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masonic matters

Baal's Bridge

by Ed Halpaus
Grand Lodge Education Officer
Grand Lodge of A. F. & A. M. of Minnesota

"There is no meaning to life except the meaning man gives his life by the unfolding of his power." - Eric Fromm  

"Truth is all around you; what matters is where you put your focus." Roger Von Oech  

In 1830 there was a rebuilding and repair project going on at Baal's Bridge near Limerick Ireland. The Architect and Engineer who was in charge of the project was Brother James Pain. The period of the erection of Baal's Bridge, which has also been called Thye, or Tide Bridge, is unknown although there is mention of the bridge in the records of 1558 at the proclamation of Queen Elizabeth.1 While the exact date of the construction of the first and original bridge is not known it is fairly certain there has been a bridge of one kind or another in that spot since the year 1174 when the community there came into English hands.2  

The Bridge was the link between two towns on the on the river Shannon. The old English Town is on an island, called King's Island, and the Irish Town is on the south shore of the river. Now you may already know the significance of Baal's Bridge because that is where an old Square was discovered in the foundation of the bridge on the English Town side. This square is now in the possession of Union Lodge #13 of Limerick Ireland.  

In December 1870 Brother John Pearson Bell, Deputy Provincial Grand Master wrote to the Master of the lodge at Limerick asking about the square. Brother George W. Bassett, Past Master of Lodge #13 wrote back on December 10th saying that Brother Pain was alive and "comparatively well, for he is an old & worthy Brother now nearly 80 years of age." A letter from Brother Pain was enclosed with Brother Bassett's reply to Brother Bell.

"34 George St.
Limerick, Dec. 6 1870

"Dear Sir and Bro Bassett

"In reply to your favor of yesterday's date with a sketch of the Old Brass Square enclosed, I beg to say I have a perfect recollection of the Square being found and given to me by the workmen - and I think I gave the Square to the late Brother Michael Furnell who I recollect thought much of it. It may possibly be found among his effects. I think it would be well if you inquired of the late Bro. Furnell's nephew if the Square has been since met with. I regret the matter has never until now, been brought to my recollection and I am sorry I cannot speak more about it.

Yours, Dear Sir and Bro.

G.W. Bassett Esq.  


Other correspondence passed between Brothers Bell and Pain over the years and in 1873 the Square was found and was in the possession of Captain Michael Furnell, also a member of Lodge #13 and as Brother Pain said: "by whom it has been glazed and placed in the Lodge as an ancient memento of the order, for which we have certainly to thank you." Meaning Brother Bell for his interest and inquiry, which started them, looking for the long lost Square.

The last letter from Brother Pain to Brother Bell on this subject was dated August 1, 1875. "I now write to you to account in the best way I can how the Furnells became acquainted with the Old Square. I was standing on the foundations of the Old Bridge, overseeing some labourers I had on the work. One of the labourers came to me: `See, Sir, what we have found among the stones of the bridge we are taking up.' I took it from him and kept it for some days I then showed it to the late M. Furnell. He was then P. Gr. Master of the Freemasons of North Munster. He was much pleased with it, and spoke of it as a very extraordinary thing. He asked me for it and I gave it to him. At his death it was left to his nephew Doctor Furnell, with whom you have a correspondence respecting it. The Doctor was shortly after unfortunately drowned. The Square then fell into the hands of his cousin, Capt. Furnell, a member of the Lodge. His wife presented the Old Square to Lodge 13, of which Rev. Anderson Ware was Wor. Master. I have this morning in company with the Lodge Tyler seen the Old Square, neatly framed and glazed with a compliment of Mr. Furnell. The date of it is j5j7 or 5557. The third figure of it is so disfigured we cannot tell what it is."  

