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