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part I - the heritage of freemasonry

W. M. Don Falconer PM, PDGDC

The evolution of the human psyche awakened a belief in the existence of some higher controlling power that has a direct connection with emotion and morality.


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 that, 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 is the system of moral teaching and the associated traditions and rituals that, in earlier times, were an important component of day-to-day life in lodges of operative freemasons. Those systems, traditions and rituals are now incorporated in the ceremonies of modern speculative freemasonry. When modern speculative craft freemasons compiled the rituals now in use, they defined freemasonry as a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. They based the ceremonial procedures on those used in operative lodges, but adapted 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 lengthy. When operative freemasons 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 freemasons 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 said that he could not imagine how “horny handed labourers” could have developed a system of symbolism and philosophy to give moral instruction within the lodge. R.F.Gould, the renowned masonic historian, offered a most improbable solution to the perceived dilemma. He 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. The Master Masons had a superior knowledge and skill and were well versed in religious matters, the graphic arts, sculpture and geometry, as well as in the manual aspects of their trade. It will be recalled that the medieval operative freemasons were living in the 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 in the operative lodges. In 787 the Council of Nicea confirmed the undoubted capabilities of operative freemasons in all aspects of the design, construction and symbolic adornment of ecclesiastical buildings, when it ruled with respect to their establishment that “the arrangement belongs to the clergy and the execution to the artist”.


About 12,000 years ago the Advanced Hunters of the Near East first used compacted earth to construct primitive circular dwellings. 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 in about 8000 BCE. 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 in about 6500 BCE at Çatal Hüyük 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 from before 5500 BCE until about 3000 BCE.

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 BCE. Sumerian tombs in the Royal Cemetery of Ur, constructed between 2700 BCE and 2370 BCE, 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 word 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 BCE. The pyramid began as a mastaba tomb about 8 metres high, which was incorporated into a rock structure raised progressively in six steps to a height of 61 metres, fully encased in dressed Tura limestone blocks. 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 BCE to 2400 BCE, but the ages of the pyramids and their assignment to specific pharaohs is based solely on doubtful circumstantial evidence. There is mounting evidence that the pyramids of Giza might date from as early as Zep Tepi, or the First Time of Egypt, in about 10450 BCE. This suggestion is supported by the fact that 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, while many have 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. Moreover, there also 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, which is forty percent of the total mass of the eighty pyramids that were built in Egypt. Khufu’s pyramid is the largest stone structure in the world and it incorporates about 2.5 million limestone blocks that weigh up to 12 tonnes each, which were laid in 203 courses accurately fitted without mortar. The external surface of Khufu’s pyramid, which is some 68,000 square metres in area, was clad with polished limestone facing blocks weighing 15 tonnes each. The King’s Chamber is reached through the Grand Gallery, which ascends on a slope of 26.5°. It is constructed of 30 tonne blocks of black granite from Aswan, 750 kilometres to the south. The walls of the King’s Chamber are constructed with 70 tonne blocks of red granite, which support a flat ceiling constructed 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.


After the great pyramids, many magnificent temples of dressed stone were constructed in Egypt, of which the best known are probably the remarkable complexes at Karnak that were commenced in about 1990 BCE; also those at Abu Simbel that were commenced in about 1200 BCE. Although the first religious structure mentioned in the Bible was the Tower of Babel, the first that it describes in detail was the temple built by King Solomon at Jerusalem, with the assistance of Hiram King of Tyre and his building specialists. Completed in about 950 BCE, King Solomon’s temple was much smaller than any Egyptian temple, being only about 30 metres by 10 metres in plan, but its opulence has never been surpassed. The layout of King Solomon’s temple was based on an extensive series of Canaanite temples dating from as early as 2500 BCE and a later series built by the Phoenicians in Syria from as early as 1400 BCE. The Phoenicians were renowned for their building activities in the Levant and culturally they were much further advanced than the Hebrews. In the time of Josiah, three centuries after King Solomon’s temple was completed, it needed extensive repairs that had to be financed by the worshippers. Later, in 587 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar destroyed King Solomon’s temple when he sacked Jerusalem, took away the Ark of the Covenant and deported the remainder of the Hebrews into Babylonish captivity.

