The Masonic Order of Athelstan in England, Wales and its Provinces Overseas
Provincial Grand Court of Sussex

The Order:
About the Masonic Order of Athelstan
Qualifications for Membership
Membership of The Masonic Order of Athelstan in England, Wales and its Provinces Overseas (The Order) is strictly invitational. It is a mandatory requirement for each member to have current, active and ongoing membership of both Craft and Royal Arch Chapter Masonry. To this end ‘the Order’ is fully committed to supporting the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) and expects each and every member of the Order to give full support and allegiance to the UGLE. Members are expected to take a wide and committed interest in all aspects of freemasonry.

Two frequently asked questions by Brethren seeking Membership
As a member of the Masonic Order of Athelstan when Brethren seek an interest in the Order they have two questions:

  • Who was Athelstan?

and when told say:

  • I cannot recall much about the Anglo-Saxons.

I hope that this brief resume of the Anglo-Saxons, Athelstan and the Masonic Order of Athelstan will assist in answering these questions.

Who were the Anglo-Saxons?
The Anglo-Saxons were descendants of Germanic tribes who migrated to the southern half of the England from continental Europe, this was augmented by other indigenous peoples who adopted the Anglo-Saxon culture and language. Their cultural identity developed from these divergent groups; further grew with the adoption of Christianity; and then went on to re-establish itself as one identity to survive beyond the Norman Conquest. Their period in history was from the end of the Roman occupation in the 5th Century, with the establishment of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, until the Norman conquest of England in 1066 by William the Conqueror.

There is an old ninth-century Anglo-Saxon Poem called ‘The Dream of the Rood’ and it begins:

Quotation mark
Listen! I want to tell the best of dreams
That came to me in a vision in the middle of the night,
When other people were in bed,
It seemed to me that I saw the best tree,
Lifted into the air surrounded by light

The poet is unknown. He dreams that he encounters a beautiful tree. It is the "rood," or cross, on which Jesus Christ was crucified. It is gloriously decorated with gold and gems, but the poet can discern the ancient wounds. The rood tells the poet how it had been forced to be the instrument of Christ's death, describing how it, too, experienced the nails and spear thrusts along with the Saviour. The Poem continues explaining that the cross was once an instrument of torture and death, but is now the dazzling sign of mankind's redemption. It charges the poet to tell of his vision to all men, so that they too might be redeemed of sin. The Poem has provided Historians with an insight into early Christianity in Anglo Saxon England with its strong, virile images of Christ in order to reach members of the Anglo-Saxon warrior culture, who valued strength above humility. This may have been a deliberate strategy to convert pagans to Christianity. It also reflects how the image of Jesus was adapted to suit different cultures.

King Athelstan What are the origins of the Order?
The Masonic Order is based on the historic records of the life and legend of Æthelstan, the son of King Edward the Elder. Æthelstan was King of the West Saxons from 924 until 927. In that year his conquest of the last remaining Viking Kingdom of York allowed him to claim the title of ‘King of all the English’. After the submission of Scottish and Welsh kings he then called himself ‘King of Britain’- Rex Britannicus. His reign had previously been overlooked and overshadowed by the achievements of his grandfather, Alfred the Great, but he is now regarded as one of the greatest kings of the West Saxon dynasty. Under Æthelstan laws strengthened royal control over his kingdom; currency was regulated to control silver's weight and to penalise fraudsters; buying and selling was largely confined to the burghs, encouraging town life; and areas of settlement in the Midlands were consolidated into shires. Overseas, Athelstan built alliances by marrying off four of his half sisters to various rulers in Western Europe. He was also a great collector of works of art and religious artefacts, which he then gave away to many of his followers and churches in order to gain their support. He never married and died, to be succeeded by his half-brother Edmund, in 939 at the height of his powers. He was buried in Malmesbury Abbey. This was a fit burial place for him, as he had been an ardent supporter and endower of the abbey.

His reign was of fundamental importance to political developments in the 10th century. William of Malmesbury (A librarian and scholar of the 12th Century whom historians now acclaim as being one of the most talented writers since the Venerable Bede – and probably the most learned man of the 12th Century) said "No one more just or more learned ever governed the kingdom" a view that is now endorsed by modern historians.

In Masonic ceremonies it is not uncommon to use legends to tell a story and portray moral values. The ceremony within this Order being no exception in that it portrays the story of a Master Mason being called to York in 926 to receive the Ancient Charges from the King. (These are the Ancient Charges that can be found in the Book of Constitutions of the United Grand Lodge of England). The legend of that York Assembly is the framework of the ceremony. This summoning of a Master Mason for his further 'instruction' of Masonic ritual and symbolism allows us to appreciate the historic development of the Craft over the following centuries. The ritual undoubtedly contains a great deal of symbolism, some of which is still used in Lodges, whilst sadly other parts are no longer worked.

The charm of the Order is so many things to so many Brethren. The Order certainly has a primary core aim to encourage the membership to develop an enquiring mind and to undertake research and study. This is why Candidates are carefully chosen for their interest in Masonic history. Many of whom, after Introduction, are enthralled by its symbolism. Others are impatient to practice old ritual in a modern environment. All are united in the belief that the Order further enhances friendships, it grants the opportunity to establish new friendships, it facilitates the sharing of knowledge and all this within a most friendly Masonic environment. The Masonic Order of Athelstan is strictly by invitation only. Membership is offered to subscribing members of the Craft and Royal Arch. If a Brother subsequently ceases to be a subscribing member of the Craft and Royal Arch then his membership of this Order also automatically ceases. The Athelstan Masonic Province of Sussex mirrors the old Anglo-Saxon Sussex. A Lodge is called a Court, and is ruled over by a Master. The Head of the Province is a Provincial Grand Master. Each Province is limited to ten Courts.

The Masonic Order of Athelstan has an Appendant Order, which is called The Order of the Scarlet Mantle. This Order has its own Statutes and was created from the outset as a separate reward-based Order for meritorious service by members within the Order of Athelstan.

Knights are installed or promoted in a ceremony commemorative of the Knighting of Athelstan by King Alfred the Great in and around the year 898 (the first recorded making of a Knight in England). It is stated that Athelstan, upon being knighted was given a 'Scarlet Mantle and a Sword with a golden hilt and a scarlet mantle bedecked with jewels'. Members bear the initials of Knight of the Scarlet Mantle (KSM), Knight Commander of the Scarlet Mantle (KCSM) or Grand Cross of the Scarlet Mantle (GCSM) after their name and naturally can only use this in the context of the Masonic Order of Athelstan. The Order is administered by a Grand High Chancellor following his appointment by the Most Worshipful Grand Master. A small number of Grand Chancellors are also appointed to assist the Grand High Chancellor. Accolades normally take place on an annual basis immediately prior to the annual meeting of the Grand Court.

Some interesting features of the Order are:

  • Immediately prior to the Consecration of a Court, and on the same day, 15 or more duly qualified Brethren are ‘Instructed’ into the Order. They then become Founders.

  • There are effectively ‘Three Ceremonies’ in the Order and comprise of the ceremony of Instruction; the Consecration of a Prior (a Master of a Court must be a Consecrated Prior) and the Installation of a Master.

  • Alms collections are permitted at Installation meetings to provide funds for the use of the Court Almoner.

  • There are no after dinner speeches.

  • It is actively encouraged that Brethren not in the Order attend after meeting proceedings.