Early on there was some debate as to whether the date engraved on the square was 1507 or 1517. Brother Crossee in his article of December 1929 has this to say: "Bro. Furnell stated the date on the square to be 1517. With this Bro. [Henry] Berry disagreed, (in a paper of his read before Quator Coranati Lodge published in the proceedings of 1905,) reading it as 1507, and this earlier date has been generally accepted since on his authority, as I did myself in making the drawing of our history. But after a minute examination of the relic with a magnifying glass I am unable to agree with him. In my opinion the third figure is certainly intended for the figure one, as Bro. Furnell took it to be. It is formed in the old style, like our letter J. And the curve at the bottom is what has undoubtedly led to its having been taken for a partly defaced cipher." 4  

The actual Square itself shows various imperfections due to age and corrosion. The Square is black with age and the inscription is not very deeply engraved. The outside length of the arms of the Square are a trifle over four and one-eighth inches in length, seven-eighths in width, and the metal is less than one-sixteenth of an inch thick, with a hole at the end of each arm of the Square,( possibly for the purpose of suspending from a collar,) and a representation of a heart in both angles.5 This is the phrase that is engraved on the arms of the Square that Masons at once recognize and enjoy:  

"I will strive to live with love and care, upon the level and by the square." 1517  

One line of the verse on each arm of the square. There are just a couple of things I would like to include before this part of Masonic Matters is done with. From the Mediaeval period there are numerous instances of foundation deposits, which have been termed "Foundation Sacrifices." "It was customary in ancient Egypt to deposit specimens of the building material and models of the tools and implements employed [in the construction.] This model square, for it is obviously nothing more, is the only known instance of the kind in the British Isles, so far as is known. The inscription, too, witnesses to a moral application of Mason's working tools in a most definite way." So why is this Square important? It is evidence of the symbolism of the Square as is known in speculative Masonry at a time when the conventional wisdom indicates only an operative craft. And the inscription is in keeping with the symbolism of today about Squaring our actions by the square of virtue. Also the habit of "Foundation Deposits" serve as a kind of time capsule, which gives us the opportunity to get a glimpse of the past.  

Finally Brother Henry F. Berry in Ars Quatuor Coronatorum of 1905 gives us a history of Brother James Pain.

"James Pain, a distinguished Architect, was born at Isleworth in 1779. He and his brother, George R. Pain, entered into partnership, subsequently settling in Ireland, where James resided in Limerick and George in Cork. They designed and built a number of Churches and glebe6 houses. Mitehelstown Castle, the magnificent seat of the Earls of Kingston, was the largest and best of their designs. They were also architects of Cork Courthouse and the County Goal, both very striking erections, and the Dromoland Castle, the seat of the Lord Inehiquin. James Pain died in Limerick 13th December, 1877, in his 98th year, and was buried in the cathedral church of St. Mary of that city."7  

To this can be added that Bro. Pain was evidently made a Mason September 7, 1813, according to a notation on the back of a photograph in my possession, which was sent to Bro. Bell during the exchange of Correspondence [with Brother Paine] quoted herein."8  

"Real Masonry consists in the teachings which lie hidden behind the letter of the ritual and not in the mere ritual itself." Grand Lodge of Iowa.  

Do you still use the expression of two-bits when talking about something that costs a quarter? Ya, I know, it's hard to find something that costs two-bits today. I like the expression two-bits, but you don't hear it much anymore. When I was in high school the Cheer Leaders had a cheer that went like this; "Two-bits, four-bits, six bits, a dollar, all for Roosevelt stand up and Holler!" Well that should give us a clue as to what a bit is. A bit was a small Spanish or Mexican coin worth 12 1/2 cents American, and formerly in the early years was used in some parts of the U.S. Hence the sum of Twelve and half cents, and it took two of those Bits to buy something for twenty five cents, that's where the two-bits comes from. A Long Bit is a sum of 15 cents, and a Short Bit is a sum of 10 cents.9  

"In the discussion of Masonic Education or of Masonic Apathy or, again, of any combination of the two, it is impossible to evade the association of Masonic with Civic obligation." "The Mason who is true to his full Masonic heritage is certain to be a good citizen." Brother Warren B. Smith.  

