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Masonic essays (1998)


Civilisation began when the stone age hunter gatherers first captured wild animals for domestication, established grazing and developed agriculture. From that time, the development of civilisation was directly related to the progressive improvements in masonry that enabled better buildings to be erected and more effective irrigation schemes and other facilities to be constructed. With the advance of civilisation, humans developed a consciousness of their mental and emotional life and also began to differentiate between their physical beings, their minds and their spirits. This evolution of the human psyche awakened a belief in the existence of some higher controlling power which, though unseen, was felt to have a direct connection with emotion and morality. Thus evolved the concept of god and a complementary human soul. Various rites of worship developed as a natural outcome of these emotional and spiritual processes, whence religions came into existence. As the nomads developed a more settled life, religious leaders soon demanded permanent and more substantial places of worship, which only the masons could construct. Hence masonry, which first evolved to supply some of mankind's material requirements, also became an indispensable agent of religion to provide for some of mankind's spiritual needs.


In the context of this discussion, freemasonry means the system of moral teaching and its associated traditions and rituals that, in earlier times, were a significant component of day to day life in lodges of operative masons and are now incorporated in the ceremonies of modern speculative Freemasonry. When compiling the rituals used in modern Freemasonry, the emerging speculative masons defined freemasonry as a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. The authors based the ceremonial procedures on those used in operative lodges, adapting them for use in social surroundings instead of in a working environment. Although the fundamental elements of operative practice were retained, the explanations became more erudite and were expressed more verbosely. When operative masons were receiving instruction, the practical applications of their working tools and the methods to be used when carrying out the work were of primary importance, but those applications and methods were also used symbolically to give moral instruction. In speculative lodges the emphasis is reversed.

The ability of medieval operative masons to devise ceremonials similar to those used in modern speculative lodges has often been questioned. Even a masonic writer as eminent as A.E.Waite could not imagine how "horny handed labourers" could have developed a system of symbolism and philosophy to give moral instruction within the lodge. A most improbable solution was offered by R.F.Gould, the renowned masonic historian, who thought that operative masons might have accepted "gentlemen" into their ranks to transform the operative craft into a speculative art. Both writers seem to have overlooked the fact that the members of medieval operative lodges included many skilled artificers who were required to work as much with their brains as with their hands. They were supervised by Master Masons of superior knowledge and skill, well versed in religious matters, the graphic arts, sculpture and geometry, as well as in the manual aspects of their trade. It should also be remembered that medieval operative masons were living in an era when the rituals of the church were becoming established, when Passion Plays were a regular feature of religious observances and pageantry was a part of everyday life. All of these factors would have encouraged the development of ritual within the lodges. The undoubted capabilities of the operative masons in all aspects of the design, construction and symbolic adornment of ecclesiastical buildings were confirmed by the Council of Nicea in 787, when it ruled that "the arrangement belongs to the clergy and the execution to the artist".


Compacted earth was first used by Advanced Hunters of the Near East to construct primitive circular dwellings about 12,000 years ago. They soon added stone footings, set in hard clay, which improved stability and provided protection against the exceptionally high runoffs that were occurring during the melt down after the last great Ice Age. With the discovery of mud brick production, building erection was greatly enhanced, ushering in the Agricultural Revolution started by the Late Hunters in the New Stone Age. A pre-eminent example of early advances in masonry is a township of some four hectares constructed at Jericho around 8000 BC. It included a group of round beehive houses of mud brick, at least one round defensive stone tower and a massive stone wall surrounding the development. Undressed water-worn stones were used, but they were split to provide a stable laying surface and were carefully set in hard clay. The earliest known religious buildings were constructed around 6500 BC at ?atal H?y?k in Turkey. The intimate association of masonry with religion was firmly established in Mesopotamia when the Sumerians constructed a continuous series of temples at Eridu, dating from 5500 BC or earlier until about 3000 BC.