When Cyrus the Elamite king conquered Babylon in 539 BCE and founded the vast Persian Empire, Judea became one of its provinces and remained so for the next 200 years. Nevertheless, in 538 BCE Cyrus issued a decree releasing the Israelites from their captivity, allowing them to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple. The return of the Israelites to Judea commenced under the leadership of Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel, in about 537 BCE. Sheshbazzar was a prince of Judah whom Cyrus appointed as governor of Judah, to whom Cyrus entrusted the temple vessels that had been looted by Nebuchadnezzar. Sheshbazzar may have been Zerubbabel’s uncle Shenazzar, who was a son of King Jerhoiachin. King Jehoiachin and the prophet Ezekiel were captured in 597 BCE and deported to Babylon, where Ezekiel had a grand vision for a new temple. Sheshbazzar is believed to have been the governor of Judea who is referred to as Tirshatha in the scriptures. Tirshatha probably is a Persian form of the Avestan tarsta, meaning reverend, which was used as a title more or less equivalent to “His Excellency”.

Zerubbabel was the son of Salathiel and hence a grandson of King Jehoiachin. The exact meaning of Zerubbabel is uncertain, but it is believed to signify “offspring of Babylon”. Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel laid the foundations of the new temple in about 535 BCE, but Zerubbabel and Joshua the high priest were those primarily responsible for carrying out the building work. Many difficulties were encountered as a consequence of the turbulence of the surrounding tribes, which delayed the rebuilding of the temple and necessitated Zerubbabel's visit to Cyrus to gain his support. The rebuilding of the temple was resumed in about 520 BCE and completed by about 515 BCE. The return of the Israelites resumed under Ezra in 458 BCE and continued under Nehemiah in 445 BCE. A total of some 42,360 Israelites returned to Jerusalem from Babylon. The second temple at Jerusalem is usually called Zerubbabel's temple. It was similar to Solomon's temple, but much less ornate than either Solomon’s temple or the temple visualised by the prophet Ezekiel. However, Zerubbabel’s temple survived for almost 500 years, until the Roman general Pompey captured Jerusalem in 63 BCE and the Roman consul Crassus plundered the temple nine years later.

In 47 BCE Julius Caesar appointed Antipater, a Jew of Idumaean descent, as procurator of Judea. Antipater then appointed his son Herod as the military prefect of Galilee. When the Parthians invaded Syria and Palestine in 40 BCE, the Romans were so impressed by Herod’s abilities that they appointed him “King of the Jews”. After three years of fighting, culminating with the defeat of Cleopatra and Mark Antony in the battle of Actium, Herod established his position and ruled as Herod the Great from 37 BCE until his death in 4 BCE. 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. It was set in a complex of courtyards covering an area of some ten hectares, surrounded by a massive stone wall that was constructed using blocks mostly 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 work began in 20 BCE and the main structure was completed within ten years, the whole complex was not completed until 64 CE. The temple was razed to the ground and burned when the Roman armies destroyed Jerusalem in 70 CE.


Greece emerged as a colonising nation about 1100 BCE and soon become the centre of learning, art and religious thought in the eastern 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 BCE, 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 BCE. 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 BCE and 432 BCE. 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 that the Greeks placed on the ancient Mysteries continued into the turbulent period of Roman rule, which influenced the development of speculative thought that is still reflected in masonic ceremonials. Roman architecture owes much to Greek architecture, but is not simply an extension of it. The two most significant differences are the greater size of the Roman buildings and the more elaborate decoration of their interiors, which are designed to match their exteriors and to reflect the imperial pride and growing self-awareness of the Romans.

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 BCE, 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 BCE, 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 BCE under Antiochus the Great.

When the Roman general Pompey occupied Phoenicia in 64 CE, an immense podium with an area of about 17,000 square metres was nearing completion at Baalbek. The Temple of Jupiter was located on the podium and had then been under construction for about four years. The main structure was completed in about 70 CE, but embellishments continued for at least another sixty years. The sandstone foundation courses were laid with the largest stones ever used in masonry construction. They were perfectly fitted without mortar and were as large as 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 brought from Aswan in upper Egypt and had shafts 2 metres in diameter and 16.6 metres high, each 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. When the Emperor Constantine declared Christianity to be the religion of the Roman Empire in 313 a Christian church was built in the township, but when the Emperor Julian “the Apostate” came to power it was destroyed in 361. When Theodosius became Emperor in the East in 379, he destroyed the altar of sacrifice and the observation tower in the Great Court of the Temple of Jupiter and replaced them with a Christian Basilica 63 metres by 36 metres in area, raised on a podium 2 metres high. Subsequently, when Syria became an Arab state in 637, 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. To this day the Arabs know the precinct as the Kala’a, meaning a fortress.


