Origin of the Term “York” Rite Masonry

The York Rite was named from a belief, commonly held in the 18th century, that British Masonry originated in York, England, under either Edwin of Northumbria in 627 A.D. or Athelstan in 926 A.D. Although there is no evidence to support this belief, the name York became closely associated with Ancient Craft Masonry. After King Edwin was converted to Christianity in 627 A.D., he order cathedrals to be erected for Christian worship and organized the Masons at York to carry on that work. The York Grand Lodge believed that is body descended from that organization. 

In 926 A.D. Athelstan either organized or reorganized the Masons at York and gave them a charter. The other English Grand Lodges claimed that Freemasonry in England descended from the body chartered by Athelstan and headed by his son or brother Edwin. During much of the 18th century there were two English Grand Lodges, the Moderns and the Ancients. Both asserted they were “York Masons.”

The Ancients began their Warrants as follows: “To all whom it may concern: We the Grand Lodge of the most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons (according to the Old Constitutions granted by his Royal Highness Prince Edwin at York, Anno Domini Nine hundred and twenty-six, and in the year of Masonry Four thousand Nine hundred and twenty-six) in ample form assembled, etc.

The Grand Secretary of the Moderns stated in 1769: “The Society of Ancient York Masons, under the direction of the Grand Lodge, was transferred many years ago to London. Ours is the real Ancient Grand Lodge of York.” This statement is based on the action of the Grand Lodge in 1721 in ordering Dr. James Anderson to codify the “old Gothic Constitutions,” which is another name for the “York Constitutions.

The Ancient Grand Lodge included the Royal Arch as one of its degrees and also originated the “Virtual” Past Master Degree. As the York Rite contains these two degrees, the name is appropriate.

- Indiana Monitor and Royal Arch Mason’s Guide

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