The Builders – Chapter 6  the Free-Masons

In 1915, Joseph Fort Newton’s book, ‘The Builders: A Story and Study of Freemasonry’ was published.

It has become a Masonic classic in as much that it really does lay the foundations of knowledge for us to build upon.

The curious history of Freemasonry has unfortunately been treated only by its panegyrists or calumniators, both equally mendacious. I do not wish to pry into the mysteries of the craft; but it would be interesting to know more of their history during the period when they were literally architects.

They are charged by an act of Parliament with fixing the price of their labor in their annual chapters, contrary to the statute of laborers, and such chapters were consequently prohibited.

This is their first persecution; they have since undergone others, and are perhaps reserved for still more. It is remarkable, that Masons were never legally incorporated, like other traders; their bond of union being stronger than any charter.

—HENRY HALLAM, The Middle Ages.

Chapter 6 – Free-Masons


FROM the foregoing pages it must be evident that Masonry, as we find it in the Middle Ages, was not a novelty.

Already, if we accept its own records, it was hoary with age, having come down from a far past, bringing with it a remarkable deposit of legendary lore.

Also, it had in its keeping the same simple, eloquent emblems which, as we have seen, are older than the oldest living religion, which it received as an inheritance and has transmitted as a treasure.

Whatever we may think of the legends of Masonry, as recited in its oldest documents, its symbols, older than the order itself, link it with the earliest thought and faith of the race.

No doubt those emblems lost some of their lustre in the troublous time of transition we are about to traverse, but their beauty never wholly faded, and they had only to be touched to shine.

If not the actual successors of the Roman College of Architects, the great order of Comacine Masters was founded upon its ruins, and continued its tradition both of symbolism and of art.

Returning to Rome after the death of Diocletian, we find them busy there under Constantine and Theodosius; and from remains recently brought to knowledge it is plain that their style of building at that time was very like that of the churches built at Hexham and York in England, and those of the Ravenna, also nearly contemporary.

They may not have been actually called Free-masons as early as Leader Scott insists they were, but they were free in fact, traveling far and near where there was work to do, following the missionaries of the Church as far as England.

When there was need for the name Free-masons, it was easily suggested by the fact that the cathedral-builders were quite distinct from the Guild-masons, the one being a universal order whereas the other was local and restricted.

Older than Guild-masonry, the order of the cathedral-builders was more powerful, more artistic, and, it may be added, more religious; and it is from this order that the Masonry of today is descended.


Medieval Masons from Dictionnaire raisonné de l’architecture française du XIe au XVIe siècle, Viollet-le-Duc, Eugène-Emmanuel, 1814-1879
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Since the story of the Comacine Masters has come to light, no doubt any longer remains that during the building period the order of Masons was at the height of its influence and power.

At that time the building art stood above all other arts, and made the other arts bow to it, commanding the services of the most brilliant intellects and of the greatest artists of the age.

Moreover, its symbols were wrought into stone long before they were written on parchment, if indeed they were ever recorded at all.

Efforts have been made to rob those old masters of their honor as the designers of the cathedrals, but it is in vain. Their monuments are enduring and still tell the story of their genius and art.

High upon the cathedrals they left cartoons in stone, of which Findel gives a list, portraying with searching satire abuses current in the Church.

Such figures and devices would not have been tolerated but for the strength of the order, and not even then had the Church known what they meant to the adepts.

Gargoyle – St Nazaire – Carcassonne 2014 © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC BY-SA 3.0

History, like a mirage, lifts only a part of the past into view, leaving much that we should like to know in oblivion.

At this distance the Middle Ages wear an aspect of smooth uniformity of faith and opinion, but that is only one of the many illusions of time by which we are deceived.

What looks like uniformity was only conformity, and underneath its surface there was almost as much variety of thought as there is today, albeit not so freely expressed.

Science itself, as well as religious ideas deemed heretical, sought seclusion; but the human mind was alive and active none the less, and a great secret Order like Masonry, enjoying the protection of the Church, yet independent of it, invited freedom of thought and faith.

The Masons, by the very nature of their art, came into contact with all classes of men, and they had opportunities to know the defects of the Church.

Far ahead of the masses and most of the clergy in education, in their travels to and fro, not only in Europe, but often extending to the far East, they became familiar with widely-differing religious views.

