The Ancient Craftsmen

When the period of cathedral building commenced in the late 10th century, lodges of Masons were formed to provide an orderly establishment for the erection of a particular building. In addition to the lodges of stonemasons, there were similar organizations for carpenters, workers in glass, sculptors, artists, etc. A number of the cathedrals were under construction for periods exceeding 100 years. It is therefore apparent that many workmen spent their lifetime at one location. They worked from sunrise to sunset, six days a week and this obviously became their “way of life”.

While Guilds existed in many other crafts at this early period, employment for skilled stone masons was isolated and sporatic in any given locality. At a much later date than our story, The London Company of Freemasons was organized, the only group of its type in England. However, it has never operated on the Guild system.

The Church, King or Nobleman desiring to erect a cathedral, castle, or palace, a project that could conceivably take several generations, would employ a Master of the Freemasons who would establish his own organization, and usually serve as Chief Architect for the building.

This group of Freemasons first built a temporary structure for a headquarters and storage house. In the early stages of construction, the craftsmen also had their meals and slept in this building which was called a “lodge”. After a time, the organization itself acquired the title od “a lodge”.

From the earliest period, the lodge organization provided for apprentices, who were learning the craft; fellows of the craft, who were journeyman workmen; and a Master.
The basic laws, rules and regulations for the government of each lodge were carefully written down. In many respects these were the laws that governed the life of the individual workman. The Cook Ms, from the early 15th century, relates charges for the Master and charges for the craftsman that affected their personal conduct.

In addition to the laws, there were many “trade secrets” which were held by each rank of the craft. Only a Master knew and understood all of these secrets, which were primarily a knowledge of Geometric formulae and the ability to apply it to the work at hand.

Excerpted from: A History and Hanbook, The York Rite of Freemasonry, by Frederick G, Speidel

The Regius Poem

The oldest document which refers to ancient Freemasonry is the Regius Poem, or Halliwell Manuscript. James O. Halliwell discovered an ancient manuscript in the archives of the British Museum in 1838. Scientists have concluded from the type of parchment, language, and lettering that this document was written in approximately 1390 A.D. The poem consists of 794 lines of Old English verse and covers several subjects, mostly directly applicable to Freemasonry. While this manuscript was probably written in the 14th century, it refers to a period of Masonic history in England in the late 10th century. It relates the Legend of York and is the basis for the prominence the city of York has occupied in Masonic lore since the first millenium. Regulations for the government of the craft are included in the poem, as are fifteen articles and fifteen points dealing with ethical, moral and spiritual responsibilities of the ancient craftsmen. These are as applicable to us today as they were 1000 years ago.

Excerpted from: A History and Handbook, The York Rite of Freemasonry, by Frederick G. Speidel

The Symbolic (Blue) Lodge

Square & Compass LogoThe Symbolic Lodge is the foundation and cornerstone of Freemasonry. This is the local unit which has the daily responsibility for implementing the programs and policies of the fraternity. The primary mission of a lodge is to create Master Masons. This activity should extend beyond the conferral of degrees and continue to provide general Masonic education for all members.

These Lodges have been termed “Blue Lodges”, because “blue is emblematic of friendship, a peculiar characteristic of ancient craft Masonry”. The color for borders of aprons, collars and other regalia of the Symbolic Lodge is blue.

The roster of officers of a Lodge have slight variations in different jurisdictions, however, the following list is fairly standard:

  • Worshipful Master
  • Senior Warden
  • Junior Warden
  • Treasurer
  • Secretary
  • Senior Deacon
  • Junior Deacon
  • Stewards (2)
  • Chaplain
  • Tyler

A number of Lodges appoint a Marshal and/or a Musician.

