This worldwide Order is known more fully by the title The Masonic and Military Order of the Red Cross of Constantine and the Orders of the Holy Sepulchre and of St. John the Evangelist.
The 'Masonic' Order of the Red Cross of Constantine appears to have been first organised in the United Kingdom by Charles Shirreff about 1780 AD, the Rancliffe Charter founding the Order dates from 1796 but the Order was subsequently re-organised in 1804 by Waller Rodwell Wright.
During the next fifty years the Order was not very active until in 1865 Grand Imperial Conclave was reassembled for the election and enthronement of William Henry Wright. Since 1865 there has been steady and continuous working and daughter Grand Imperial Conclaves have been formed from England throughout the English speaking world.
The Order uses the Constantinian legend and subsequent conversion of the Pagan Empire as an object lesson in the acquisition and confirmation of faith and Christianity as the basis of Masonry.
The Constantinian Legend
Constantine was destined for the college of Emperors but following the death of his father, he was hailed by the Legions in York as Augustus and became the Governor of Britain and Gaul.
After several successful battles across the Alps and Italy he eventually established himself as the lawful Emperor of both the East and West and transferred the capital of the empire from Rome to Byzantium, later to be named after him.
He was the first Roman Emperor to openly encourage Christianity. His conversion began one evening after a long day's march with his army when, in what he believed was a sign from heaven, he and his army saw in the sky, and by the rays of the setting sun, a pillar of light in the form of a special cross.
To sanctify the minds of his pagan army, he had made a standard bearing a Cross like that seen and ordered it to be carried before him in the wars. Several Christians in his army came forward and avowed their faith following which Constantine directed that they should wear on their armour a red cross.
Having been successful in battle it is said that Constantine, with the help of his chief bishop Eusebius, opened a Conclave of the Knights of the Order whose members became the bodyguard of their Sovereign.
The Order of the Red Cross of Constantine belongs to the 'East and West' class of Initiatory Rites and consists of three degrees - Knight, Priest-Mason and Prince-Mason - titles which represent grades in the scale of Initiation.
The 1st Degree of the Order, that of Knight Companion, leads from the Pagan Dispensation to the Christian, using the Legend of Constantine the Great's conversion as a symbol of that conversion. The candidate comes as a 'Knight of Rome' desiring to embrace Christianity, and he must, in accordance with the General Statutes of the Order, be a Royal Arch Mason.
The 2nd. Degree is that of Venerable Eusebius and is one of the symbolic Priesthoods. A Knight who has attained to this status is eligible for the office of Eminent Viceroy in a Conclave provided he is a member of the Appendant Orders of the Holy Sepulchre and of St. John the Evangelist and that he is regularly elected to that office.
The 3rd. Degree is confined to the Most Puissant Sovereign and who represents Constantine, Sovereign-Prince of the East and West. A Sovereign shall have served for one year in the office of Viceroy in a regular Conclave. This Degree completes the Rite of the Red Cross of Constantine.
The Appendant Orders of the Holy Sepulchre and of St. John the Evangelist were attached to the Order of the Red Cross of Constantine at an early date and a separate certificate is issued to members of this Order. There is no connection, historically or ritually, between the Masonic Degree of Knight of the Holy Sepulchre and the mediaeval Military Order of the same name, which is said to have been founded in the eleventh century.
The Order adopts no sectarian Christian position and does not seek to affect personal worship.