The first religious structure mentioned in the Bible, the temple-tower or ziggurat called the Tower of Babel, also was constructed during that period, probably some time before 4000 BC. Sumerian tombs in the Royal Cemetery of Ur, constructed between 2700 BC and 2370 BC, are of particular interest because all were roofed in stone and buried deep in the alluvial flood plain. They were of composite construction using limestone masonry, mud brick, kiln fired brick and timber, because the nearest source of rock was at least 60 kilometres away. The earliest tomb had a corbel vault, but later tombs had either barrel vaults or domes with pendentives, the spherical triangular segments that connect square corners to true arches. In Egypt during the same period, massive chambered tombs for royal burials were being constructed of mud brick with flat roofs, called mastaba tombs from the Arabic mastabah meaning a bench. Imhotep, the renowned architect of the pharaoh Zoser, is credited with the invention of stone masonry in Egypt. He was responsible for what is reputed to be the first pyramid constructed of dressed stone, the Step Pyramid built for Zoser at Saqqara around 2650 BC. This was an abrupt departure from the mud brick construction previously used in Egypt.

The three pyramids of Giza are reputed to have been built for Khufu (Cheops), Khafra (Chephren) and Menkaura (Mycerinus) during the period 2500 BC to 2400 BC, but their ages and their assignment to specific pharaohs is based solely on doubtful circumstantial evidence. Mounting evidence implies that these pyramids might date from as early as Tep Zepi, or the First Time of Egypt around 10450 BC. The construction of these three pyramids differs from and is vastly superior to that of all other pyramids in Egypt, most of which have deteriorated badly, many having collapsed into rubble. Unlike the later pyramids, the pyramids of Giza did not contain mummies or funerary objects, nor did they have any hieroglyphic inscriptions or other adornments. There is compelling evidence that the arrangements of the chambers, galleries and shafts in the Great Pyramid of Khufu are of religious significance, reflecting ancient Egyptian beliefs concerning the rebirth of the pharaohs and the transmigration of their souls to the astral plane of the heavenly Duat. The pyramids of Giza incorporate 12 million tonnes of dressed stone, or forty percent of the total mass of the eighty pyramids built in Egypt. Khufu's pyramid is the largest stone structure in the world, incorporating 2.5 million limestone blocks weighing up to 12 tonnes each and laid in 203 courses, accurately fitted without mortar. The 68,000 square metres of external surface was clad with polished limestone facing blocks weighing 15 tonnes each. The Grand Gallery, climbing on a slope of 26.5o to the King's Chamber, is constructed of 30 tonne black granite blocks from Aswan, 750 kilometres to the south. The walls of the King's Chamber comprise 70 tonne blocks of red granite, supporting a flat ceiling of 50 tonne blocks. The Queen's Chamber is constructed of white limestone blocks and has a gabled ceiling exactly on the east-west axis.


Subsequently many magnificent temples of dressed stone also were constructed in Egypt, of which the remarkable complexes at Karnak commenced around 1990 BC and at Abu Simbel commenced around 1200 BC probably are the best known. The first permanent religious structure described in the bible is the temple at Jerusalem, built by King Solomon with the assistance of Hiram King of Tyre and his building specialists and completed around 950 BC. Although the temple building itself was only about 30 metres by 10 metres, very much smaller than any of the temples in Egypt, its opulence has never been surpassed. The layout of the temple was based on an extensive series of Canaanite temples dating from as early as 2500 BC and a later series built by the Phoenicians in Syria from as early as 1400 BC. The Phoenicians then were renowned for their building activities in the Levant and culturally were much more advanced than the Hebrews.

Three centuries after its construction, in the time of Josiah, King Solomon's temple needed extensive repairs which had to be financed by the worshippers. Then in 587 BC the temple was destroyed by Nebuchadrezzar, when he sacked Jerusalem, removed the Ark of the Covenant and deported the remainder of the Hebrews into Babylonish captivity. When Cyrus the Elamite king conquered Babylon in 539 BC and founded the vast Persian Empire, Judea became one of its provinces and remained so for the next 200 years. In 538 BC Cyrus issued a decree releasing the Israelites from their captivity and allowing them to rebuild their temple. Under the leadership of Sheshbazzar or Zerubbabel in 535 BC, Ezra in 458 BC and Nehemiah in 445 BC, about 42,360 Israelites returned to Jerusalem. Rebuilding of the temple soon began under Joshua the high priest, but the many difficulties that were encountered necessitated Zerubbabel's visit to Cyrus and delayed completion of the temple until 515 BC. This second temple, usually called Zerubbabel's, was similar to Solomon's though much less ornate. However it survived for almost 500 years, until the Roman general Pompey captured Jerusalem in 63 BC and the Roman consul Crassus plundered the temple nine years later.

