Public processions of the Order, although not as popular as they were some years ago, still have the warrant of early and long usage. The first procession, after the revival, of which we have a record, took place June 24, 1721, when, as Anderson tells us (Constitutions, 1738, page 112), “Payne, Grand Master, with his Wardens, the former Grand officers, and the Masters and Wardens of twelve Lodges, met the Grand Master elect in a Grand Lodge at the King’s Arms Tavern, Saint Paul’s Churchyard, in the morning, . . . and from thence they marched on foot to the Hall in proper clothing and due form” (see Clothing and Regalia). Anderson and Entick continue to record the annual processions of the Grand Lodge and the Craft on the Feast Day, with a few exceptions, for the next twenty five years; but after this first pedestrian procession all the subsequent ones were made in carriages, the record being, “the procession of March was made in coaches and chariots” (Constitutions, 1756, page 227).
But ridicule being thrown by the enemies of the Order upon these processions, by a mock one in 1741 (see Scald Miserables), and in subsequent years, in 1747 the Grand Lodge unanimously resolved to discontinue them, nor have they since been renewed (Constitutions, 1756, page 248). on the subject of these mock processions, see an article by Dr. W. J. Chetwode Crawley (Transactions, Quatuor Coronati Lodge, volume xviu).
Public processions of the Craft were some years ago very common in America, nor have they vet been altogether abandoned; although now practiced with greater discretion and less frequently, being in general restricted to special occasions of importance, such as funerals, the laying of corner-stones, etc.
The question has been often mooted, whether public processions, with the open exhibition of its regalia and furniture, are or are not of advantage to the Order. In 1747 it was thought not to be so, at least in London, but the custom was continued, to a great extent, in the provinces. Doctor Oliver (Symbol of Glory) was in favor of what he calls “the good old custom, so strongly recommended and assiduously practiced by the Masonic worthies of the eighteenth century, and imitated by many other public bodies of men, of assembling the Brethren of a Provence annually under their own banner, and marching in solemn procession to the house of God, to offer up their thanksgiving in the public congregation for the blessings of the preceding year; to pray for mercies in prospect, and to hear from the pulpit a disquisition on the moral and religious purposes of the Order.”
Processions are not peculiar to the Masonic Fraternity. The custom comes to us from remote antiquity. In the initiations at Eleusis, the celebration of the Mysteries was accompanied each day by a solemn procession of the initiates from Athens to the temple of initiation. Apuleius describes the same custom as prevailing in the celebration of the Mysteries of Isis.
Among the early Romans, it was the custom, in times of public triumph or distress, to have solemn processions to the temples, either to thank the gods for their favor or to invoke their protection. The Jews also went in procession to the Temple to offer up their prayers. So, too, the primitive Christians walked in procession to the tombs of the martyrs Ecclesiastical processions were first introduced in the fourth century.
They are now used in the Roman Church on various occasions, and the Pontificate Romanum supplies the necessary ritual for their observance. In the Middle Ages these processions were often carried to an absurd extent Polydore describes them as consisting of ”ridiculous contrivances, of a figure with a great gaping mouth, and other pieces of merriment.” But these displays were abandoned with the increasing refinement of the age. At this day, processions are common in all countries, not only of religious confraternities, but of political and social societies. There are processions also in Freemasonry which are confined to the internal concerns of the Order, and are not therefore of a public nature. The procession “around the Hall,” at the installation of the Grand Masters is first mentioned in 1791. Previous to that year there is no allusion to any such ceremony. From 1W17-20 we are simply told that the new Grand Master “was saluted,” and that he was “homaged” or that “his health was drunk in due form.” But in 1721 a processional ceremony seems to have been composed, for in that year we are informed (Constitutions, 1735, page 113), that “Brother Payne. the old Grand Master, made the first procession round the Hall, and when returned, he proclaimed aloud the most noble Prince and our Brother.” This procession was not abolished with the public processions in 1747, but continued for many years afterward.
In the United States it gave rise to the procession at the installation of Masters, which, although pronded for by the ritual, and practiced by Lodges, has been too often neglected by many. The form of the I procession, as adopted in 1724, is given by Anderson (Constitutions, 1738, page 117), and is almost precisely the same as that used in all Masonic processions at the present day, except funeral ones. The rule was then adopted, which has ever since prevailed, that in all processions the juniors in Degree and in office shall go first, so that the place of honor shall be the rear.
An early Masonic procession is reported in Read’s Weekly Journal or British Gazeteer, No. 606, April 13, 1736, as quoted in the Freemasons Magazine and Masonic Mirror, September 19, 1863 (page 223) as follows:
Friday, about 2 o’clock, the Grand Cavalcade of the Most Ancient and Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons, set forward from the Earl of London’s house in Privy-garden to Fishmonger’s hall in Thames street.
