What is the Order of Alhambra?
The Knights of Columbus were created as an alternative for Catholic men who were advised not to join the Freemasons. The Order of Alhambra was created in the image of the Shrine for the same reasons, but rather than play on the middle-eastern themes as the Shrine had done, the Catholics chose to concentrate on their victory over the Moors in Spain , near the castle Alhambra, who’s red tower is prominently featured in their symbols of the group.
William Harper Bennett founded the Order of Alhambra on February 29, 1904, in Brooklyn, New York as a Catholic fraternal and social association. It was named after the Alhambra, a Moorish palace in Granada, Spain; where the Moors surrendered to Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492, after occupying Spain for almost 800 years. Within sight of the Alhambra’s red towers the saintly Columbus received the first favorable reply to his lifelong prayers for assistance to embark on his voyage of discovery. The Order, in addition to adopting the name of the Moorish palace, uses the colorful Oriental costuming and settings. The emblem of the Order is the red tower of Castile surmounting the crescent of the Saracen typifying the triumph of Christianity over the Moors. The Fez worn by members of the Order has this emblem as its prominent centerpiece
The structure of the Order comprises its members, who are known as Sir Nobles after experiencing a qualifying ceremonial. Groupings of members are designated as Caravans with a name of Moorish origin, and a number. Caravans currently exist in the United States and Canada. The governing body of the Order is the Supreme Divan, which meets biennially. The Supreme Divan comprises representatives from all Caravans and Supreme Officers. One of the major functions of the Supreme Divan is to elect the Supreme Officers who supervise the operations of the Order between Supreme Divan meetings. Supreme Officers collectively are known as the Council of Viziers, which in commonly used terminology is the Board of Directors. A Headquarters Office is located in Baltimore, Maryland. Its permanent staff, headed by an Executive Secretary, provides administrative support for the Order, its caravans, committees and Supreme Officers. Caravans are grouped by their regions and are governed by Grand Divans, which are the officers elected by the caravan membership, annually. Membership is open to any Catholic male 18 years of age or older who is in good standing in the Catholic church.
Most fezzes from the Order of Alhambra state the name of the home Caravan of the owner (such as Adra or Alcala.) This fez, however, does not. In fact, it might be a bit strange to call this piece a “fez” at all! It has to be one of the most “folksy” pieces in all of the collection. Purchased at auction, this piece is constructed out of a plastic bucket, covered in white fabric, with rhinestones glued in place with meticulous care. The “Alhambra” name is actually a piece of paper, glued in place. The tassel is merely several pieces of yarn poked through the top of the bucket. The yarn is brown, which, based upon the tassel colors used by the Order of Alhambra, denotes that it would have been worn by a “Novice” or candidate for membership (probably while going through the degrees of the Order.) When queried, the owner said that it was part of a relatives estate. He had several like it, stating that they were taken from a Caravan in the Wilkes-Barre, PA, area when it closed. He was told they were used as candidates fezzes and served as extras for members who couldn’t afford a fez, or simply didn’t want to invest in one. While the piece has little intrinsic value, it does offer a unique look into how one fraternal organization dealt with the cost and investment in fraternal head wear!
This basic members fez, as denoted by the red tassel, is actually quite unusual. Obtained from a visitor to this very website, it represents a distinct variation in design. The fez is white with the Alhambra logo embroided upon it in red. Curiously, it omits the caravan name and number of the owner as well. We theorize this may have been a starter fez, used for ceremonials or provided in place of the more expensive rhinestone varities. We believe it predates the 1950’s based on construction.
This fez hails from Alcala Caravan No. 16, located in Baltimore, MD. The fez has a red tassel denotes that it belonged to a regular member of the group. This piece is a great example of what the average Alhambran would have worn. The design is completed in rhinestones and the fez still retains a clean white base with a vivid red tassel.
A later addition to the collection, this piece fills a rather small niche for the museum. While the fez is quite plain, the key is that the entire emblem and design are done in embroidery, rather than the jewels that are often seen. This piece was probably marketed to new members of the organization, as it would have been cheaper to produce and easier for members to afford. Hailing from Adra Caravan No. 79, located in Erie, PA, this fez is in relatively good shape as would expected of a fez created during the 1980’s. Unfortunately, Adra Caravan no longer exists, but based upon records found by the museum, it was once one of the most active constituent groups in the country.