When Antipater, a Jew of Idumaean descent, was appointed procurator of Judea by Julius Caesar in 47 BC, he appointed his son Herod as military prefect of Galilee. The Romans were so impressed by Herod's abilities that they appointed him "King of the Jews" when the Parthians invaded Syria and Palestine in 40 BC. After three years of fighting, culminating with the defeat of Cleopatra and Mark Antony in the battle of Actium, he established his position and ruled as Herod the Great from 37 BC until his death in 4 BC. Herod was an indefatigable builder, who decided to demonstrate his own grandeur by restoring Zerubbabel's temple as a much more beautiful building of twice the area, set in a complex of courtyards covering an area of some ten hectares surrounded by a massive stone wall constructed using blocks usually 1.25 metres high and 4.6 metres long. Herod trained 1,000 priests as masons and also had the work carried out in stages, so that the ritual observances were not interrupted. Although the work was begun in 20 BC and the main structure was completed within ten years, the whole complex was not completed until 64 AD. The temple was burned when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman armies in 70 AD.


Greece emerged as a colonising nation around 1100 BC, soon becoming the centre of learning, art and religious thought in the western Mediterranean. The era of classical masonry began with the erection of the first of the Greek stone temples at Corinth and Isthmia some time before 650 BC, where the Doric order originated. The Ionic order was established during the next hundred years, with the construction of the temples at Corfu and Ephesus. The Corinthian order was first used in Delphi around 390 BC. Without doubt the most famous of the classical Greek structures are the Parthenon and its surrounding structures on the Acropolis in Athens, built between 447 BC and 432 BC. The Parthenon was about 115 metres long and 55 metres wide, with a pitched roof and completely surrounded by a colonnade of forty six massive Doric columns. The Parthenon typified the monolithic unity of Greek temples and was the ultimate expression of the Greek city-state. The emphasis which the Greeks placed on the ancient Mysteries continued into the turbulent period of Roman rule and must have had a significant influence on the development of speculative masonic thought, because it is still reflected in masonic ceremonials. Roman architecture owes much to Greek architecture, but it is not simply an extension of it. Probably the two most significant differences are the greater magnitude of the Roman buildings and the more elaborate decoration of their interiors which are designed to match their exteriors and to reflect their imperial pride and growing self awareness.

One of the most interesting examples of Roman masonry is the temple complex at Baalbek, on the site of an ancient holy place of the Canaanites. To provide for greater public participation around 1200 BC, the Canaanites constructed a raised stone court surrounded by a stone wall, thus creating a sanctuary at the centre of which they erected a sacrificial altar, similar to the forecourt used some 250 years later by the priests of King Solomon's temple. Alexander the Great defeated the Persian Empire and entered Egypt in triumph in 332 BC, when the Beqa'a valley became part of the Egyptian Empire and the Ptolemies proposed building a huge temple at Baalbek. However, construction was delayed by disputations with the Seleucids, who won the Beqa'a valley in 198 BC under Antiochus the Great. When the Roman general Pompey occupied Phoenicia in 64 AD, an immense podium with an area of about 17,000 square metres was nearing completion at Baalbek. The Temple of Jupiter on the podium had been under construction for about four years. The structure was completed around 70 AD, but embellishments continued for at least another sixty years. The sandstone foundation courses were laid with the largest stones ever used in masonry construction, perfectly fitted without mortar. They were up to 20 metres long and 4 metres square in cross-section, weighing as much as 800 tonnes each. The temple was surrounded by a colonnade of fifty four of the tallest monolithic columns that exist from antiquity. They were of pink granite from Aswan in upper Egypt, having shafts 16.6 metres high and 2 metres in diameter and weighing 135 tonnes.

