Order of the Star of Bethlehem

"Permanently established" in America in 1869, where it was introduced into New York and Pennsylvania, according to its official legend, by Albert Gross of Newcastle-on-Tyne, England. At that period it was known as the Knights of the Star of Bethlehem. The Grand Commandery of Pennsylvania was instituted in 1870, and the Eminent Grand Commandery of North America in 1871. The Order prospered for several years, but fell behind in membership between 1878 and 1884, when an entire change was made in the officers, and the society reincorporated under its present title. The headquarters are at Detroit, in which city there are sixteen Lodges of the Order. It exists in nineteen States of the Union and reports a total membership of more than seventeen thousand men and women. The objects of the society are to unite acceptable men and women who are respectively eighteen and sixteen years of age or over, and believers in a Supreme Being, in social and fraternal bonds, to "perpetuate the traditions of the Order;" pay death, sick, accident, and disability benefits; to defend the life, limb, and reputation of members from unjust assault; and to. assist members to obtain employment and to settle disputes by arbitration. Members in arrears for dues lose the right to speak and vote at meetings, and forfeit pecuniary benefits, but are not debarred from the social advantages of Lodge meetings. "The government of the Order in America" consists of the Eminent Grand Commandery, Grand Councils, Uniformed Conclaves, and Subordinate Lodges. Some of the official history of the organization, prior to its introduction into the United States, particularly the more recent portion of it, is probably founded on fact. Much of it, particularly that which reaches far back into the distant past, would seem to rank with traditions once current, which brought Entered Apprentices, Fellowcrafts, and Master Masons in Masonic Lodges, organized as at present, in an unbroken line down to to-day, from the building of King Solomon's temple.

The story of the Bethlehemites, much abridged, states that it is "believed to have been originated in the first century of the Christian era," exact date unknown, "as all records prior to the thirteenth century have been entirely destroyed." In the thirteenth century, we are told, "it was an order of monks called the Bethlehemites, who dressed like the Dominicans, and wore a five-pointed star on the left breast," . . . "in commemoration of the star that shone over Bethlehem," etc. "In the fourteenth century it was a powerful Order in England," and during the next two hundred years" seems to have consisted of two branches, the Monastic and the Knightly," evidences of which, it is declared, appear in the ritualistic work in use to-day. It seems unfortunate that the expression, "Star of Bethlehem tradition informs us," or something similar, is not prefixed to the historical revelations made. It is probably true that" the time when the Order in France and Spain ceased to be purely Monastic, and became a semi-military organization, will never be known." Other extracts include those which identify the Order with the Waldenses in 1260, and state that many of the persecuted members of the Order of the Temple, after its destruction by Clement V., in 1312, "united with other Orders;" "that there are good reasons for believing that quite a number united with the Bethlehemites, or Knights of the Star of Bethlehem." What the "good reasons are" is left to conjecture, which is to be regretted when one realizes this new complication put upon the various theories which have been advanced to show a connection between the Knights Templars of to-day and their fraters who were personally acquainted with Jacques de Molay, Godfrey de Bouillon, and the rest. The Bethlehemite legend also relates that the Knights of Bethlehem (Equites Bethlehemensis) were placed under the ban of the Inquisition at Salamanca in 1359; that the Order was introduced into France by Sir Jean Lodet, in 1470, where it was exterminated by the massacre of 1572, and that it was brought to England from Spain, about 1473, by George Henry Percy. Nothing was heard of it there, however, "until 1571," by which time the Monastic and Knightly branches" had united and become a benevolent and scientific Order." Here there is a gap of 180 years, when it is related that Sir Henry Seymour succeeded Sir Herman Oviedio as Grand Commander, and after him others at reasonably short intervals. As women were admitted to some commanderies and not to others, a schism took place in 1813, the seceding party, presumably those who objected to women as members, "uniting with others at Leeds to form the Royal Foresters.'' This will interest the Ancient Order of Foresters, who omit all reference to this in their account of the origin of their society. By 1857 it is declared the Order was well established throughout England, Scotland, and North Ireland, but it declined in membership in later years, because each commandery was "made a Grand Commandery unto itself," and because, owing to the semi-religious character of the Order, it refused to be enrolled under the friendly societies act. It is of interest to learn that the Knights of Bethlehem was first introduced into America in 1691 by Giles Corey of London, during the war between England and France, but was suppressed by the colonial authorities; and also that it was brought to New York city by John Bell in 1849 or 1850, who established several commanderies at that city in 1851, which did not long survive. A reference to the third and successful effort to bring this ancient society to America has been given. The ritual of the American branch is said to retain only the practical teachings on truth, fraternity, charity and the moral law, drawn from the ancient ritual.

There is an auxiliary society within the Order of the Star of Bethlehem, known as the Eastern Star Benevolent Fund of America, organized in 1893, designed to increase the pecuniary benefits available to members of the Order. Only members who have attained the Eastern Star degree may join it.

Rituals of the First Three Subordinate Degrees of the Independent United Order of the Star of Bethlehem