The Masonic Trowel

... to spread the cement of brotherly love and affection, that cement which unites us into one sacred band or society of brothers, among whom no contention should ever exist, but that noble emulation of who can best work or best agree ...

[What is Freemasonry] [Leadership Development] [Education] [Masonic Talks] [Masonic Magazines Online]
Articles] [Masonic Books Online] [E-Books] [Library Of All Articles] [Masonic Blogs] [Links]
What is New] [Feedback]

 Masonic quotes by Brothers

Search Website For

Add To Favorites

Help Me Maintain OUR Website!!!!!!

List of Contributors

PDF This File

Print This Page

Email This Site To ...



part I - the heritage of freemasonry

W. M. Don Falconer PM, PDGDC

As civilisation developed freemasonry became involved in the erection of tombs, shrines, temples and other structures for religious purposes, reflecting mankind’s growing spirituality.




The seeds of freemasonry were sown when our primeval ancestors took their first faltering steps on their path to civilisation. Freemasonry began as an entirely practical enterprise, to satisfy the wants of day to day living. As civilisation developed freemasonry became involved in the erection of tombs, shrines, temples and other structures for religious purposes, reflecting mankind’s growing spirituality. Over the centuries, such an intimate association with moral and spiritual influences naturally developed the speculative aspects of freemasonry concurrently with the operative art. By medieval times, the moral teachings of speculative freemasonry were well established and had become a significant part of the ceremonial activities in operative lodges. It is generally accepted that speculative freemasonry, as we know it today, owes its origin to operative masonry, although there are few written records of the early stages of the transition. In fact, the ways in which operative masonry came to be superseded by speculative freemasonry were not the same in all places.


As those who established the first speculative lodges did not record their reasons for doing so, we can only surmise that they valued the esoteric teachings of the operative lodges. However, we know that Drs James Anderson and John Desaguliers, who were influential Presbyterian clergymen and members of the Royal Society, were leaders in the reorganisation of the early lodges that culminated in the establishment of the first Grand Lodge. Both fervently believed that speculative freemasonry should be part of the emerging philosophy of Enlightenment and that it should provide an intellectual forum where advances in the liberal arts and sciences could be freely discussed and fostered. This undoubtedly should still be freemasonry’s prime objective.


In England, the medieval operative lodges were virtually defunct in the first half of the 1600s, because of the Reformation. Nevertheless a few brave stalwarts kept the speculative aspects of freemasonry alive, but hidden from public knowledge. A few operative lodges were reassembled later for particular projects, but purely speculative lodges seem to have emerged independently only a few decades before four old lodges met in London in 1716 and formed the first Grand Lodge, which is often referred to as the Premier Grand Lodge. This established England as the home of speculative freemasonry. In Scotland, where operative masonry continued to function into the second half of the eighteenth century, the situation was quite different. Operative lodges in Scotland generally were small and often were family concerns. When there was a lull in the work, or work ceased to be available, many though not all operative lodges continued to function socially and often became speculative lodges. Operative masonry was active in Ireland until at least 1700, but there is no evidence of any operative lodges becoming speculative lodges as they did in Scotland.


Masonry through the ages


To appreciate how operative lodges developed their speculative aspects and thus provided a system from which speculative lodges could develop, some understanding of the origins of freemasonry, its functions and the scope of its activities is desirable. The birth of the operative art occurred towards the end of the Old Stone Age, when the Early Hunters began to move out of their caves and learnt to construct huts from locally available materials. About 35,000 years ago at the height of the last Ice Age, the Advanced Hunters were the originators of representational art in the form of figurines and carvings. They also developed painting about 15,000 years ago and were the unlikely progenitors of architecture and masonry about 12,000 years ago, when the first known builders used stone to construct circular huts with stone footings in Palestine, Syria and Mesopotamia. These humble beginnings of civilisation heralded in the Agricultural Revolution that the Late Hunters started in the New Stone Age.


