Alhambra, International Order of

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The International Order of Alhambra is a Catholic fraternal and social organization established for the marking and preservation of Catholic historical sites. Founded in Brooklyn, New York, on Feb. 29, 1904, by William Harper Bennett (18611931), it derived its name from the Moorish stronghold in Granada, Spain, which surrendered to the Christian forces of Spain on Jan. 22, 1492. This turning point, which ended the Moorish occupation of Christian Europe that had begun in 711, was a significant event which was not lost on Alhambra's founder who saw the advantage of having an organization devoted to marking significant events, places, and sites associated with the history of Christianity in North America.

Originally envisioned as a higher level of the Knights of Columbus, Alhambrans had to be members of that organization, a requirement that was terminated in 1961. Unlike the Knights, the Alhambrans wear white fezzes and, understandably, are mistaken for Masons by those who do not know of them. That much of the terminology (caravans, divan, and viziers) of the order's governing structure is reflective of the time when Spain was under the Moors lends to Alhambra's attraction.

While the Order of Alhambra is an organization that is concerned about historical landmarks, it is unique in that since 1959 it has been primarily interested in helping the developmentally disabled. The Order of Alhambra provides scholarships to individuals interested in teaching the developmentally disabled, small grants to institutions willing to help them, support for medical research into the causes of Down's syndrome, and setting up housing to care for these persons.

At the same time, while concentrating on its goals relative to the developmentally disabled and to historical memorials, the Order of Alhambra promotes social and fraternal activities among its members who include cardinals, bishops, priests, and deacons as well as lay persons. From a peak membership of more than 11,000 members before the Great Depression, at the beginning of the 21st century it continues its charitable and social works with about half that number. The supreme office of the Order is located in Baltimore, Md., and it has more than 100 caravans or subsidiary units in at least 30 states in the United States and in two provinces (Ontario and Quebec) of Canada.

Bibliography: w. h. bennett, "The Order of Alhambra," Historical Records and Studies, 16 (May 1924), 94105. j. l. bordas, "History of the Order of Alhambra," The Alhambran (July/August 1979: 611). v. a. lapomarda, The Order of Alhambra (Baltimore 1994).

[v. a. lapomarda]