Without a doubt, Masonry has existed from the time when “the memory of man
runneth not to the contrary” – that is from “time immemorial.” Some Masonic writers in
the late 190′ Century claimed Noah as our founder. Those of us who have had the
pleasure of witnessing Springfield Lodge’s presentation on Cleopatra’s Needle are
aware of the very Masonic symbols that were found under the base of an Egyptian
obelisk that was erected about 1500 B.C. John Robinson in Born in Blood provides
much evidence that we owe our lodges to the Knights Templar who needed a cover
following their suppression by the Catholic Church in 1307.
The most generally accepted view, points to the guilds of Freemasons. Operative
masons have always been involved in the building of temples and other monuments
from antiquity to the present day. Written evidence indicates that sometime before
926 AD masons had formed guilds or lodges but appear to have had some problems in
their government. The Regius Poem or Halliwell Manuscript, which dates from 1390,
tells how Athelstan, King of All England, called an Assembly at York in 926 to consider
the government of the Master Masons and Craftsmen. At this assembly, fifteen Articles
were adopted for the government of the Master Mason. These Articles include that:
- The Master must be steadfast, trusty and true.
- His apprentice must be of lawful blood and have his limbs whole.
- The Master must teach his apprentice.
- The Master must do nothing that would turn the craft to shame.
In addition, Fifteen Points were adopted for the government of the Craftsmen. These
- The Craftsman must love well God and holy church and his master and fellows.The Craftsman must keep his Master’s counsel in chamber and in lodge.
- The Craftsman must respect the chastity of his master’s wife and his fellow’s concubine.
- The Craftsman must swear never to be a thief and never to help any of false craft.
The poem ends in a manner well known to us: “Amen!, Amen!, So mote it be! Say we
all for charity” These so-called “Gothic Constitutions,” with later restatements, were the law for the government of the craft for the next 750 years.
In the middle of the 17th Century, joining the Masonic Lodge became a desirable thing
for gentlemen to do. Kilwinning Lodge No. 0 in Kilwinning, Scotland was primarily an
operative lodge claiming descent from the lodge formed when the abbey was built in
1140. Their minutes of 1672 show the admission of Lord Cassilis as a speculative
Mason. The diary of Elias Ashmole, who donated the Ashmolean Museum to Oxford
University, records under the date of October 16, 1646 that he was made a Free
Mason at Warrington in Lancashire. From this and other notes by other writers, it can
be concluded that there were a number of small lodges located around England and
Scotland, and that many of them included speculative members.
Until 1717, however, Masonry remained a truly secret society – one whose very
existence, let alone its membership, was not publicized. Its lodges met in various
taverns and ale houses for dinner, sociability, and a little degree work. (Since the new
members paid for the banquet, the degree work was probably an essential activity.) Its
membership, especially in the cities, was increasingly made up of speculative masons,
not operative ones. Then on June 24, 1717 at the Goose and Gridiron Ale House in St.
Paul’s Churchyard, London, Freemasonry came out of the closet. Speculative Masonry
had become too popular an activity, and four lodges felt that some sort of control
should be exercised. They had met at the Apple Tree Tavern in 1716 and there formed
a Grand Lodge pro tempore. At the meeting in 1717 they elected one of their number,
Anthony Sayer (“Oldest Master Mason and then Master of a Lodge”) as Grand Master
and agreed to hold a Grand Feast once a year. Sayer also appointed Grand Wardens
and “commanded the Master and Wardens of Lodges to meet the Grand Officers every
Quarter in Communication.” The four lodges were those that met at the Goose &
Gridiron Ale House, the Crown Ale House, the Apple Tree Tavern, and the Rummer and
Grapes Tavern. (Masonry had a different view of taverns in those days.) They agreed that only the Grand Lodge would have the authority to issue a warrant, and that lodges without warrants were unlawful.