Masonic Miscellanies

What are the four veils in Royal Arch Masonry? And what is the ‘Ceremony of Passing the Veils’? Although common throughout Scotland, Ireland and the United States, it is mostly unknown in England, presently only worked in the Province of Bristol. ( and by dispensation )


Fig. 31, Royal Arch Chapter. Duncan’s Masonic Ritual and Monitor, by Malcom C. Duncan, (1866)

At the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, three Most Excellent Masters were carried captives to Babylon, where they remained seventy years, and were liberated by Cyrus, King of Persia.

They returned to Jerusalem to assist in rebuilding the Temple, after travelling over rugged roads on foot.

They arrived at the outer veil of the Tabernacle, which was erected near the ruins of the Temple.

This Tabernacle was an oblong square, enclosed by four veils, or curtains, and divided into separate apartments by four cross veils, including the west end veil or entrance.

The veils were parted in the centre, and guarded by four guards, with drawn swords

A. Those of our ancient brethren, who directed and brought to light the principal secrets of this Degree, after they had lain buried in darkness from the death of our Grand Master Hiram Abiff, until the erection of the second temple, and as a reward for their zeal, fortitude and attachment to Masonry, were exalted to become the three Grand Masters of the veils.
Q. How many veils were they?
A. Four.
Q. What were their colors?
A. Blue, purple, scarlet and white.
Q. What does blue denote?
A. Friendship, and is the principal color of a Master Mason.
Q. What does purple denote?
A. It being composed of blue and scarlet, it is placed before the first and third veils of the colors, to denote the intimate connection between this most sublime degree, and ancient Craft Masonry.
Q. What does scarlet denote?
A. That fervency and zeal which should actuate all Royal Arch Masons, and is the peculiar color of this Degree.
Q. What does white denote?
A. That purity of life and rectitude of conduct which should govern all those who seek to gain admission into that Sanctum Sanctorum, or Holy of Holies.
Q. To whom do the four veils allude?
A. To the four tribes of the children of Israel, who bore the banners through the wilderness, viz.: Judah, Reuben, Ephraim and Dan, emblematically represented by the strength of the Lion, the intelligence of the Man, the patience of the Ox and the swiftness of the Eagle.
Q. Where were the veils placed?
A. At the outer courts of the tabernacle.

Source: Lecture on the Seventh, or Royal Arch Degree, Section First – Duncan’s Masonic Ritual and Monitor, by Malcom C. Duncan, (1866)

The Royal Arch Tabernacle, in its exterior, is similar to the Sinaitic Tabernacle, but in its interior it is different.

Within this Royal Arch Tabernacle are four veils, somewhat patterned after the decorations of Solomon’s Temple, but following more closely the legendary tabernacle of Zerubbabel.

As a whole, these four veils, constituting four divisions of the tabernacle, are symbolic of the obstacles in the way of advancement for the candidate in his search for the “lost word,” symbolic of Truth.

Passage through these veils represent triumph over these obstacles. Each of these veils is also symbolic, these symbolisms being indicated by the distinct colour of each one.

The Blue Veil is symbolic of universal friendship and benevolence, represented in the Symbolic Degrees through which the candidate has already passed.

The Purple Veil is symbolic of union, and represents the intimate connection between the Ancient Craft and Royal Arch Masonry.

The Scarlet Veil is a symbol of fervency and zeal, and is the distinct color of Royal Arch Masonry, indicating that only these qualities can the candidate be successful in his search for Truth.

The White Veil is a symbol of purity, and is a reminder to the candidate, who is now almost at the close of his search in Royal Arch Masonry, that it is only by purity of heart and life that he can hope to be successful in, or found worthy of the reception of Divine Truth.

Passage through each of these veils is also represented by significant Mosaic Signs, each of them deeply important in its symbolism.

Source: ‘Veils, Four in the Royal Arch Tabernacle’, Glossary, Phoenix Masonry.Org

When a significant constitutional development in English Royal Arch Masonry occurred in 1823, Master Masons were allowed to join Royal Arch Chapters without having previously passed through the chair of a Craft lodge.

In 1835, the ritual was reformed, when part of the ceremony known as ‘Passing the Veils’ was dropped.

It was re-adopted by Bristol Chapters at the turn of the 20th century. 

The elaborate ceremony is essential to the Royal Arch Degree in the Irish system and after it is completed it is followed immediately by the Royal Arch degree itself, containing the story of the restoration of Solomon’s Temple under King Josiah.

The three presiding officers of a Royal Arch Chapter in Ireland are called the Excellent King, High Priest and Chief Scribe (not First, Second and Third Principal as in England and Wales).

The Sojourners and Scribes were replaced by the ‘Royal Arch Captain’, the ‘Captain of the Scarlet Veil’, the ‘Captain of the Purple Veil’ and the ‘Captain of the Blue Veil’.

Although not referred to as such in the ritual, the three principals are taken to be King Josiah, the High Priest Hilkiah and the scribe Shaphan.

Source: Holy Royal Arch Wikipedia

The ceremony of passing the veils, which formed part of the Royal Arch ceremony in the late 18th Century, probably had a Christian origin, and was customary only during the period when the RA. itself was largely a Christian degree.

With the de-Christianization of the degree following, firstly, the union of the Grand Chapters in 1817 and, secondly, the drastic revision in 1835, the ceremony of the veils rapidly disappeared from English Royal Arch Masonry. – Bernard E. Jones, Freemasons’ Book of the Royal Arch, 1957.

A ceremony of ‘Passing the Veils’ is common throughout Scotland, Ireland and the United States of America, although it may be part of a separate degree in some places, called either Excellent Master, Most Excellent Master, or Super Excellent Master.

It is, however, unknown in England except in the Province of Bristol, where it forms an integral part of the Exaltation ceremony. It is performed by every one of the twelve Chapters at every Exaltation ceremony and is the way by which the Companions, including the Candidate, gain entry to the Chapter room. – Antony Baker, AQC, Vol. 126, 2013.

‘The Complete Ceremony of Passing the Veils or E.M.
originally published by A. Lewis (Masonic Publishers, Fleet Street, London.)

Several papers explaining the history of the Ceremony of the Passing of Veils are available here:


The Real History of the Ceremony ‘Passing the Veils’ in Bristol by Bro. Antony R. Baker, from AQC Volume 126, 2013.


Passing the Veils: Ceremony and History by Excellent Companion Gordon Mogg.


The History of the Ceremony of the Passing of the Veils by Comp. Theodore-Eddie S. Kalogeropoulos


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