They had learned to practice toleration, and their Lodges became a sure refuge for those who were persecuted for the sake of opinion by bigoted fanaticism.

While, as an order, the Comacine Masters served the Church as builders, the creed required for admission to their fraternity was never narrow, and, as we shall see, it became every year broader.

Unless this fact be kept in mind, the influence of the Church upon Masonry, which no one seeks to minify, may easily be exaggerated.

Not until cathedral building began to decline by reason of the impoverishment of the nations by long wars, the dissolution of the monasteries, and the advent of Puritanism, did the Church greatly influence the order; and not even then to the extent of diverting it from its original and unique mission.

Other influences were at work betimes, such as the persecution of the Knights Templars and the tragic martyrdom of De Molai, making themselves felt, and Masonry began to be suspected of harboring heresy.

So tangled were the tendencies of that period that they are not easily followed, but the fact emerges that Masonry rapidly broadened until its final break with the Church.

Hardly more than a veneer, by the time of the German Reformation almost every vestige of the impress of the Church had vanished never to return.

Critics of the order have been at pains to trace this tendency, not knowing, apparently, that by so doing they only make more emphatic the chief glory of Masonry.


Jaques de Molay, illustration
IMAGE LINKED: The Secret Tradition in Freemasonry, A. E. Waite, 1911


Unfortunately, as so often happens, no records of old Craft-masonry, save those wrought into stone, were made until the movement had begun to decline; and for that reason such documents as have come down to us do not show it at its best.

Nevertheless, they range over a period of more than four centuries, and are justly held to be the title deeds of the Order.

Turning to these Old Charges and Constitutions, as they are called, we find a body of quaint and curious writing, both in poetry and prose, describing the Masonry of the late cathedral-building period, with glimpses at least of greater days of old.

Of these, there are more than half a hundred—seventy-eight, to be exact—most of which have come to light since 1860, and all of them, it would seem, copies of documents still older.

Naturally they have suffered at the hands of unskilled or unlearned copyists, as is evident from errors, embellishments, and interpolations.

They were called Old Charges because they contained certain rules as to conduct and duties which, in a bygone time, were read or recited to a newly admitted member of the craft.

While they differ somewhat in details, they relate substantially the same legend as to the origin of the order, its early history, its laws and regulations, usually beginning with an invocation and ending with an Amen.

Only a brief account need here be given of the dates and characteristics of these documents, of the two oldest especially, with a digest of what they have to tell us, first, of the Legend of the order; second, its early History; and third, its Moral teaching, its workings, and the duties of its members.

The first and oldest of the records is known as the Regius MS which, owing to an error of David Casley who in his catalogue of the MSS in the King’s Library marked it “A Poem of Moral Duties”, was overlooked until James Halliwell discovered its real nature in 1839.

Although not a Mason, Halliwell was attracted by the MS and read an essay on its contents before the Society of Antiquarians, after which he issued two editions bearing date of 1840 and 1844.

Experts give it date back to 1390, that is to say, fifteen years after the first recorded use of the name Free-mason in the history of the Company of Masons of the City of London, in 1375.


Halliwell/Regius MS
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More poetical in spirit than in form, the old manuscript begins by telling of the number of unemployed in early days and the necessity of finding work, “that they myght gete there lyvyngs therby.”

Euclid was consulted, and recommended the “onest craft of good masonry,” and the origin of the order is found “yn Egypte lande.”

Then, by a quick shift, we are landed in England “yn tyme of good Kinge Adelstonus day,” who is said to have called an assembly of Masons, when fifteen articles and as many points were agreed upon as rules of the craft, each point being duly described.

The rules resemble the Ten Commandments in an extended form, closing with the legend of the Four Crowned Martyrs, as an incentive to fidelity.

Then the writer takes up again the question of origins, going back this time to the days of Noah and the Flood, mentioning the tower of Babylon and the great skill of Euclid, who is said to have commenced “the syens seven.”

The seven sciences are then named, to-wit, Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric, Music, Astronomy, Arithmetic, Geometry, and each explained.

Rich reward is held out to those who use the seven sciences aright, and the MS proper closes with the benediction:



Amen! Amen! so mote it be!