The Temple of Bacchus at Baalbek was adjacent to the Temple of Jupiter and similar in construction, but only about half the area. Nevertheless the Temple of Bacchus was larger than the Parthenon of Athens and is still the best preserved of all Roman temples. Also in the Baalbek complex were the much smaller Temple of Venus and Temple of the Muses. The Emperor Constantine declared Christianity to be the religion of the Roman Empire in 313 AD and a Christian church was built in the township, but it was destroyed in 361 AD when Julian "the Apostate" came to power. When Theodosius came to power in 379 AD he destroyed the altar of sacrifice and the observation tower in the Great Court and replaced them with a Christian Basilica that was 63 metres by 36 metres and raised on a podium 2 metres high. However, when Syria became an Arab state in 637 AD, the Basilica was converted into a palace and the Temples of Jupiter and Bacchus were converted into a huge walled fortress with a surrounding moat. The fortress was only abandoned when Baalbek became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1517 AD. To this day the precinct is known to the Arabs as the Kala'a, meaning a fortress.


The final phase in the evolution of speculative freemasonry followed the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. In addition to their work constructing castles, fortifications and other public facilities, the operative masons in Britain and Europe were engaged on an intensive program of cathedral building that continued almost without a break from around 500 until at least 1700. It is not known how many cathedrals were built in Britain and Europe during those 1,200 years of intensive construction, but there were several hundred as well as an even greater number of priories and other ecclesiastical buildings. Most of the finest of those cathedrals have survived the ravages of man and nature and are still in service. The operative or Guild Masons in England were organised with royal approval from at least as early as the Annual Assemblage of 926, which was encouraged and authorised by King Athelstan. The lodges of operative masons assembled under the guardianship of craft guilds, which originally were in the form of religious fraternities that continued until Henry VIII disendowed all religious fraternities by the Act of 1547. It is evident from the old catechisms and the Ancient Charges, that the masters of operative lodges were responsible for the moral and religious conduct of their apprentices and fellows, as well as for their welfare and practical training in the craft of masonry. It also is clear that the tools and procedures employed by operative masons in their work were woven into simple dramas that were enacted to illustrate moral principles, which in turn were adapted by Dr James Anderson and others for incorporation in the speculative rituals still used in modern lodges of Freemasonry.

York and its Minster are of special importance in the annals of English masonry. The present York Minster is on the site of a wooden chapel erected for the baptism of Edwin of Deira, King of Northumbria, together with the members of his court, by Paulinus the first Bishop of York on Easter Day in 627. The King had been converted to Christianity by his Kentish wife, who previously had been converted to Christianity by the Roman mission led by St Augustine, who arrived in Kent in 597. The renowned historian known as the Venerable Bede, who lived in the Jarrow monastery on Tyneside from 682 until his death in 735, records that Edwin soon replaced the chapel with a stone church, which became the centre of the Bishopric and continued as such until the church was burned down about 741. It was replaced by another magnificent stone church about 55 metres long and 17 metres wide, that was commenced by Archbishop Albert around 767. When this church was ruined with the city during the troubles following the Norman conquest, its rebuilding was begun around 1080 by the first Norman Archbishop, Thomas de Bayeux. About a century later the choir was rebuilt by Archbishop Roger de Pont-l'Ev^que.

The last church was replaced by the present York Minster progressively and in distinct stages. The first work was the addition of the south transept that was commenced in 1220, followed by the addition of the north transept that was commenced in 1241. Work on the new nave, chapter house and vestibule was commenced in 1291 and completed by about 1345. The Norman choir was then replaced, commencing in 1361. The final stage of construction was the erection of a central tower begun in 1400 and completed in 1423, followed by the erection of the western towers 62 metre high, begun in 1433 and completed in 1474, when construction had been in progress for some 250 years. The choir was badly damaged by fire in 1829 and the nave also was damaged by fire in 1840. After almost 500 years of continuous use, investigations revealed that the central tower and west end of the Minster were in danger of collapse, as a result of water erosion and fatigue in the building materials. Extensive remedial works carried out since the 1960s have restored the foundations fully and strengthened the fabric of the building.

The development of the Gothic style of cathedrals in France, where the height of the building almost became an obsession and flying buttresses were used to support the main aisles, completes the story of the close association between freemasonry and religion. The Cathedral of the Notre-Dame in Paris probably is the best known example of this style, begun in 1163 and completed with the erection of the western towers around 1240. It is noted for the lightness of the stone skeleton and the richness of its glowing glass, which captures the genius of Gothic architecture. However, the world famous Chartres Cathedral is considered to be the most authentic surviving example of that most spiritual of all periods in European history. It is a cathedral church in the middle of a town, which distinguishes Gothic cathedrals from the earlier monastic churches that were set in the French countryside and had enclosures of cells and cloisters. Originally there was a small church of unknown age on the site, which by 1020 had been replaced by a cathedral almost as large as the present one. The cathedral was extended at the western end in the 1130s, when two bays, a vestibule and two towers framing the Royal Portal and its renowned sculptures were added.