The gradual development of settlements in Mesopotamia, Greece, Crete and Cyprus provided the impetus for the first production of mud bricks and the use of stone for perimeter walls and dykes, which were used in the construction of Jericho about 8000 BCE. By about 6500 BCE freemasonry had developed sufficiently for the circular beehive houses in Cyprus to be constructed with stone foundations and walls that supported corbelled domes of mud brick. About the same time in Turkey, construction of the town of Çatal Hüyük began. It was occupied continuously until about 5500 BCE and had a peak population of about 8,000 people. Çatal Hüyük ushered in a continuous and intimate association of freemasonry with religion that lasted for almost 8,000 years and is the site of the earliest religious buildings now known to be in existence. The earliest period of temple and monumental masonry began in Mesopotamia during the Copper Age, when progressively larger and more complex temples were erected. The temples of that period are typified by a continuous series discovered at Eridu in Sumer, dating from about 5500 BCE to 3000 BCE. During the same period masonry in Egypt is typified by the chambered mastaba tombs constructed for royal burials.


A period of massive monumental masonry followed, typified by the huge ziggurat of Ur-Nammu in Mesopotamia and the three great pyramids of Giza in Egypt, dating from about 3000 BCE to 2500 BCE. Massive temple building continued in Egypt and is represented by the complexes of Karnak and Luxor constructed in Thebes between 1500 BCE and 1300 BCE and Abu Simbel completed in about 1200 BCE. Masonry carried out in this magnitude required huge gangs of skilled workers who were trained, organised and supervised by master masons of great experience. The Biblical description of the construction of the temple at Jerusalem by King Solomon, completed in about 950 BCE, provides ample evidence of the work force and skills required for such structures in those days. The classical masonry of Greece that commenced in about 500 BCE and of Rome that commenced in about 150 BCE, required similar work forces and skills. Then followed an incredible period of cathedral building in Europe and Britain, commencing in about 500 CE and continuing for almost 1,200 years, during which time innumerable religious structures were built.


Such “ecclesiastical” masonry was not confined to these regions, but spread from the Levant throughout Asia, producing a vast array of religious complexes and structures of monumental proportions, of which a few examples will be mentioned. The intricate though massive temple of Borubudur in Java, constructed in about 800, is the largest individual religious monument in South-East Asia. The temple-city complex of Ankor in Cambodia, constructed in about 1000, is awe-inspiring and occupies an area of almost 200 square kilometres. The breathtaking Taj Mahal in India, constructed of pure white marble in about 1650, undoubtedly is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, which reputedly was “designed to breathe an image of Paradise on earth”. Nor should we overlook the remarkable structures in Central and South America. A prime example is the overwhelming city-temple complex at Tikal in Gautemala, constructed by the Mayans in about 500 CE. The citadel and city-temple complex of Machu Picchu, constructed by the Incas in the Andes Mountains in about 1450, at an elevation of almost 3,000 metres, also is well known. Such an incredible array of ecclesiastical buildings that have been erected in so many places around the world during the last 8,000 years, clearly show the universality of freemasonry and how intimately it is integrated with religious activities.


The freemason and his lodge


There are differing opinions as to the origin of the word freemason. The first known use of the word freemason in England dates from 1376, when it specifically implied an operative freemason of a superior class. However, it is quite possible that when the word was first used in different places, the reasons for its use and its interpretations could have been different. Some of the various explanations are worth mentioning. Bearing in mind the close association that England had with France during medieval times when the French language was in common use, the suggestion that the word is a corrupt pronunciation of the French frerè maçon, meaning brother mason, ought not to be dismissed lightly. Another suggestion is that it is a derivative of the more general freeman that was used in the late Middle Ages to distinguish those having personal liberty from serfs, slaves or others who were subject to the restrictions then prevalent. Stonemasons specialising in the use of freestone to carve and sculpt decorative masonry for the vaulting, tracery, columns and capitals in English cathedrals originally were called “masons of free stone”, then freestone masons which later was abbreviated to freemasons. Another usage is recorded in Scotland, dating from about 1600, when the minutes of the Lodge of Edinburgh state that the “Freedom of the Burgh” had been accorded to its frie mesones, which gave them the right to practice their craft. In the Burgh records of 1725 the same lodge is also referred to as “the Society of Free Masons”, when their right to practice was confirmed.