The culminating 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 construction, but there were several hundred and 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. In England the operative freemasons or Guild Masons were organised with royal approval from at least as early as the Annual Assemblage of 926, which is reputed to have been 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 working methods used by the operative masons were woven into simple dramas that were enacted to illustrate moral principles. These dramas were adapted by Dr James Anderson and others and incorporated in the speculative rituals still used in masonic lodges.

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’s Kentish wife had converted him to Christianity, she previously having been converted to Christianity by the Roman mission led by St Augustine, who arrived in Kent in 597. The Venerable Bede (c.673-735), who lived in the Jarrow monastery on Tyneside from 682 until his death, records in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People 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, which was commenced by Archbishop Albert in about 767. After this church had been ruined, when the city was laid waste during the troubles that followed the Norman Conquest, the first Norman Archbishop, Thomas de Bayeux, began rebuilding it in about 1080. Archbishop Roger de Pont-l’Evêque rebuilt the choir about a century later.

The present York Minster replaced the last church progressively and in distinct stages. The first work was the addition of the south transept, which was commenced in 1220, followed by the addition of the north transept, which 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, which was begun in 1400 and completed in 1423, followed by the erection of the western towers 62 metres high, which were begun in 1433 and completed in 1474, after construction had been in progress for more than 250 years. The choir was badly damaged by fire in 1829 and the nave also was damaged by fire in 1840. When the present York Minster had been in continuous use for almost 500 years, investigations revealed that the central tower and west end 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 also 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 intimate association between freemasonry and religion. The Cathedral of the Notre-Dame in Paris probably is the best-known example of this style. It was begun in 1163 and completed when the western towers were erected in about 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, it is the world famous Chartres Cathedral that experts consider 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 a small church of unknown age was on the site, but by 1020 it had been replaced by a cathedral almost as large as the present one. It 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 the entire first cathedral except the present 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 members of the four speculative lodges in London, who joined to form the first Grand Lodge of England in 1717, invented speculative freemasonry. 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. The extensive association of the Knights Templar with the operative masons does not appear to account for the emergence of modern speculative freemasonry, but it undoubtedly influenced the speculative aspects of operative freemasonry. It is surprising that those proponents, 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 various 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 brutal and untimely death of the principal architect during the construction of King Solomon’s temple at Jerusalem. Although this legend is not recounted 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 this context, the name of the central figure in the Hiramic legend is not always the same in different versions of the Traditional Histories of English operative masons, nor indeed is the Hiramic legend the only one that is used. Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas, in their stimulating book entitled The Hiram Key, describe extensive investigations they have carried out from which they conclude that the Hiramic legend originally referred to the murder of a Theban pharaoh, Seqenenre Tao, in about 1600 BCE. They also suggest an interesting Egyptian derivation of the substitute words used by a Master Mason. Though at first sight improbable, there are many equally obscure derivations of words now in common use in the English language.

It is clear from the Cooke MS of about 1410, that by then the events concerning the construction of the temple and the involvement of its principal architect were already 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, which had prevailed for about two centuries prior to the formation of the first Grand Lodge, the Hiramic legend probably would not have been included in the rituals and the degrees almost certainly would have had a strong Christian emphasis, based on events taken from the New Testament. The orders of masonry 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. It is believed that some members of the lodges forming the first Grand Lodge were Rosicrucians, who would have exerted a strong Christian influence on modern speculative development, but there is no evidence of a direct derivation from the Rosicrucian movement.

The weight of evidence supports the view that the ceremonials of modern speculative freemasonry were derived indirectly from the ceremonials of English operative lodges, through speculative lodges that probably had some operative masons as members. It is significant that these events in England were taking place at about the same time as many Scottish operative lodges were making a direct transition to speculative lodges. The early stages of the development of operative masonry in England and Scotland were similar. However, in Scotland the lodges were smaller and more dispersed, while much of the work they carried out was under contract instead of by direct labour. In London the Fellowship of Masons, probably established in about 1356, had an inner conclave known as the Acception. From the 1620s its members included operative masons and also many who were not tradesmen. The conditions prevailing during the Reformation made it necessary to maintain the utmost secrecy within fraternities, which explains the dearth of records in England and is the reason why it is much more difficult to establish the emergence of speculative freemasonry in England than it is in Scotland.