A dreadful fire that razed much of the township of Chartres in 1194, also destroyed all of the first cathedral except the western end and the crypt. Reconstruction was commenced almost immediately and continued unabated while a dozen other cathedrals were also under construction in the vicinity. No architect was engaged to design and supervise the work, which was carried out under more than thirty successive contracts, or "campaigns", controlled by nine different Master Masons engaged cyclically throughout the construction period. The first Master Mason prepared the original design, set out the building and constructed the foundations in less than a year. Each of the Master Masons was engaged more than once, but the first and some others were engaged several times. Each successive builder made some modifications in the details of the design, but without altering any of the work already done. The cathedral was completed during the 1230s. The successful completion of this complicated and beautiful structure under very difficult conditions, coupled with the proven durability of the building, demonstrates beyond all doubt the remarkable ability, integrity and capacity of medieval freemasons.


Many hypotheses have been advanced about the evolution of modern speculative Freemasonry. One suggestion is that Freemasonry was invented by members of the four speculative lodges in London who joined to form the first Grand Lodge of England in 1717. Another suggestion that once received strong support perceives Freemasonry as a direct offshoot of the Rosicrucian movement. Two of the more tenable claims are that Freemasonry is either a direct or an indirect derivative of the medieval lodges of operative masons. It also has been asserted that Freemasonry was founded in antiquity and revived by the Knights Templar in the Holy Land. Although the extensive association of the Knights Templar with operative masons does not appear to account for the emergence of modern speculative Freemasonry, it undoubtedly influenced the speculative aspects of operative masonry. It is surprising that the protagonists who advance one or another of these theories, usually do not acknowledge the possibility that modern speculative Freemasonry could have evolved from more than one source. A brief review of these theories will help to put the relationship between freemasonry and religion in its proper perspective.

It is significant that the key episodes on which the rituals are based in the degrees of the Craft, the Mark, the Royal Arch, the Cryptic Council and their associated orders are all biblical events recorded in passages of scripture in the Old Testament. A well known example is the Hiramic legend relating to the untimely death of the architect during the construction of King Solomon's temple at Jerusalem. Although not detailed in the Old Testament, the narrative of the legend is ancient and many variations and amplifications of it are to be found in the Judaic apocrypha and the earliest Talmudic traditions. In The Hiram Key, Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas describe extensive investigations they carried out, from which they conclude that the Hiramic legend originally referred to the murder, around 1600 BC, of Seqenenre Tao a Theban pharaoh. They also give an interesting Egyptian derivation of the substitute word. The name of the central figure in the Hiramic legend is not always the same in the various versions of the Traditional Histories of English operative masons.

It is clear from the Cooke MS of about 1410, that the architect of King Solomon's temple and the events concerning the construction of the temple already were firmly established in the traditions of the guilds of operative masons. If speculative Freemasonry had been invented in England during the period of religious fervour and intolerance that prevailed for about two centuries prior to the formation of the first Grand Lodge, the Hiramic legend probably would not have been included and the degrees almost certainly would have had a strong Christian emphasis based on events taken from the New Testament. However, the orders that include degrees with a Christian basis did not appear until the 1750s and 1800s, after the first Grand Lodge of England had been established. Although it is believed that some members of the lodges forming first Grand Lodge were Rosicrucians, who would have exerted a strong Christian influence on modern speculative development, there is no evidence of any direct connection between the Rosicrucian movement and freemasonry.

The weight of evidence supports the view that speculative Freemasonry was derived indirectly from the ceremonials of English operative lodges, through speculative lodges that probably had some operative masons as members, at about the same time as many Scottish operative lodges were making a direct transition to speculative lodges. The early development of operative masonry in England and Scotland was similar, although the lodges in Scotland were smaller and more dispersed, with much of the work carried out under contract instead of by direct labour. In London the Fellowship of Masons, probably established around 1356, had an inner conclave from the 1620s that was known as the Acception, whose members included operative masons and also many who were not tradesmen. The conditions that prevailed during the Reformation and the need to maintain secrecy within organisations, explain the dearth of records in England, which is the reason why it is much more difficult to establish the evolution of Freemasonry in England than in Scotland.