Operative freemasons held their meetings in their stoneyards or in suitable buildings on the worksite. In operative practice the lodge originally was the place of work, especially in the stone yards. The word is derived from the Old French loge meaning an arbour, later adopted into Middle English meaning a stall as in a modern theatre. The earliest known reference to a lodge as a building occurs in the building accounts of Vale Royal Abbey in 1277, when logias and mansiones were erected for the workers, because the site of the abbey was some distance from habitation. Logias derives from Old French and mansiones from Middle Latin, which respectively signify to lodge and a household, reflecting the use of French and Latin in England in those days. There are many references to lodges in later operative documents, including one from York in 1399, which clearly indicates that the lodge also served as a repository for tools and implements. The body of masons comprising an operative work force may also have been called a lodge in medieval times, but there is no known record of that usage dating from then. The earliest recorded uses of lodge to indicate a body of masons are from operative practice in Scotland. They occur in the minutes of Aitchison’s Haven Lodge in 1598 and the Schaw Statutes of 1598 and 1599 refer to the Lodges of Edinburgh, Kilwinning and Stirling. Thereafter in Scotland it was common practice to refer to a body of freemasons as a lodge.


English operative lodges


In England, a majority of the operative lodges worked under the immediate control of a religious establishment such as a cathedral, often for periods extending over several generations of their work forces. However, they also came under the guardianship of craft guilds, originally in the form of religious fraternities, which were organised to protect the interests of skilled workers in the various trades. These guilds were well established in England in the reign of Henry I, in about 1153. The London Company was formed as a stonemasons’ guild in about 1356 and probably is the best known. Its original constitution is recorded in the Regius MS and dates from about 1390. It is the earliest written record of such guilds in England. The guilds continued to operate very successfully until the Reformation of 1530-1560, even though the statutes of 1360 and 1425 forbade the organisation of masons, apparently to limit the escalation of wages when labour was short. Although it did not become common practice until almost a century later, apprentices in masonry were bonded under indentures to their masters from about 1230, when the earliest known London regulation was issued.


In the final year of his reign, Henry VIII proclaimed and enforced the Act of 1547, which disendowed all religious fraternities. His son and successor, Edward VI, confiscated any remaining guild funds. The available records indicate that, of all the fraternities in England, the stonemasons probably suffered the worst under this process of disendowment. The fragmented guilds that survived the Reformation became Livery Companies, some of which still exist in the City of London. Among the best known is the old London Company, which Prior to the Act of 1547 was known as “The Worshipful Company of Ffree Masons of the City of London” and also as “The Fellowship of Masons”. It was kept alive through the Reformation, carefully hidden from official eyes and jealously guarding its medieval craft doctrines and secrets. Although the Company’s books and documents prior to 1620 have been lost, the letter-books and other records of the City of London confirm the Company’s continuity through to 1655, when it changed its title to “The Company of Masons”. The records show that its membership has included several women, one of whom was apprenticed as late as 1713 for the usual term of seven years.  


Scottish operative lodges


Operative lodges came into existence in Scotland in much the same way as in England, but in Scotland there were many more lodges though usually much smaller. There is no record of Scottish operative lodges having a traditional history like the English lodges, but they had the “Mason Word” which they guarded jealously. The organisation of operative lodges in Scotland differed from that of the English lodges, especially in the formative years of the trade. In Scotland the lodges usually worked independently, because the buildings generally were smaller and more dispersed than in England and travel was difficult and time consuming. Although the mason trade in Scotland originally revolved around individual lodges, the many territorial lodges were gradually organised under the supervision of head lodges, which were not always located in large towns. This system prevailed until the Wars of Independence disrupted Scotland from 1286 to 1371, which caused extreme poverty and forced the Mason Guilds to amalgamate with the organisations of other crafts, but without destroying their continuity.


After the Wars of Independence and despite the continuing efforts of Parliament to suppress all travelling bands of craftsmen, the lodges of freemasons in Scotland gradually rebuilt their own organisation, which gained in power as Merchant Guilds declined. In 1475 the Masons and Wrights of Edinburgh were strong enough to obtain a “Charter of Incorporation of Freemen-Masons and Wrights of Edinburgh” from the Burgh, called the Seal of Cause, when Trade Regulations also were drawn up. Despite the disruptions of the Reformation, operative freemasonry in Scotland continued to be active and actually gained in strength, culminating with the drafting of the Schaw Statutes drawn up in 1598 and revised in 1599 by William Schaw, who had been appointed Master of Work and General Warden of the Masons by James VI in 1583. The Schaw Statutes provided an elaborate code of organisation and procedure within a regional structure. By the end of the seventeenth century at least six Seals of Cause had been granted in various localities.