So say we all for Charity.

Two lines from the Regius MS c.1425-50 – “Fifteen articles they there sought and fifteen points there they wrought.
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There follows a kind of appendix, evidently added by a priest, consisting of one hundred lines in which pious exhortation is mixed with instruction in etiquette, such as lads and even men unaccustomed to polite society and correct deportment would need.

These lines were in great part extracted from “Instructions for Parish Priests”, by Mirk, a manual in use at the time.

The whole poem, if so it may be called, is imbued with the spirit of freedom, of gladness, of social good will; so much so, that both Gould and Albert Pike think it points to the existence of symbolic Masonry at the date from which it speaks, and may have been recited or sung by some club commemorating the science, but not practicing the art, of Masonry.

They would find intimation of the independent existence of speculative Masonry thus early, in a society from whom all but the memory or tradition of its ancient craft had departed.

One hesitates to differ with writers so able and distinguished, yet this inference seems far-fetched, if not forced.

Of the existence of symbolic Masonry at that time there is no doubt, but of its independent existence it is not easy to find even a hint in this old poem.

Nor would the poem be suitable for a mere social, or even a symbolic guild, whereas the spirit of genial, joyous comradeship which breathes through it is of the very essence of Masonry, and has ever been present when Masons meet.

The Old Charges

Are you interested in the ‘musty old documents of the past’? This article first appeared in The Builder magazine,1923


Next in order of age is the Cooke MS, dating from the early part of the fifteenth century, and first published in 1861. If we apply the laws of higher-criticism to this old document a number of things appear, as obvious as they are interesting.

Not only is it a copy of an older record, like all the MSS we have, but it is either an effort to join two documents together, or else the first part must be regarded as a long preamble to the manuscript which forms the second part.

For the two are quite unlike in method and style, the first being diffuse, with copious quotations and references to authorities, while the second is simple, direct, unadorned, and does not even allude to the Bible.

Also, it is evident that the compiler, himself a Mason, is trying to harmonize two traditions as to the origin of the order, one tracing it through Egypt and the other through the Hebrews; and it is hard to tell which tradition he favors most.

Hence a duplication of the traditional history, and an odd mixture of names and dates, often, indeed, absurd, as when he makes Euclid a pupil of Abraham.

What is clear is that, having found an old Constitution of the Craft, he thought to write a kind of commentary upon it, adding proofs and illustrations of his own, though he did not manage his materials very successfully.

Cooke MS

Cooke Manuscript

Matthew Cooke Manuscript was written c1450. A transcript of a yet older document, written by a Speculative Mason


After his invocation, the writer begins with a list of the Seven Sciences, giving quaint definitions of each, but in a different order from that recited in the Regius Poem; and he exalts Geometry above all the rest as “the first cause and foundation of all crafts and sciences.”

Then follows a brief sketch of the sons of Lamech, much as we find it in the book of Genesis which, like the old MS we are here studying, was compiled from two older records: the one tracing the descent from Cain, and the other from Seth. Jabal and Jubal, we are told, inscribed their knowledge of science and handicraft on two pillars, one of marble, the other of lateres; and after the flood one of the pillars was found by Hermes, and the other by Pythagoras, who taught the sciences they found written thereon.

Other MSS give Euclid the part here assigned to Hermes. Surely this is all fantastic enough, but the blending of the names of Hermes, the “father of Wisdom,” who is so supreme a figure in the Egyptian Mysteries, and Pythagoras who used numbers as spiritual emblems, with old Hebrew history, is significant.

At any rate, by this route the record reaches Egypt where, like the Regius Poem, it locates the origin of Masonry.

In thus ascribing the origin of Geometry to the Egyptians the writer was but following a tradition that the Egyptians were compelled to invent it in order to restore the landmarks effaced by the inundations of the Nile; a tradition confirmed by modern research.


Hermes Trismegistus
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Proceeding, the compiler tells us that during their sojourn in Egypt the Hebrews learned the art and secrets of Masonry, which they took with them to the promised land.

Long years are rapidly sketched, and we come to the days of David, who is said to have loved Masons well, and to have given them “wages nearly as they are now.”