The procession was as follows: A pair of kettledrums, 2 trumpets, 2 French horns, 4 haut-boys, 2 bassoons, the 12 present stewards in 12 chariots, the Master and warden of the Stewards Lodge in one coach, the Brethren in their respective coaches, the noblemen and gentlemen who have served in the Grand Offices. the two Grand Wardens in one coach the Deputy Grand Master alone the Secretary and Sword Bearer in one coach, the Rt. Hon., the Lord Viscount Weymouth, the present Grand Master. and the Rt. Hon. Earl of London, the Grand Master elect, together in the Lord Weymouth’s coach, the Earl of London’s coach and six horses, empty, closed the procession. The cavalcade proceeded through the Strand Fleet street, Cheapside, Cornhill and Gracechurch-street to Fishmonger s Hall, where a very elegant entertainment was provided by the Stewards. In the evening there was a grand ball for the ladies, and the whole was concluded with the usual magnificence and grandeur
PROCESSIONS, PAGEANTS, ASSEMBLIES
With the subject of processions, discussed on page 808, may be connected pageants and assemblies, because at some three or four periods in the history of Freemasonry the three had the same importance for both the public and Craftsmen. In the earliest period of the Operative Craft assemblies were in general forbidden by the King, whether public or private—if public they were generally called assemblies or congregations, if private they were often called covines; it was feared lest large numbers of peoples met together might plan united action against their temporal or their religious rulers.
An assembly could, however, be held on written permission, or patent, from some lord, prince, or king; and the author of the original version of the Old Charges made much of the fact that when it had held its General Assembly in York to receive a charter, the Fraternity held it by royal permission, which proved that it had not been an unlawful congregation or covine. Even after they had formed a new and permanent General Assembly, or Grand Lodge, in 1717, the Lodges did not feel easy in their minds until they had secured patronage from a member of the nobility, the Duke of Montague, and, as the events proved, they were wise, because when in 1799 the Parliament forbade secret societies (“covines”) the Noble Patrons of the two Grand Lodges went in person and obtained exemption for the Fraternity by name.
In the heyday of the gild system pageants were a prominent, established, constituted municipal event, provided for in the law, supervised by the Mayor and Aldermen, and belonging to the customs or rules of the gilds themselves.
These pageants consisted of floats, each mounted on a wagon, each boat having some general significance, or else was one act in a connected series of acts. They were so elaborately and richly costumed, the “machinery” used was so ingenious, and the arrangements to be made were so extensive, that a pageant like the famous Corpus Christi at Chester might cost many thousands of dollars; and records of the gild and City Companies, each of which participated, show that there was often much complaint about costs. The custom was for each gild to contribute one float, or “waggon.” It does not appear that Freemasons were very often in these pageants; where they had local gilds or companies they usually were small; where many Masons worked on a cathedral they had not a gild but a Lodge.
The Church and the State between them exercised a rigid control of these pageants, censored the words spoken, and the actions, costumes, and machinery.
This fact explains the early fear Masons had of Masonic pageants; it explains also why Freemasons enacted their own ceremonies in secret; they knew, oftentimes, that the Church would condemn them for heresy, or at least would frown upon them as novelties or innovations; in a time when the people had no books, and priests preached few sermons, pageants became a book, and the Church made sure to see that it was an orthodox book.
The ceremonies used by the Freemasons then would, if we could now see them, be innocuous and innocent in our eyes, and with no theological significance; but our own familiar and innocuous ceremonies, were we by miracle to enact them in the year 1200 A.D., would condemn us to burning at the stake; the Tiler at the door of the Medieval Lodge and the guard against eavesdroppers were of more than ceremonial importance; certainly no Freemason would wish to see his own emblems and ceremonies exhibited in a pageant.
By the Eighteenth Century the pageant had become a procession, but even as processions they had their dangers, as Dr. Desaguliers and his Brethren discovered in the early years of Grand Lodge. Streets were narrow; a procession stopped traffic and interfered with stores and shops (the typical Medieval village or town had no stores); street arabs were inspired to rowdyism; the more solemn the procession the more likely it was to be parodied by a mock procession—an acted-out cartoon. Moreover, processions often were used for political propaganda, or as public protests, or as threats to gentlemen in power, or as invitations to popular revolt, or as a challenge to some rival party, etc. The Grand Lodge forbade Masonic processions, even the old custom of the ceremonial conducting of a new Grand Master from his home to be installed in the Grand Lodge room. When Preston and his fellow officers from the Lodge of Antiquity met at church, they walked together only a few feet, and wore no regalia except white gloves, yet they were expelled by the Grand Lodge.
What a procession might mean in the terms of pubs lie order, and at times of political crisis, is best seen in the history of the troubles in Ireland which led to the foundation or the Orange Society; and in the history of Cambridge and of Oxford Universities when in the battles between Town and Gown what began as a procession would up as a riot. At the present time what we Americans call “Masonic processions” are not processions as Eighteenth Century Masons would have understood the word because they do not enact anything or signify anything; they are nothing but a walking together,” not for the purpose of putting Masonic emblems or regalia on public view but in order that when the members of a Lodge attend a church or a funeral or go to lay a corner-stone they go together.
The difficulties Grand Lodges and Grand Masters have of deciding whether to permit them or not may be owing to their confusing a present day “marching together” with the very different processions of the days when the first rules were made.
(See Historical Reminiscence of the City of London and its Livery Companies, by Thomas Arundell; Bentley; London; 1869; it is very rich in materials OF gild processions, pageants, etc.; see Chapters XXIV and XX~Y, and consult Index.)