Irish operative lodges


Although there is ample visible evidence that stonemasons must have begun working in Ireland at about the same time as they did in England and Scotland, it is Cormac’s Chapel at Cashel, which was built by a Munster king in 1130 and is the first positive connection with Irish operative masonry. The Chancel Arch at St Mary’s Cathedral in Tuam, which was built in 1152, is another fine example of the skill of early Irish operative masons. The first evidence of guild activity in Ireland is the Charter granted in 1508 to the Dublin Masons, in company with the Carpenters, Millers and Heliers (Tilers). As in Scotland, there is no evidence that Irish operative lodges had a traditional history like that of their English counterparts, but there is ample evidence that they were using their working tools as symbols for moral instruction early in the sixteenth century.


Early “non-operative” masons


As long ago as during the 1500s many Scots lodges welcomed local lairds or landowners as honorary members. The Dublin Guild, chartered in 1508, also accepted people who were neither operative masons nor craftsmen in any other trade. Some time prior to 1600 the Lodge of Edinburgh, which was meeting in Mary’s Chapel at Holyrood House, admitted a gentleman named John Boswell, the Laird of Auchinleck. He was an ancestor of James Boswell, another famous mason who was Depute Grand Master of Scotland from 1776 to 1778 and the biographer of Dr. Johnson. The same lodge, then meeting near Newcastle in 1641, admitted as a member the Right Honourable Robert Murray, General Quartermaster of the Scots army and later Secretary of Scotland, who was buried in Westminster Abbey in 1673 under the title of Sir Robert Moray. This is the earliest known record of an initiation of a speculative freemason on English soil.


Murray’s initiation preceded by five years the initiation of first known English speculative freemason, Elias Ashmole, who in 1646 was admitted into a lodge at Warrington, in Lancashire. Research has identified the members of the Warrington lodge as men of good social position, but not one of them was an operative mason, nor is anything known of the dates and places of their admissions into freemasonry. This lack of information is common in the minutes of early English speculative lodges and   is one of the reasons for the uncertainty regarding their origins and activities, but it also means that some of the lodges might have been in existence longer than is generally assumed. This lack of records probably was not through laxity, but to avoid persecution during the political and religious disruptions that had plagued England since the Reformation. From 1663 onwards, the records of The Company of Masons in London give details of the admission of several “non-operative” members.


Early speculative lodges


A speculative lodge of unknown origin at Warrington has already been mentioned. Four old lodges met at the Centre of Union and Harmony in London in 1716 to form the first Grand Lodge of England, the Premier Grand Lodge. Anthony Sayer was elected as its first Grand Master of Masons on 24 June 1717. Those four lodges were all speculative, although the lodge referred to as the “Original No 1”, which met at the Goose and Gridiron tavern, appears to have been composed primarily of operative stonemasons. Members of an operative lodge, formed to rebuild the medieval St Paul’s Cathedral, probably established the “Original No 1”. Rebuilding of St Paul’s Cathedral was begun in 1675, about nine years after it was destroyed in the disastrous Great Fire of London. The earliest known reference to an Irish speculative lodge is a witty passage in John Jones’ opening address, the “commencements harrangue”, given in 1688 at Trinity College in Dublin, which had been overrun by operative masons for several years erecting new buildings. Six “Lodges of Gentlemen Freemasons” were represented when the Grand Lodge of Ireland was formed in 1725. It is the second oldest in the world and two of those six lodges are still in existence.