There is but a meager reference to the building of the Temple of Solomon, to which is added:

“In other chronicles and old books of Masonry, it is said that Solomon confirmed the charges that David had given to Masons; and that Solomon taught them their usages differing but slightly from the customs now in use.”

While allusion is made to the master-artist of the temple, his name is not mentioned, except in disguise.

Not one of the Old Charges of the order ever makes use of his name, but always employs some device whereby to conceal it.

Why so, when the name was well known, written in the Bible which lay upon the altar for all to read?

Why such reluctance, if it be not that the name and the legend linked with it had an esoteric meaning, as it most certainly did have long before it was wrought into a drama?

At this point the writer drops the old legend and traces the Masons into France and England, after the manner of the Regius MS, but with more detail.

Having noted these items, he returns to Euclid and brings that phase of the tradition up to the advent of the order into England, adding, in conclusion, the articles of Masonic law agreed upon at an early assembly, of which he names nine, instead of the fifteen recited in the Regius Poem.

Euclid. Line engraving.
IMAGE LINKED:  wellcome collection Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

What shall we say of this Legend, with its recurring and insistent emphasis upon the antiquity of the order, and its linking of Egypt with Israel?

For one thing, it explodes the fancy that the idea of the symbolical significance of the building of the Temple of Solomon originated with, or was suggested by, Bacon’s “New Atlantis”.

Here is a body of tradition uniting the Egyptian Mysteries with the Hebrew history of the Temple in a manner unmistakable.

Wherefore such names as Hermes, Pythagoras, and Euclid, and how did they come into the old craft records if not through the Comacine artists and scholars?

With the story of that great order before us, much that has hitherto been obscure becomes plain, and we recognize in these Old Charges the inaccurate and perhaps faded tradition of a lofty symbolism, an authentic scholarship, and an actual history.

As Leader Scott observes, after reciting the old legend in its crudest form:

The significant point is that all these names and Masonic emblems point to something real which existed in some long-past time, and, as regards the organization and nomenclature, we find the whole thing in its vital and actual working form in the Comacine Guild.

Of interest here, as a kind of bridge between old legend and the early history of the order in England, and also as a different version of the legend itself, is another document dating far back.

There was a MS discovered in the Bodleian Library at Oxford about 1696, supposed to have been written in the year 1436, which purports to be an examination of a Mason by King Henry VI, and is allowed by all to be genuine.

Its title runs as follows: “Certain questions with answers to the same concerning the mystery of masonry written by King Henry the Sixth and faithfully copied by me, John Laylande, antiquarian, by command of his highness.”

Written in quaint old English, it would doubtless be unintelligible to all but antiquarians, but it reads after this fashion:

What mote it be?—It is the knowledge of nature, and the power of its various operations; particularly the skill of reckoning, of weights and measures, of constructing buildings and dwellings of all kinds, and the true manner of forming all things for the use of man.

Where did it begin?—It began with the first men of the East, who were before the first men of the West, and coming with it, it hath brought all comforts to the wild and comfortless.

Who brought it to the West?—The Phoenicians who, being great merchants, came first from the East into Phoenicia, for the convenience of commerce, both East and West by the Red and Mediterranean Seas.

How came it into England?—Pythagoras, a Grecian, traveled to acquire knowledge in Egypt and Syria, and in every other land where the Phoenicians had planted Masonry; and gaining admittance into all lodges of Masons, he learned much, and returned and dwelt in Grecia Magna, growing and becoming mighty wise and greatly renowned. Here he formed a great lodge at Crotona, and made many Masons, some of whom traveled into France, and there made many more, from whence, in process of time, the art passed into England.


With the conquest of Britain by the Romans, the Collegia, without which no Roman society was complete, made their advent into the island, traces of their work remaining even to this day.

Under the direction of the mother College at Rome, the Britons are said to have attained to high degree of excellence as builders, so that when the cities of Gaul and the fortresses along the Rhine were destroyed, Chlorus, A. D. 298, sent to Britain for architects to repair or rebuild them.

Whether the Collegia existed in Britain after the Romans left, as some affirm, or were suppressed, as we know they were on the Continent when the barbarians overran it, is not clear.

Probably they were destroyed, or nearly so, for with the revival of Christianity in 598 A. D., we find Bishop Wilfred of York joining with the Abbott of Wearmouth in sending to France and Italy to induce Masons to return and build in stone, as he put it, “after the Roman manner.”