Past Grand Commander’s Fez
The second piece from Alcala Caravan No. 16 displays an important variation in Alhambra fezzes. While the design and is quite similar to the first, the later piece has a white tassel along with rhinestones along the brim that read “Grand Commander.” There is also a white patch attached to the far side of the brim, just before the word “Grand,” that has the word “Past” written in rhinestones. This was obviously added later. The leader of a local Caravan is a Grand Commander, so this fez would have been worn by the local president during his term of office. Upon completing his term, he would have added the “Past” patch so that all would know that he ad previously served as president. All presiding and Past Grand Commander’s wear white tassels. Tassel colors are defined in the Order of Alhambra Fez and Tassel Guide.
As we continue to build our collection, we’re pleased to add this piece to the Alhambra exhibit. Being well jeweled and with a purple tassel, we know it belonged to an ordained priest within the Catholic church. As a pseudo-religious organization, the Order of Alhambra has deep ties to Catholicism and values the participation of the clergy. This piece, as it states and denoted by the purple tassel, belonged to a Regional Chaplain, who would have been a priest. Regional Chaplains may or may not have held an allegiance to a local Caravan. In the case of this piece, the owner was a Chaplain at large, not belonging to any local group. We know this because the fez simply states “Alhambra” instead of a Caravan name and number. Regional Chaplains work along side Supreme Directors who oversee the Order across several states. The owner of this fez would have been a cleric of some renown, as he tended to the needs of members of the Order in several jurisdictions. The fez itself is in good condition, with some minor pitting and discoloration. Fezzes of this variety are rare, making for an important addition to this exhibit.
Standing Committee Member’s Fez
This fez was added to the collection for several different reasons. Firstly, it’s a fabulous peice of work that is heavily encrusted with rhinestones. Secondly, it belonged to a Past Commander (a local presiding officer) of the Order of Alhambra. Third, the tassel is a beautiful turquoise, which denotes the the wearer was a member of Standing Committee (tassel colors are detailed in the Order of Alhambra Fez and Tassel Guide.) Lastly, the fez comes from Mecca Caravan No. 55, which was located in Lancaster, PA, near the museum owner’s home. It appears that this Caravan no longer exists.
Regional Director’s Fez
Mr. Henry E. Ball, of Johnstown, PA was the original owner of this fez, which was purchased at auction. Henry was a Regional Director within the body, as denoted by the title bar and silver tassel. The fez is also adorned with several pins, showing that Henry made several donations to the Order of Alhambra. The fez is relatively recent, dating from 1980’s or 1990’s. We’re just happy that we can keep Mr. Ball’s fraternal involvement alive!
The Osma Collection
In June 2021, the Museum was contacted by Mrs. Kathy Taylor of Loudon County, VA. She had several fezzes that belonged to her father who was a devoted member of Osma Caravan No. 110 of Maryland. She was very kind in donating three fezzes to the collection. It is especially nice to receive a set like that, as it shows the gentleman’s progress in the Order – from regular member (as shown here) to Grand Commander and later Grand Scribe.
The members fez is basic, as one would expect. It is constructed of colored thread and embroidery without any rhinestones. While not flashy, the fez remains in good condition and is a great example of the type of fez that many members would have worn.
As a member rises in the ranks, he earns fancier headgear. This fez would have been given to the owner when he was installed as Grand Commander, or president of the local body. the tassel color changes to white and the emblem is constructed out of fancier materials, including bullion and rhinestones.
The “Past” box pin in somewhat unique to the Order of Alhambra. Fanciful fezzes are not cheap, costing several hundred dollars to have made (and usually done by hand.) Rather than buy a new, expensive fez when a man’s term was over, they just added a pin to denote his past service.
This fez remains in good shape, with minor color changes on the tassel.
Of the three Osma fezzes that we received, this one is the most unique. First, it was the fez of a Grand Scribe, or the Secretary of a local Caravan. Not many of these fezzes exist. The design is also unusual, being done in brilliant silver bullion surmounted by rhinestones. The coloration of the materials is spectacular and it hasn’t lost of any of its original luster.
You’ll note that the fez retains the white tassel, showing that the Secretary was also a Past Grand Commander. If the Secretary had not perviously served in that role, the tassel would be red.
A special and heartfelt thank you goes out to Mrs. Taylor for gifting these fezzes to the Museum. We hope that her father’s collection will continue to educate the public on all of the amazing work done by the Order of Alhambra.