By R.W. Bro. R. W. Holland, P.D.D.G.M. Prince David, No. 101
And adapted by V.W. Bro. Norman McEvoy for sharing in The Educator
Among all the stories which have been told concerning the origin of Freemasonry, there is one Masonic tradition for which something may be said.
This Masonic tradition links our brotherhood with King Solomon and the erection of the great Temple at Jerusalem.
Although direct chronological proof is impossible, I believe much historical proof can be adduced and I shall try to show the manner in which this can be done.
In so far as English-speaking Freemasonry is concerned the original Operative Freemasons were a very organized body of skilled men, engaged, like King Solomon, himself, in erecting Temples to the Most High.
They and their forefathers had worked in various countries during the great cathedral-building Middle Ages. Their place of assembly was known as the “Lodge” and their meetings were presided over by a Master Mason.
A covenant entered into in 1352 A.D., between the Freemasons engaged in the structure of York Minster and the Dean of the College, is full of information concerning their “Ancient Usages” which the Ecclesiastical authorities agreed to maintain.
These rules embodied oversight of the workmen, both at labour and at refreshment. Signals were given by a Master’s knock, none could be engaged without being tested, and none was admitted save under oath.
Westminster Abbey archives of the following century likewise bear testimony to the presence among the workers of “Lodges” of Freemasons, and similar records can be found in other Ecclesiastical centers.
Where written records are non-existent, proof is still in evidence where these Artisan-Artists left their personal signs manually on the walls.
On many a great cathedral, abbey and church Freemasons’ marks are plainly distinguishable & many of these marks are symbolized today in our Lodges by the triangle, the square, the circle, the six-pointed star, etc.
The members of this ancient order of Operative Freemasons were taught various hidden methods of recognizing a craft brother by night as well as by day and many of these signs, grips and pass-words are in use in our Masonic Lodges at the present time.
There can be no shadow of doubt that the Operative Freemasonry of cathedral building
of the Middle Ages was the originating force which brought about Speculative Freemasonry as we know it today.
The Cathedral Builders were regarded as superior to ordinary Masons on account of their scientific knowledge and traditional style.
They were, therefore, accorded privileges and freedoms which were denied to the City Guilds, and thus became known as “Free Masons.”
After the cathedral-building age had passed and the call for the old Artistic-Artisan had ceased, the ancient order of Craftsmen began to let down the barriers and allowed non-operative members into their Order.
Some of the old Lodges of the Operatives perished but their records remain.
Particular importance attaches are two codes of laws, signed and promulgated in 1598/99 by one William Schaw, Lord Warden General of the Masons, and directed to the Craft in general.
The significance of these laws, showing how Speculative Freemasonry evolved from the ancient order of Operative Freemasons, are the terms Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason, now so firmly embedded in Free and Accepted Masonry.
All these terms are to be found operatively used in these old laws.
The famous antiquarian, Elias Ashmole, records in his diary under date of Oct. 16th, 1646 AD., “This day I was made a Freemason,” and he gives a list of all the members of the lodge present on the night of his initiation.
The significant fact being that there was not one working mason among them.
It is apparent that at this time the transition from Operative to Speculative was more or less complete.
Of historical record is the fact that on May 18th, 1691, at a great convention of Freemasons held in St. Paul’s Cathedral, Sir Christopher Wren, (the architect,) and a number of other prominent gentlemen were adopted into the Order.
The first Grand Lodge of Antient, Free and Accepted Masons of England was organized on June 24th, 1717.
Perhaps that is why so many Grand Lodge Annual meetings are held in June?
The connection between Operative and Speculative Freemasons in England and their relationship to the Artistic-Artisans who were responsible for the building of the great cathedrals of Europe has been proved clearly.
It now remains to prove the connection of the cathedral builders with the builders of King Solomon’s Temple, and this will be much more difficult.
To do so clearly we must take a big jump backward through time, from the 18th century AD. to the 20th century, B.C.-just a little matter of 4,000 years.
Egypt is the first country in which stable government and political institutions were developed. The early formation of this nation required the presence of cheap and abundant food and the valley of the Nile had the abundance of food to a remarkable degree.
Eighty per cent of the people were slaves & their labour was used by the Pharaohs and their priests to build a great number of tombs and other monuments.
It is recorded that Abraham, who was the chief of one of the great nomadic tribes, first visited Egypt in 1920 B.C & Jacob and his sons settled in Egypt in 1705 B.C.
All their descendants were enslaved subsequently by the Pharaohs until released in 1491 B.C. by exodus across the Red Sea to the East.
After wandering for forty years in the desert, now known as Arabia, they reached their “promised land” in 1451 B.C., where they lived and multiplied until 1095 B.C.
This was when Saul was declared King over Israel. He was followed by David, the writer of the Psalms, who extended the kingdom from the Red Sea to the Euphrates and took Jerusalem from the Jebusites. He was succeeded by his son Solomon in 1015 B.C.
After nearly 80 years of almost constant warfare the whole country found peace under King Solomon, who decided to build a great Temple as a thank offering to God and a memorial to his father David.
For this purpose he secured the assist of the King of Tyre (a small subject state) who sent one of his greatest architects, Hiram Abiff, (with a wonderful new architectural idea), who so impressed King Solomon that he appointed him as architect of the proposed great Temple of his dreams.