In 1441 King James II appointed Sir William St Clair (now Sinclair), who was 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. The St Clair Charters of 1601 and 1628 were issued with the express permission of William Schaw and signed by representatives of many widely dispersed lodges, confirming 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 that non-masons were being admitted as members. In 1736 four old Scottish operative lodges associated in the formation of the Grand Lodge of Scotland. Thirty-three lodges met later in 1736 and elected William St Clair, the Laird of Roslin, as the first Grand Master Mason of Scotland. All of those lodges were or had been operative lodges. This was significantly different from the situation prevailing when four speculative lodges formed the first Grand Lodge in England, when few if any of the members had been operative masons.

It would be appropriate now to consider the “de-Christianising of the Craft” that masonic authors often mention. Any Christian influence stemmed from the fact that, when purely speculative freemasonry was being organized under the first Grand Lodge, Christianity was the only religion recognised in England. For centuries in England and Europe, it had been the custom of the old crafts and guilds, including the masons, to have their own 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 in early Christian times became St John the Baptist’s day. The masons also held a festival on the winter solstice, December 27, which was another day of heathen rejoicing that became St John the Evangelist’s day. Although other saints were held in high regard by freemasons, including the Quatuor Coronati or Four Crowned Martyrs, nevertheless 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 freemasonry the officers of lodges were installed every six months, usually on the festival days of the two Saints John. Nowadays the masonic festivals are usually held annually, for example on St George’s Day in England, on St Patrick’s Day in Ireland and on St Andrew’s Day in Scotland.

Some authors have expressed the opinion that, prior to the Constitutions of 1723, all masons were expected to be Christians, but it is not known whether there is any firm basis for that opinion. There is no record of Jesus Christ being referred to in any of the Craft rituals, 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 28:16 and the use of the tau cross as “a sign of the righteous on the foreheads of the Lord’s people”, from Ezekiel 9:4, have also been questioned 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 among other things, 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, after which any Christian overtones that might have appeared in the craft rituals were progressively eliminated. These superficial changes reflected a desire for freemasonry to be open to all men believing in God irrespective of their creed. The Duke of Sussex who was a Hebrew scholar, a member of Jewish learned societies and also a supporter of Christian Emancipation, resolutely fostered Jewish membership.


There is strong evidence of an association between the Knights Templar and freemasonry in Scotland, 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. Of these 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, which were established in France in 1118 or earlier, became known as the Knights Templar. An occurrence that is significant in the history of the Knights Templar is the fact that their first Grand Master, Hugues de Payen, was married to Catherine de St Clair. She was 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. The French historian Gaetan Delaforge made a special study of the Knights Templar. He 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, in the area of the Temple at Jerusalem, which he used as his headquarters. 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 known to be in existence. Lieutenant Charles Wilson in 1895 led a contingent of Royal Engineers from Britain to explore and map the passages and chambers under the ruins of the Temple. Lieutenant Wilson states in his book, The Excavation of Jerusalem, that many discarded relics of the Templars were found underground and that many of the passages and chambers were vaulted with keystone arches. The 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 freemasons and also engaged locals to work with them constructing a wide range of castles, hospitals and ecclesiastical buildings in the Holy Land over about 150 years. The Templar freemasons must have acquired a sound knowledge of the customs and traditions of the local freemasons, whose direct lineage extended back through the Phoenicians to the Sumerians and the Egyptians, which might account for the Egyptian derivation of the substitute words suggested by Knight and Lomas. The Templar castle constructed in about 1217 at Athlit 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 the gallows square of a Master Mason 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. After intensive interrogation, torture and trial by the Inquisition, the Grand Master Jacques de Molay was roasted to death over a slow fire in March 1314.