In contrast to England and Ireland, most Scottish operative lodges continued into the 1750s, some even longer. Many of them seem to have transformed into speculative lodges almost as a matter of course. The strong and continuing influence of the regional operative structure in Scotland probably helped to delay the formation of the Grand Lodge of Scotland until 1736. At least two of the lodges that amalgamated to form the Grand Lodge originally were operative lodges and are still active. They are the Lodges of Edinburgh (Mary’s Chapel) and of Canongate Kilwinning. Several speculative lodges that joined the new Grand Lodge soon after its formation, including Glasgow and Kilwinning, also have records proving their continuity from operative lodges. Lodge Kilwinning, known as “Mother Kilwinning”, takes its name from the Abbey of Kilwinning (the church of Wynin), which is about 35 kilometres south-west of Glasgow. The Abbey was founded in about 1150 on the site of a church built in the sixth century by an Irish monk, St Wynin. It originally was of considerable magnificence, but was substantially destroyed in 1561. A lodge of Kilwinning is reputed to have existed continuously since the fifteenth century.


The “Mason Word”


Although the ceremonial in the earliest operative lodges may not have been elaborate, there is every reason to believe that the Mason Word was well established in Scotland by 1550. When the Mason Word was conferred upon a candidate it probably was accompanied by the bestowal of a mark, although the exact method of communication is not known. Nevertheless, it is clear from various old catechisms that the word was conferred with some form of ceremony similar to that of a present-day speculative Master Mason. A fairly comprehensive explanation is given in the Edinburgh Register House MS, believed to date from 1696. There were several variations of the word, very similar to those in use today. Having regard to the lack of literacy in those days, it is remarkable that the words are recognizable. The earliest published reference is in Henry Adamson’s The Muses Threnodie, printed in Edinburgh in 1638. It says: “For we are brethren of the Rosie Cross; we have the Mason Word . . .”. The minutes of Aitchison’s Haven Lodge in 1598 include one of the earliest references to the instruction of Fellows of the Craft in the Mason Word, as well as to the instruction of prentices by Entered Apprentices.




A great deal of modern speculative ceremonial is derived from practices in the operative lodges. This includes preparation of the candidate, entrance of the candidate into the lodge room, perambulation within the lodge room and the use of working tools and tracing boards. None of these is identical with its operative predecessor, but sufficiently similar as to leave no doubt as to its origin. In Scotland an apprentice completed seven years (sometimes a longer or shorter period) under indenture, after which he was “entered” in the books of the lodge and became an Entered Apprentice.  He was then allowed to do a certain amount of work on his own account, although not allowed to employ subordinate labour. After another seven years or so in the craft he could become a Fellow of the Craft, when he could undertake contracts as an employer. This system was a feature of operative free masonry in Scotland at least as early as 1598 and it has been established beyond doubt that by then admission to the grades of Entered Apprentice and Fellow of the Craft was of an esoteric nature. In English lodges the titles of Entered Apprentice and Fellowcraft were not known until 1723, when they were included in the first Book of Constitutions written by Dr James Anderson DD, a Scotsman who had been educated at Marischal College in Aberdeen.


Preparation of the candidate in operative practice included bathing and examination by a physician to ascertain wholeness and soundness of body. The candidate was blindfolded and “neither naked nor clothed” when conducted into the lodge room under the restraint of cabletows. The challenge at the door was similar to that in modern practice. Perambulations were clockwise around the candidate’s track during the induction ceremony, but all other movements in the lodge room were by the most direct method, as is still the practice in Emulation lodges. The left heel slipshod comes directly from operative practice, where it receives even greater emphasis than it does in speculative freemasonry, because it is used as a specific reminder to the candidate of the binding nature of his indenture. This aspect of operative practice still survives in a familiar mode of interrogation used in Scottish freemasonry.


In Scottish lodges, until near the end of the seventeenth century, the presiding officer was variously called a Deacon, Warden or Preses. After then he was usually given the title of Master Mason, perpetuating the operative title of Master, which referred to the mason who organised and took charge of the building work. The Master usually was the proprietor of the lodge engaged as the contractor for the work. The Grand Lodge of Scotland has always used the title of Grand Master Mason for its chief presiding office bearer. Until the end of the seventeenth century in England, Master and Master Mason were only used in reference to the Mason in charge of a building operation. The earliest recorded use of the title is with reference to John of Gloucester, who was Master Mason for the erection of Westminster Hall from 1254 to 1262. It was in this sense that the title of Master was used in the Old Charges in the Levander-York MS, which is believed to have been written in 1560. It is interesting to note that, when referring to the members of the lodge as distinct from its officers, those Old Charges also distinguish between Apprentices, Brothers and Fellows, though not as specifically as in Scottish operative practice.