In 1441 King James II appointed Sir William St Clair (now Sinclair), the Laird of Roslin, as hereditary patron and protector of Scottish masons. In Edinburgh in 1475 the Seal of Cause was issued, establishing trade regulations for masons in Scotland about a century earlier than any similar regulations were issued in England. The Schaw Statutes of 1598 and 1599 strengthened those regulations and formalised arrangements for the management of Scottish operative lodges. With the express permission of William Schaw, the St Clair Charters of 1601 and 1628, signed by representatives of many widely dispersed lodges, confirmed that the Lairds of Roslin had been for ages and would continue to be patrons and protectors of the mason craft in Scotland. Records of Scottish operative lodges from 1598 onwards indicate that ritual work was being carried out and they frequently record the admission of non-masons as members. In 1736 four old Scottish operative lodges associated in the formation of the Grand Lodge of Scotland. The thirty-three lodges that met later in the same year and elected William St Clair, the Laird of Roslin, as the first Grand Master Mason of Scotland also were or had been operative lodges. This differs significantly from the formation of the first Grand Lodge in England by four speculative lodges, of which few if any of the members had been operative masons.

It would be appropriate now to consider the "de-Christianising of the Craft" often mentioned by masonic authors. Any Christian influence stemmed from the fact that, when purely speculative Freemasonry was being organised, Christianity was the only religion recognised in England. For centuries in England and on the Continent it had been the custom of the old crafts and guilds, including the masons, to have their patron saints on whose days festivals were held. Many ancient lodges held a festival on June 24, the summer solstice that had been a day of heathen rejoicing, but which in early Christian times became St John the Baptist's day. They also held a festival on December 27, the winter solstice which also had been a day of heathen rejoicing, but became St John the Evangelist's day. Although other saints were held in high regard by masons, including the Four Crowned Martyrs known as Quatuor Coronati in Latin, the two Saints John were adopted as the patron saints of Freemasonry, giving rise to such old expressions as "a St John's Lodge" and "the St John's Men". In the early days of speculative lodges the officers were installed every six months, usually on the days of the Saints John. Nowadays the annual festivals in England are held on St George's Day and in Scotland on St Andrew's Day.

Some authors have expressed the opinion that prior to the Constitutions of 1723 masons were expected to be Christians, but it is not known whether there was any firm basis for that opinion. There is no record that any of the Craft rituals referred to Jesus Christ, but it has been suggested that some of the symbolism might have been given a Trinitarian explanation. The records of some catechisms in the early 1700s include references of a Christian character, more particularly in the Royal Arch. The "precious corner-stone for a firm foundation", from Isaiah 28, verse 16 and the tau cross used as "a sign of the righteous on the foreheads of the Lord's people", from Ezekial 9, verse 4, also came into question because of their later Christian connotations. Even the pentalpha, a magical sign used in ancient times as a talisman against the danger of fire and adopted in Freemasonry as an emblem of the five points of fellowship, was questioned because it became a Christian symbol alluding to the five wounds of Christ. Fortunately these and other symbols of ancient origin, like the triple tau, survived the "de-Christianising of the Craft". From the early 1720s the Jewish membership of lodges steadily increased and any Christian overtones that had been in the ritual were progressively eliminated. These superficial changes, which reflected a desire for Freemasonry to be open to all men believing in God irrespective of their creed, were fostered by the Duke of Sussex who was a Hebrew scholar, a member of Jewish learned societies and also a supporter of Christian Emancipation.


There is strong evidence in Scotland of an association between the Knights Templar and Freemasonry, especially in relation to the Mark and the Royal Arch. Extensive studies carried out on this and related subjects in the 1980s and 1990s are described and commented on by the investigators in two excellent books. The earlier book is The Temple and the Lodge by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh and the other is The Hiram Key already mentioned in relation to the Hiramic legend. The association between the Knights Templar and Freemasonry will be summarised briefly for reference. The Poor Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, known as the Knights Templar, were established in France in 1118 or earlier. It is significant in the later history of the Knights Templar that their first Grand Master, Hugues de Payen, was married to Catherine de St Clair, a Scottish woman of Norman descent, who set up the first Templar preceptory outside the Holy Land on her family's property a few kilometres south of Edinburgh. This was the Preceptory of Balantrodoch, in the village now called Temple, not far from where Rosslyn Chapel was built later.

