Cantenarian Arch

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While the form of a Craft lodge is that of an oblong square (two units long by one unit wide), that of a Royal Arch Chapter approaches that of a Centenarian Arch, symbolically observing a memorial of that vaulted shrine, in which the sacred word was deposited. We are told that this arch is the strongest of all architectural forms and teaches us as Royal Arch Masons several important lessons.

The word ‘CENTENARIAN’ is derived from the Latin word “catena” meaning a chain, in architecture refers to the curve which a chain (or rope, etc) naturally forms when suspended at its two ends. The curve so formed is a CENTENARIAN curve, and when inverted, delineates the curve of a type of arch better able to resist the forces of destruction and reduce the outward thrust of the supporting pillars, than the earlier semicircular arch. More truly the curve is found by swinging the chain suspended by its two ends, the skipping rope probably is a more familiar illustration.

It must be remembered, of course, that there are many accepted arch forms, each with its own purpose of utility, style or beauty. However, the CENTENARIAN arch is the philosopher’s and the mathematician’s solution to the problem of producing an arch of nearly perfect as design and material can make it. One capable of supporting great weight, and having the least possible sideways thrust or outward pressure on its supports. In other words, it was the ideal arch that embodied strength, stability and permanence.

In the Royal Arch Chapter, the CANTENARIAN arch is horizontal and not perpendicular as an arch normally is. The columns or pillars are formed by the Companions arranged on the north and the south sides. The upper ends of these columns are the two scribes, Scribe E., on the north and scribe N., on the south, representing the cap stones or pads on which the arch rests. Connecting these columns in the East is the curved line of the CENTENARIAN arch. At the, apex of the curve are the three Principals, which by their position as two principle arch stones and the keystone, bind together the whole structure into one strong body. Thus, the Chapter is the symbol of a wonderful whole formed by binding together the individuals into an orderly and organized unit.

While every stone in columns and arch has their part to play and the arch cannot exist if even one stone were missing. The principal arch stones and the keystone are the most important stones in the structure and perform the most important function. In like manner the Principals are the most important officers of the Chapter and are charged with authority to rule and govern. And as we look up to them for guidance and submit to their authority, so we are taught by analogy to “look up with reverence and submit with cheerfulness to every lawfully constituted authority, whether Masonic or Civil.

An arch is strong and permanent not only because of its form. Every stone performs its function and contributes its strength, stability and permanence. Only if every individual member faithfully performs his allotted duty to the ultimate good of the Chapter and mankind.