In common with all ancient societies and religions, tradition plays an important role in freemasonry. In this context tradition refers to knowledge and doctrines transmitted to successive generations, rather than to ritualistic procedures. Masonic traditions are primarily communicated in legends and traditional histories. Traditions, such as those relating to the untimely death of Hiram Abif, frequently are allegorical and should be considered in the light of the truths they illustrate, rather than as historical fact. They should not be rejected for the want of irrefutable evidence. Although neither the Irish nor the Scottish operative masons had a traditional history similar to that included in the Old Charges of the English operative masons, it is interesting to know that both used the working tools as vehicles of moral instruction.


The lectures given to English medieval stonemasons usually included a mythological history of the Craft, tracing it back into antiquity. Although these lectures varied considerably from locality to locality, they usually emphasised the influence of Nimrod and dramatised the construction of temple erected by King Solomon at Jerusalem. English tradition also features a Great Assembly of Masons supposed to have been held at York in 926, with the approval and encouragement of King Athelstan of Northumbria. There is no known record of King Athelstan’s influence on freemasonry, but the Venerable Bede, a renowned Anglo-Saxon scholar, theologian and historian who was canonised in 1899, records in his Ecclesiastical History the following event in York that is at least as significant. The Kentish wife of Prince Edwin, a Northumbrian King, converted him to Christianity in about 500 with the help of Bishop Paulinus. Because of this, Prince Edwin built the first church in York for Bishop Paulinus. It became the centre of the Bishopric, after which the whole of Northumbria became Christian. Thus began the long and auspicious association of York with English freemasonry, which has continued unbroken until the present day.


Whilst it is acknowledged that there is no basis in fact for the traditional continuity of “Patriarchs” and “Grand Masters” in freemasonry from Adam and Noah until the present day, the medieval stories should not be dismissed arbitrarily. Like all myths, they contain elements of truth. For example, Nimrod is the first great builder referred to in the Old Testament. He did establish a huge team of stonemasons and is recorded in Genesis as the founder of Ninevah, which has been occupied continuously since about 5000 BCE. Likewise the construction of the temple at Jerusalem was a stupendous task in its time and the Biblical record of the methods and workforce used are remarkably similar to those of the medieval cathedral builders. Investigations at the temple site in Jerusalem, from those carried out by the Knights Templar in about 1120 to those recently carried out by Jewish archaeologists, all support the existence of a vault under the Holy of Holies, which traditionally is reputed to have been constructed for use by King Solomon as a secret meeting place and also as a repository for temple treasures and valuable documents. Such vaults were a common feature of temples from ancient times, which was continued with the provision of crypts for cathedrals and other ecclesiastical buildings constructed in medieval times.


The missing stones


The rituals used in modern speculative freemasonry included comprehensive lectures on the working tools used by operative freemasons, but the compilers omitted some other important elements of the ancient symbolism, especially in respect of the stones used in the buildings. In the degrees of operative freemasonry the candidate always represented a particular stone, either during the course of its preparation or while it was being fixed into position. In this context the plans and gauges used during the preparation and erection of the stones also were of symbolic importance. The rough and perfect ashlars and the keystone are important symbols in the speculative craft and mark degrees. The reasons why the rough ashlar represents an apprentice and the perfect ashlar represents the more expert craftsman are self-evident. It also is common knowledge that a specially shaped keystone is useful as well as being a pleasing embellishment with which to complete the construction of an arch. However, many speculative freemasons are not aware of several other important stones and their symbolisms. Nor do they receive any explanation of the meanings of the various plan shapes used in buildings. Some of those aspects will be commented on briefly, to help the enquiring mason achieve a better understanding of the important lessons intended to be conveyed by the speculative rituals.