When Hugues de Payens first went to Jerusalem with eight other knights, it was ostensibly to protect Christian pilgrims on their journeys in the Holy Land, but the French historian Gaetan Delaforge, who made a special study of the Knights Templar, states in his book The Templar Tradition in the Age of Aquarius that their real task was to obtain relics and manuscripts containing the secret traditions of Judaism and ancient Egypt. Hugues de Payen persuaded King Baldwin I to give him a section of the royal palace that was in the area of the Temple. The nine knights apparently spent their first nine years on this project and carried out extensive excavations under the Temple, but no record of the results is available. In 1895 Lieutenant Charles Wilson led a contingent of Royal Engineers from Britain to explore and map the passages and chambers under the ruins of the Temple. In his book, The Excavation of Jerusalem, Wilson states that many discarded relics of the Templars were found underground and that many of the passages and chambers were vaulted with keystone arches. Official reports of modern Israeli archaeological investigations also support the proposition that the knights were searching the Temple ruins for something special.

The Knights Templar included many operative masons in their establishment and also engaged local masons to work with them constructing a wide range of castles, hospitals and ecclesiastical buildings in the Holy Land over about 150 years. During that time the Templar masons must have acquired a sound knowledge of the customs and traditions of the local masons, whose direct lineage extended back through the Phoenicians to the Sumerians and also the Egyptians. The Templar castle constructed around 1217 at Athlit, about fifteen kilometres south of Haifa, was their last great stronghold to be abandoned when al-Ashraf, with an army of a quarter of a million men, finally defeated the Knights Templar in 1291. The cemetery at Athlit contains two of the oldest known masonic graves, with well preserved headstones each having a large Templar cross carved vertically in the centre, between a kevel on the left and a Master Mason's gallows square on the right. When Philippe IV, King of France, ordered all Templars to be seized in October 1307, the large Templar fleet escaped, reputedly around Ireland to Argyll in Scotland, where there are many Templar relics. In March 1314 after intensive interrogation, torture and trial by the Inquisition, the Grand Master Jacques de Molay was roasted to death over a slow fire.

Meanwhile a large number of Templars had escaped to Scotland and are reported to have provided the force of horsemen that swung the battle in Robert Bruce's favour at Bannockburn on 24 June 1314. After Bruce died in 1329 and in accordance with his dying wish, Sir James Douglas, Sir William St Clair, Sir William Keith and two other knights set out with Bruce's heart in a silver casket to be buried in the Holy Land. All except Sir William Keith died in Spain supporting King Alfonso XI in his campaign against the Moors at Granada. Sir William Keith, whose arm was broken, brought the casket back to Scotland and Bruce's heart was buried under the east window of the chancel in Melrose Abbey. The close association of the Lairds of Roslin with the Knights Templar and masonic tradition culminated when a later Sir William St Clair decided to build a large collegiate church. The foundations were laid in 1446 and Rosslyn Chapel was completed in the 1480's, although the main church was never built. The chapel is a remarkable structure, with a foundation plan similar to the temple at Jerusalem and external rows of spires that appear to be modelled on the drawing of the "Heavenly Jerusalem" by Lambert of St Omer who died about 1121.

Rosslyn Chapel incorporates two highly ornamented pillars representing Jachin and Boaz and it is ornately decorated inside with Celtic, Templar and masonic symbols. The embellishments include a wounded head relevant to the Hiramic legend, a Latin inscription quoting part of Zerubbabel's discourse when he sought Cyrus's support during the rebuilding of the temple and symbols of significance in the Royal Arch. Rosslyn Chapel also has a scroll shrine in the form of a vault sealed under a metre of rock, the contents of which are unknown, but which Knight and Lomas believe may contain relics from the vaults under the Temple at Jerusalem. A remarkable feature of the interior decorations are the accurate representations of maize and aloe plants from the New World that must have been carved into the columns and arches around 1470, although Columbus's first landing on the mainland was not until 1498. This gives weight to the belief that, after its arrival in Scotland, the Templar fleet sailed west in search of the land that is called Merica in the Nasorean scrolls and marked by a star. It seems that the Templars almost certainly landed on the New England coast of America early in 1308 and after settling there journeyed back to Scotland more than once. This contention is supported by the famous image of a fourteenth century knight carved on a rock at Westford in Massachussets and also by the stone tower at Newport in Rhode Island, constructed like a round Templar church, that was recorded as an existing "Norman Villa" by the Italian navigator Giovanni de Verrazano, who was thought to be the first European to discover that part of the coastline.