In Freemasonry today we always open and close the Lodge with a Prayer, and that prayer is always to the Supreme, (or Great,) Architect of the Universe, which is a euphemism coined by John Calvin as a universal name for God. It is believed that the early Lodges prior to the formation of the Premier Grand Lodge of England in 1717 opened with a prayer; there is no documentation to support this opinion although it is believed to be the case. "But the use of prayer in the Scottish Lodges of the 17th century is not conjectural, but is proved by actual records." According to the research of Brother D., (David,) Murray Lyon he found in the minutes of an early Lodge that supplies two forms of prayers, one "to be said at convening" and the other "to be said before dismissing." Both of these prayers come from the minute books of Mary's Chapel Incorporation for the year 1699. [I will type it here exactly as it appears in the History of Freemasonry.] The first Prayer at the opening of the Lodge is: "O Lord, we most humblie beseech thee to be present with us in mercy, and to bless our meeting and haill (whole) exercise which wee now have in hand. O Lord, enlighten our understandings and direct our hearts and mynds, so with thy good spirit, that we may frame all our purposes and conclusions to the glory of thy name and the welfare of our Brethren; and therefore O Lord let no partiall respect, neither of ffeed (enmity) nor favor, draw us out of the right way. But grant that we may ever so frame our purposes and conclusions to the glory of thy and the welfare of our Brethren. Grant these things, O Lord, unto us, and what else thou sees more necessarie for us, and that only for the love of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, our alone Lord and Savior; to whom with thee, O Father, and the blessed Spirit of Grace, wee render all praise, honor and glory, for ever and ever, Amen."  

The Prayer used at the dismissing, (or Closing,) of the Lodge is: "O Lord, wee most humbly acknowledge thy goodnesse in meeting with us together at this time, to confer upon a present condition of this world. O Lord, make us also study heaven and heavenly myndednesse, that we may get our souls for a prey. And O Lord, be with us and accompany us the rest of this day, now and forever, Amen."  

The record of prayers in a Masonic Lodge from 1699 is important because it adds great force to the conjecture that a similar custom prevailed in the Lodges in England prior to the Grand Lodge Era.10  

It has long been believed that the Mediaeval Masons of England began their day at sunrise by a prayer, the Master taking his station in the East and the Brethren forming in a half circle around him. The record of a Scottish Lodge in the last year of the 17th century does not mean to infer that the custom of prayer had just then begun. "The record is more likely, when there is no evidence to the contrary, to have been that of a custom long previously in existence than that of one that had just been adopted."11  

So it is safe to conclude that due to the evidence of Prayer in Masonic Lodges in the 1600's in Scotland to open and close their communications we have reason to believe that the practice was also common in English Lodges of the same period.  

One final note on this is that today we don't include in a prayer a name of a Deity specific to a particular religion, because the Chaplain when he prays is saying a Prayer on behalf of all the Brothers present, and Masonry today being tolerant of all of our Brothers particular religious beliefs is far different from the 1600's and earlier when a Mason was charged to be of the religious belief of the country he was a resident of.  

"Ham & Eggs - A days work for a chicken, a lifetime commitment for a pig." Vern McIllhenny.  

"Masonry teaches us how to be better and more satisfied persons, but it is up to us to follow through and practice those lessons every day." A Brother  

One last comment on "Masonic sayings and phrases." At about the same time as the Square of Ball's Bridge was dated, this phrase was chiseled above the door at Salisbury Abby in England: "As the compass goes round without deviation from the circumference, so, doubtless, truth and loyalty never deviate. Look well to the end, quoth John Murdo."

"So from very early times the square has probably stood for right, honesty and fair-dealing, and the compass, for undeviating truth, and loyalty - but independently of each other."12

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Last modified: March 22, 2014