It probably is not common knowledge that a cubical stone is rarely used in masonry structures except to complete a course adjacent to openings. Nevertheless it was an important stone used to test the skills of an apprentice who aspired to become a fully qualified craftsman, when his knowledge of the various projections of a cube was also tested. In ancient times another use of a cubical stone was as the great corner stone, sometimes used to stabilise the corner of a building. This is the stone referred to in Isaiah 28:16 in allusion to the coming of a messiah, which is the passage quoted in I Peter 2:6-8 with reference to Christ. The more stable and commonly used method of securing the corners of a large masonry structure is with elbow square stones. These are right angled stones having one leg four units long and the other leg three units long, each leg being square in cross-section with sides of one unit. It therefore is like a Pythagorean triangle without an hypoteneuse. They are placed with the long and short legs alternating in successive courses at the corners, with the wall stones securely fixed in between them. These stones are a reminder that our work must be properly squared in compliance with the plans laid down in the scriptures.


Most of the stones used in the construction of masonry walls are running stones that are usually square in cross-section, with a length three times the sectional dimension, although a length twice the sectional dimension may be used. The stones in alternate courses are staggered as in brickwork, to avoid concurrent joints being formed in successive courses, which would be detrimental to the strength of the structure. These stones remind us of the need to work in harmony with our fellow workers and that everything we do must be straight, level and true. The footing corner stone is another very important stone in masonry structures. It is a tee-shaped stone having the top of the tee equal in length to two running stones and the projecting leg the same length as the section dimension. Its sectional dimension naturally must be the same as that of the running stones that will be joined to it. This stone is placed in alternate courses of an external wall at the junction with an internal wall, so that the running stones in both walls mesh with the projecting legs of the tee. This stone reminds us that our strength is in united effort, whilst its shape, which is that of a Tau cross, emphasises the importance of serving the Lord, because in Ezekiel 9:4 we are told that this was the mark to be placed on the foreheads of those to be saved.


Ground plans


In conclusion it would be appropriate to comment on the various shapes in plan that have been used for ecclesiastical buildings. Rectangular shapes are by far the most common, but many other regular shapes of significance have been used for special purposes. These shapes include circular, triangular, pentagonal, hexagonal, octagonal, square, oblong square, temple square and of course the Latin cross so frequently seen in Christian cathedrals. Each shape has a symbolism of its own. The circle, equilateral triangle and pentagon are discussed in some detail in one or more of the other relevant papers and require no further comment. The Latin cross is an obvious shape for cathedrals, because of its Christian significance in relation to the crucifixion of Christ. The hexagon is the perimeter of six equilateral triangles abutting each other cyclically with their apices meeting at a common point in the centre. All of the symbolisms of an equilateral triangle apply and in addition the number six is a symbol of the accomplishment of growth or purpose. The hexagon also is the shape of the cells of a honeycomb, which symbolises industry and reminds us of the honey, which is a symbol of spiritual food and nourishment and of the celestial food of wisdom and love.


The octagon is formed in a similar fashion to the hexagon and is composed of eight isosceles triangles each with its apex angle of 45º meeting the others in the centre. The legs of the compasses are commonly extended to an angle of 45º in masonic jewels used in various orders of freemasonry. Eight is called the number of regeneration and is a symbol of entrance into a new state or condition of the soul, in which sense it is an important symbol to the Knights Templar. The square is the shape of every side of a perfect cube and therefore is the plan view and both elevations of the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle and in the temple of King Solomon, symbolising the need for the higher minds and intellects of humans to be in harmony with God. The oblong square, also called a double square, was the shape of the Holy Place in the tabernacle and in the temple. It is the usual shape adopted for the mosaic pavement in a speculative lodge. The temple square, also called a triple square, was the template of the tabernacle and the temple. It included the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place, thus symbolising the progress that humans must make from a mundane existence to the spiritual world if they are to partake in life eternal.

back to top

[What is Freemasonry] [Leadership Development] [Education] [Masonic Talks] [Masonic Magazines Online]
Articles] [Masonic Books Online] [E-Books] [Library Of All Articles] [Masonic Blogs] [Links]
What is New] [Feedback]

This site is not an official site of any recognized Masonic body in the United States or elsewhere.
It is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion
of Freemasonry, nor webmaster nor those of any other regular Masonic body other than those stated.

DEAD LINKS & Reproduction | Legal Disclaimer | Regarding Copyrights

Last modified: March 22, 2014