Several other organisations and ethical systems have been put forward from time to time as the progenitors of freemasonry. It is unlikely that any of them would have been the direct ancestor of modern speculative freemasonry, although several probably influenced the course of freemasonry directly or indirectly. Among the more tenuous possible associations are the Druids and the Culdees whose influence, if any, would have been similar to that of the Rosicrucians mentioned earlier. The ancient Celtic priests of Germany, Gaul and Britain, called the Druids, are not known to have had any association with the craft of masonry and very little is known of their rites and ceremonies, so their supposed influence on freemasonry at best is conjectural. We do not know what contact the Culdees, a fraternity of monks who lived in isolation in groups of cells in Scotland from the 700s, had with the craft of masonry, so their supposed influence also is conjectural though possibly more tangible. The Mithraic cult was devoted to the ancient Persian light-god, whose worship became popular in the Roman Empire. As the Persians and Babylonians were pre-eminent among the ancient builders, whence there was a continuous line of descent over several thousand years through the Canaanites and Phoenicians to the Roman builders in the eastern Mediterranean, it is reasonable to assume that the Mithraic cult influenced the development of ancient esoteric freemasonry. The systems of morality taught for several thousand years through the symbolism and elaborate rituals of the ancient Mysteries of Egypt and Greece, also must have influenced ancient freemasonry. The Essenes, who were closely connected to the Pythagoreans, probably had a greater influence. Menahem, a Diaspora Essene, founded the Magians whose name reflects their Babylonian culture. They shared the traditions of the Palestine Essenes, but did not enforce seclusion nor have the same strict views on morality. The Jewish historian Josephus records in War that Menahem told the young Herod he would become king, for which Herod held him and all Essenes in honour and trusted them throughout his reign. The Diaspora Essenes supported restitution of the Davidic rule, but they could accept another king with the David in a subordinate role, which was more acceptable to Herod than the proposals for the priesthood in the Temple Scroll prepared by the Palestine Essenes when Herod announced around 21 BC that he would rebuild the temple. Herod's decision to train 1,000 priests as masons probably was in deference to Menahem's influence. The preparation and obligation of candidates and the degrees and allegorical instruction they received at Qumran, as detailed in the scroll called the Manual of Discipline or Community Rule, are closely mirrored in freemasonry.

Socio-religious craft clubs called the Collegia flourished at the height of the Roman Empire and probably accompanied the Roman armies and masons to Britain. During the reign of Emperor Henry III (1039-56), the Pope is said to have issued a diploma to an Italian group, the Travelling Architects, to build churches all over Europe. The Comacine Masters of Italy and the Steinmetzen or stonecutters of Germany also are supposed to have been established by Papal Bulls, but none of these documents has been found. In 1260 the stonemasons of France received their code and privileges from Charles Martel who appears in the Ancient Charges of English masonry, which suggests a positive connection. A code of masons issued in France in 1407 and the later Compagnonnage of journeyman masons have similarities with English masonry.


The foregoing historical summary briefly outlines the key role that has been played by operative masonry in the support of religion during the progress of civilisation over almost 12,000 years, from the beginnings of operative masonry until its decline and replacement by modern Freemasonry. By its very nature, operative masonry takes into account the practical experience of previous ages, builds upon it and passes its new found knowledge on to succeeding generations. The intimate association of operative masonry with the ancient priesthoods and later with the Medieval and Renaissance ecclesiastical fraternity, must have influenced the masons' lives sufficiently to mould their beliefs into the true principles of freemasonry. It is an inevitable consequence of operative practice and traditions, that the system of moral teaching and its associated rituals used in speculative freemasonry, also would have been acquired progressively, developed and passed on, even as language itself has evolved through the centuries.

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