘powers that be’ that it would add  value to our Lodges and their ceremonial. Royal Ark Mariner Lodges are  also starting to revive the use of a special floor cloth which adds much lustre to the ceremonies.

The qualification for “elevation to membership” is, as mentioned above, that of being a Mark Master Mason.

Elevation into the Royal Ark Mariner Degree  commemorates the providence and mercy of God and relates to the legend  of the deluge. The subject matter being taken directly from The Bible is naturally both beautiful and instructive. When the candidate enters the Lodge room his attention is directed to three pillars and at one stage  the Ark is memontarily symbolised in terms similar to the Ark of  Salvation. The candidate is finally instructed to advance in the spirit  of the Cardinal Virtues.

The teaching of the Degree emphasises the importance  of the family strengths and the need for each member of scoiety to play  his part for the benefit of all. We are taught that out of chaos and  catastrophe mankind can survive and that we should face adversity  together, helping to look after those less fortunate than ourselves.

During the ceremony analogies are drawn between the  dangers of the flood and the dangers of life. We are reminded of how we  should strive to reach the Ark, the haven of rest, just as did Noah’s  family and the other occupants of the Ark in the Biblical tales of the  deluge.

Most Royal Ark Mariner Lodges meet three times per  year, usually on the same evening as their Mark Lodge. In some instances the RAM installation may be held at a different meeting so as to allow  the incoming Worshipful Commander to preside over the Festive Board and  to have “his own” evening.

The oldest Royal Ark Mariner Lodge in the Province is Gladsmuir Lodge No 367 whose warrant is dated from 17 October 1894

The officers of a Lodge of Royal Ark Mariners are  similar to those in a Mark Lodge although they bear different names. The Master is known as The Worshipful Commander, the Secretary as the  Scribe, the Inner Guard as the Guardian and the Tyler as the Warder.

The principal officers represent Noah (Worshipful  Commander) and his two sons Japeth (Senior Warden) and Shem (Junior  Warden). The wardens sit, as in the craft lodges of old, in the North  West and South West of the Lodge room respectively, the Deacons being  stationed together in the West.

There is only one ceremony (apart from installation  of a Worshipful Commander) and that is the ceremony of elevation which  at around forty-five minutes is relatively short. Only one ritual is  used throughout the constitution.

W Bro John Oakley-Smith, RAMGR, PastDPGM
Based on an article by V W Bro Brian A Vickers, RAMGR Past DPGM (London)