Meanwhile many of the Knights Templar had escaped to Scotland and are reported to have provided the force of horsemen that swung the battle in favour of Robert Bruce at Bannockburn on 24 June 1314. Robert 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 when supporting King Alfonso XI in his campaign against the Moors at Granada, but Sir William Keith, whose arm was broken in battle, brought the casket back to Scotland. Bruce’s heart was buried under the east window of the chancel in Melrose Abbey. This close association that the Lairds of Roslin had with the Knights Templar and masonic tradition culminated in the decision made by a later Sir William St Clair to build a large collegiate church. Although the foundations were laid in 1446 and Rosslyn Chapel was completed in the 1480s, the main church was never built. The chapel is a remarkable structure, having a foundation plan similar to the temple at Jerusalem and external rows of spires that appear to have been 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 referred to 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 could 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. As the ancient Celtic priests of Germany, Gaul and Britain, the Druids, are not known to have had any association with operative freemasonry, their supposed direct influence is conjectural. Nor do 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 operative freemasonry, but their influence was more tangible, because they lived in sturdy and well constructed stone buildings. 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, Flavius Josephus (c.37-100), records in War that Menahem told the young Herod he would become king, so that 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. This was more acceptable to Herod than the proposals for the priesthood set out in the Temple Scroll prepared by the Palestine Essenes when Herod announced around 21 BCE that he would rebuild the temple. The decision of Herod to train 1,000 priests as masons probably was in deference to Menahem’s influence. The preparation and obligation of candidates at Qumran and the degrees and allegorical instruction that they received, are detailed in the Manual of Discipline, the scroll called Community Rule. They 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 their masons to Britain. During the reign of Emperor Henry III (1039-56), a Pope is said to have issued a diploma to an Italian group, the Travelling Architects, to build churches all over Europe. In Italy the Comacine Masters and in Germany the Steinmetzen, or stonecutters, also are supposed to have been established by Papal Bulls, although none of the relevant documents has been found. The stonemasons of France received their code and privileges from Charles Martel in 1260 and he appears in the Ancient Charges used in England, which suggests a positive connection. This is supported by the code of masons issued in France in 1407 and also used by the later Compagnonnage of journeyman masons, which are very similar to their English counterparts.


The foregoing historical outline traces the continuing and unbroken line of support that operative freemasonry has provided to religious establishments down through the ages, from ancient Egypt and the Near East, thence into the Classical Era of the eastern Mediterranean and culminating in the great period of cathedral building in Europe and Britain. From this outline it is quite evident that operative masonry has played a key role in the support of religion for almost 12,000 years. Whilst these regions and periods of Masonic activity were chosen to illustrate the direct and vital contributions made by operative freemasonry to the religious establishments, it should not be assumed that they provide the only connection. Indeed the input of operative freemasonry to religion can be demonstrated in all ages and in all places in the world when and where some form of civilization has been established. For example, consider also the remarkable stone circles and burial sites of ancient Britain, most of them as old as the pyramids of Egypt; the diversity and splendour of Hindu temples in India, South East Asia and Indonesia; the Incan temples in South America; and the Mayan temples in Central America. All of these works illustrate a similar dedication of operative freemasons in support of religious ideals. Relevant aspects of this extended spectrum of influence are discussed in other chapters.

Reverting to the present theme, it can be seen that in every age operative freemasons have utilised the experience gained in previous ages, built on that experience and passed their extended knowledge on to their successors. The intimate association that operative freemasons had with the priesthoods from ancient times until the Classical era, then with the ecclesiastical fraternity throughout the Medieval and Renaissance periods, had a powerful influence on the freemasons’ lives, moulding their beliefs and instilling in them what now constitute the true principles of freemasonry. An inevitable consequence of this continuing process is the development of a system of moral teaching and its associated rituals, which are now used in speculative craft freemasonry. They would have been acquired progressively, developed further in successive ages and passed on to succeeding generations, even as language itself has evolved through successive eras.

A comprehensive outline of the evolution of freemasonry, which illustrates its close relationship with the ancient mysteries and also with modern religions, is given by John Yarker in The Arcane Schools - A Review of their Origin and Antiquity, with a General History of Freemasonry and its Relation to the Theosophic, Scientific and Philosophic Mysteries, which was published by William Tate of Belfast in 1909. A modern book of interest that complements many of the features covered in The Arcane Schools, is one by Don Bradley entitled Freemasonry in the Twenty-first Century. It sets out to give a sincere inquirer a more comprehensive understanding of the teachings that are hidden in freemasonry and is well worth reading.

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