The Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine; commonly known as Shriners and abbreviated A.A.O.N.M.S.; established in 1870 is an appendant body to Freemasonry, based in the United States.
This organization is best-known for the Shriners Hospitals for Children they administer and the red fezzes that members wear. The organization is headquartered in Tampa, Florida.
In 1870, there were several thousand Masons in Manhattan; many of whom lunched at the Knickerbocker Cottage at a special table on the second floor. There, the idea of a new fraternity for Masons stressing fun and fellowship was discussed. Dr. Walter M. Fleming, M.D., and William J. Florence took the idea seriously enough to act upon it.
Florence, a world-renowned actor, while on tour in Marseilles, was invited to a party given by an Arabian diplomat. The entertainment was something in the nature of an elaborately staged musical comedy. At its conclusion, the guests became members of a secret society. Florence took copious notes and drawings at his initial viewing and on two other occasions, once in Algiers and once in Cairo. When he returned to New York in 1870, he showed his material to Fleming.
Fleming took the ideas supplied by Florence and converted them into what would become the «Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (A.A.O.N.M.S.)». Fleming created the ritual, emblem and costumes. Florence and Fleming were initiated August 13, 1870, and initiated 11 other men on June 16, 1871.
The group adopted a Middle Eastern theme and soon established Temples meeting in Mosques (though the term Temple has now generally been replaced by Shrine Auditorium or Shrine Center). The first Temple established was Mecca Temple (now known as Mecca Shriners), established at the New York City Masonic Hall on September 26, 1872. Fleming was the first Potentate.
In 1875, there were only 43 Shriners in the organization. In an effort to spur membership, at the June 6, 1876 meeting of Mecca Temple, the Imperial Grand Council of the Ancient Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine for North America was created.
Fleming was elected the first Imperial Potentate. After some other reworking, by 1878 there were 425 members in 13 temples in eight states, and by 1888, there were 7,210 members in 48 temples in the United States and Canada. By the Imperial Session held in Washington, D.C. in 1900, there were 55,000 members and 82 Temples.
Shriners often participate in local parades, sometimes as rather elaborate units: miniature vehicles in themes (all sports cars; all miniature 18-wheeler trucks; all fire engines, and so on), an «Oriental Band» dressed in cartoonish versions of Middle Eastern dress; pipe bands, drummers, motorcycle units, Drum and Bugle Corps, and even traditional brass bands.
Despite its theme, the Shrine is in no way connected to Islam. It is a men’s fraternity rather than a religion or religious group.
Its only religious requirement is indirect: all Shriners must be Masons, and petitioners to Freemasonry must profess a belief in a Supreme Being. To further minimize confusion with religion, the use of the word «Temple» to describe Shriners’ buildings has been replaced by «Shrine Center,» although individual local chapters are still called «Temples.»
Until 2000, before being eligible for membership in the Shrine, a person had to complete either the Scottish Rite or York Rite degrees of Masonry, but now any Master Mason can join.
Some of the earliest Shrine Centers often chose a Moorish Revival style for their Temples. Architecturally notable Shriners Temples include the New York City Center, now used as a concert hall, The Landmark Theater (formerly The Mosque) in Richmond, Virginia, the Tripoli Shrine Temple in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the Fox Theatre (Atlanta, Georgia) which was jointly built between the Atlanta Shriners and William Fox.
Statue at Shriners Hospital in Portland, Oregon Main article: Shriners Hospitals for Children The Shrine’s charitable arm is the Shriners Hospitals for Children, a network of twenty-two hospitals in the United States, Mexico and Canada.
It was originally formed to treat young victims of polio, but as that disease was controlled, they broadened their scope. They now deal with all pediatric cases, most especially with orthopedic injuries, disease and burns. There is never any charge for treatment at a Shriners Hospital. There is no requirement for religion, race, or relationship to a Freemason. Patients must be under the age of eighteen and treatable.
In 2008, Shriners Hospitals had a total budget of $826 million and in 2007 they approved 39,454 new patient applications, attended to the needs of 125,125 patients.
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