Masons were summoned from all parts of the kingdom, and it was made known that no slave labour would be employed, but that all workmen would be paid according to their ability.
As the workmen arrived they were separated into twelve camps or lodges, and these further divided into three classes.
The young and least skillful were called Apprentices and were sent into the quarries to get out the rough stones.
The second class, named Fellowcrafts, had considerable skill and were employed in shaping the rough stone to size.
The third class were known as Master Masons and consisted of highly skilled Masons, sculptors and artists.
In each of the lodges there were certain secret grips and passwords so that the brethren of that lodge could recognize each other in the dark, or even if they spoke different languages.
Only Master Masons were permitted to work upon, or inside the Temple, and all were sworn to preserve the secrets of its construction, under penalty of death,].
This was because the Temple was built upon a principal entirely new to the architecture of those days and King Solomon wished it to remain as the only example of its kind in existence.
Up to that time architecture was based on the principle of the Lintel-upright columns supporting a horizontal bar. These columns had to be placed close together or the supported bar would collapse in the centre.
Hiram Abiff had conceived an entirely new method of construction, that of the Arch and the flying buttress,which enabled him to span ten times the width of the Lintel method, thus leaving the whole centre of the building free and unobstructed.
When each arch was complete, with buttress and keystone in place, there was nothing to show what kept the arch from collapsing.
This was the great secret of the Temple and extra-ordinary means were taken to guard it.
The building of the Temple took seven years and it was completed by the erection of two bronze pillars at the porch-way or entrance. These giant pillars were each 40 feet high and 18 feet in circumference and beautifully ornamented.
The names of these pillars, B .. .. and J . . . were used as passwords by the Operative Masons while they were employed in the building of the great cathedrals of Europe and England, and have been so used by the Speculative Masons of later times.
In them we have at least a symbolical tie with the Masons of King Solomon’s Temple.
After Solomon’s death in 975 B.C. a rapid decline set in and disunion among the Israelites resulted in the division of the kingdom into two parts, that of Israel, composed of ten out of the twelve tribes with its own king, and the capital at Samaria and that of Judah made up of the remaining two tribes with king and capital at Jerusalem.
The kingdom of Israel lasted for 250 years and was then conquered by Sargon, King of Assyria. The ten tribes embracing all the descendents of the Masons who built the great Temple were carried into captivity.
The kingdom of Judah lasted for another century and was conquered by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, in 586 B.C., who destroyed the Temple and carried away its furnishings and sacred vessels as spoils of war.
The principle of the Arch or Dome, the great secret in the construction of the Temple was lost, or lay buried in the minds of the descendants of the builders –
the Masons and Craftsmen in the Ten Tribes of Israel, sometimes called “the lost ten tribes, who were dispersed over the face of the then known world.
There can be little doubt that the great majority of these Tribesmen escaped through Lydia, or Turkey as it is now called, across the Hellespont or Dardanelles and on into Macedonia, Greece and Italy.
To get in touch with them once more we need to study the architecture of this ancient world and learn where the Arch or Dome principle, first used by Hiram Abiff, again came into use.
The Parthenon at Athens, the Temple of Vesta at Rome, the Colosseum and many other celebrated structures were built on the Pillar and Lintel principle, and all were built many centuries after the Temple at Jerusalem.
The first departure from this principle is to be found in the ruins of the Pantheon at Rome. Here are found the simplest and most logical application of the Arch principle.
The great rotunda of the Pantheon was erected about 124 A.D. It had a portico of ten granite columns more than 45 ft. in height on the Lintel principle, so that it was a combination of these two architectural forms. In the Pantheon, however, the keystone and buttress is not in evidence. The great Dome was built of Roman brick rising in stepped circles towards a summit never realized, because the top of the dome is open to the sky.
Numerous examples of the Arch principle can be found throughout the whole of the ancient Roman Empire. The great aqueducts are perhaps the most remarkable.
Water was brought from great distances in artificial channels supported by great arches, many of them more than 100 ft. high. These were erected on the principle of the keystone and buttress as used by King Solomon’s builders and form a definite architectural link between the two periods.
The Cathedral Builders of Europe were the direct descendants of the Builders of the Roman Empire.
Many connecting links can be traced from the Roman Collegia through the Comacines to the Masons who built the great cathedrals of Western Europe and of England.
That these were members of a great Operative Masonic Guild or Society is proved by ample evidence in the archives of many of these buildings as well as by the Masons’ Marks on the buildings themselves.
There remains no doubt that the Operative Freemasons who built York Minster, Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral were drawn from the Cathedral Builders of Europe, who were the direct descendants of the Roman Builders of the first century A.D., and who in turn were descendants of the Builders of King Solomon’s Temple at Jerusalem.
This then is the story of Operative and Speculative Freemasonry down to the present day.
I trust my story carries the conviction to you, as it has to me, that the Speculative Freemasonry of today had its origin with the Builders of the Temple of King Solomon.
What a wonderful paper that takes the reader back centuries, and does a fabulous job in explaining where the architectural wonders, that we now enjoy, had their beginnings.
It also brings to mind the connecting & borrowing that has taken place in the forming of many Masonic Building Structures & forms a HUGE part within our rituals & teachings.
Have a wonderful Day & God Bless