Excerpted from: A History and Handbook, The York Rite of Freemasonry, by Frederic G. Speidel

The (Premier) Grand Lodge of England

Premier Grand Lodge of England LogoIn 1716, four lodges assembled at the Apple Tree Tavern in London and established a Grand Lodge pro-term. They laid the groundwork for a Grand Lodge and established St. John the Baptist’s day, June 24 1717, as the date for their first meeting. On the appointed date the four lodges met at the Goose and Gridiron Ale House in London and elected Anthony Sayer, Gentleman, as Grand Master. The other officers consisted of both Speculative and Operative members. However, the Grand Lodge was essentially a speculative organization. The annual communication of the Grand Lodge was established to occur on St. John’s Day each year, with additional quartely communications. Initially, this Grand Lodge controlled only a few of the lodges in London and Westminster. Within a few years, additional lodges throughout England affiliated with it. It was many years, however, before all English lodges affiliated with a Grand Lodge.

Immediately after the organisation of this Grand Lodge, a search was conducted through England for all existing Masonic documents. Old lodge minutes, various list s of charges to the workmen (Old Charges), historical papers of any type, and correspondence were collected and analyzed.

Dr. James Anderson, a Presbyterian minister, sifted through the collected data and constructed a Constitution for the government of the Grand Lodge. This was adopted in 1723. Anderson’s Constitution of 1723 included a “history” of Masonry that preceded recorded history and was actually a condensation of numerous legends and allegories that had previously existed within the craft. This information was communicated to candidates in lecture form and undoubtedly was accepted by many of them as fact. The Constitution also included “Charges” for the Entered Apprentices and Fellowcrafts.

After several years, additional background material was accumulated and Dr. Anderson revised his Constitution in light of the new discoveries. This edition was adopted by the Grand Lodge and is known as Anderson’s Constitution of 1738. Adjustments had been made in the legendary history of the craft, and a number of the charges that had previously been applied to Fellowcrafts were now assigned to the new degree of Master Mason.

The early (Gothic) Constitutions of Freemasonry were decidedly Christian in nature. The operative Masons were predominantely Roman Catholic in England until the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. Anderson’s Constitution of 1723 and 1738 omitted all pre-existing references to Christianity and modern symbolic Freemasonry embraces all religions.

The arms of the “Moderns” Grand Lodge, consisting of three castles with a chevron and compasses, was derived from those of the Freemason’s Company of London. Many speculative Masons at that time were of the opinion that this opportunity for promoting emblems with strong symbolic values had been overlooked and future Grand Lodges corrected this oversight. (Note the significant characteristics in the arms of The “Ancient” Grand Lodge)

Excerpted from: A History and Handbook, The York Rite of Freemasonry, by Frederic G. Speidel

The United Grand Lodge of England (1813)

United Grand Lodge of England LogoAfter an extended period of discussion, the Grand Lodge of Ancients and the Moderns merged into “The United Grand Lodge of England” in 1813.

The delegates shared differing views as to the place the degree of The Holy Royal Arch should, or should not, occupy in the official structure of Freemasonry. Delegates from the “Modern” Grand Lodge advocated its omission, while the “Ancients” delegates maintained it should be incorporated into the system. After much debate and arbitration, the following statement was inserted into the Act of Union:

“It is declared and pronounced that pure Ancient Masonry consists of three degrees, and no more; viz: Those of the Entered Apprentice, the Fellow Craft and the Master Mason, including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch.”

The statement went on to say:

“But this article is not intended to prevent any Lodge or Chapter from holding a meeting in any of the degrees of the Orders of Chivalry, according to the constitutions of the said Orders.”

Thus, in England, in 1813, the Royal Arch and the Orders of Chivalry were acknowledged as having rightful connection with the approved Masonic structure by the highest authority, the United Grand Lodge.

The heraldic arms selected by the United Grand Lodge empaled the castles of the Moderns with the Royal Arch banners of the Ancients, with modified cherubim as supporters, and the crest of the Ancients.

Excerpted from: A History and Handbook, The York Rite of Freemasonry, by Frederic G. Speidel