This confirms the Italian chroniclists who relate that Pope Gregory sent several of the fraternity of Liberi muratori with St. Augustine, as, later, they followed St. Boniface into Germany.


Saint Wilfred (Wilfrid, Wilfrith) the Younger (of York). Engraving by T. King, 1807.
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Again, in 604, Augustine sent the monk Pietro back to Rome with a letter to the same Pontiff, begging him to send more architects and workmen, which he did. As the Liberi muratori were none other than the Comacine Masters, it seems certain that they were at work in England long before the period with which the OLD CHARGES begin their story of English Masonry.

Among those sent by Gregory was Paulinus, and it is a curious fact that he is spoken of under the title of Magister, by which is meant, no doubt, that he was a member of the Comacine order, for they so described their members; and we know that many monks were enrolled in their lodges, having studied the art of building under their instruction.

St. Hugh of Lincoln was not the only Bishop who could plan a church, instruct the workman, or handle a hod.

Only, it must be kept in mind that these ecclesiastics who became skilled in architecture were taught by the Masons, and that it was not the monks, as some seem to imagine, who taught the Masons their art.

Speaking of this early and troublous time, Giuseppe Merzaria says that only one lamp remained alight, making a bright spark in the darkness that extended over Europe:

It was from the Magistri Comacini. Their respective names are unknown, their individual works unspecialized, but the breadth of their spirit might be felt all through those centuries, and their name collectively is legion.

We may safely say that of all the works of art between p. 115 A. D. 800 and 1000, the greater and better part are due to that brotherhood—always faithful and often secret—of the Magistri Comacini.

The authority and judgment of learned men justify the assertion.

Among the learned men who agree with this judgment are Kugler of Germany, Ramee of France, and Selvatico of Italy, as well as Quatremal de Quincy, in his “Dictionary of Architecture”, who, in the article on the Comacine, remarks that;

“to these men, who were both designers and executors, architects, sculptors, and mosaicists, may be attributed the renaissance of art, and its propagation in the southern countries, where it marched with Christianity.

Certain it is that we owe it to them, that the heritage of antique ages was not entirely lost, and it is only by their tradition and imitation that the art of building was kept alive, producing works which we still admire, and which become surprising when we think of the utter ignorance of all science in those dark ages.”

The English writer, Hope, goes further and credits the Comacine order with being the cradle of the associations of Free-masons, who were, he adds;

“the first after Roman times to enrich architecture with a complete and well-ordinated system, which dominated wherever the Latin Church extended its influence.” [2]

So then, even if the early records of old Craft-masonry in England are confused, and often confusing, we are not left to grope our way from one dim tradition to another, having the history and monuments of this great order which spans the whole period, and links the fraternity of Free-masons with one of the noblest chapters in the annals of art.


Frontispiece of Bede’s Life of St Cuthbert, showing King Æthelstan (924–39) presenting a copy of the book to the saint himself. See description – MS 183, f.1v at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, Public Domain,
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Almost without exception the Old Charges begin their account of Masonry in England at the time of Athelstan, the grandson of Alfred the Great; that is, between 925 and 940.

Of this prince, or knight, they record that he was a wise and pacific ruler; that

“he brought the land to rest and peace, and built many great buildings of castles and abbeys, for he loved Masons well.”

He is also said to have called an assembly of Masons at which laws, rules, and charges were adopted for the regulation of the craft.

Despite these specific details, the story of Athelstan and St. Alban is hardly more than a legend, albeit dating at no very remote epoch, and well within the reasonable limits of tradition.

Still, so many difficulties beset it that it has baffled the acutest critics, most of whom throw it aside.

That is, however, too summary a way of disposing of it, since the record, though badly blurred, is obviously trying to preserve a fact of importance to the order.

Usually the assembly in question is located at York, in the year 926, of which, however, no slightest record remains.

Whether at York or elsewhere, some such assembly must have been convoked, either as a civil function, or as a regular meeting of Masons authorized by legal power for upholding the honor of the craft; and its articles became the laws of the order.

It was probably a civil assembly, a part of whose legislation was a revised and approved code for the regulation of Masons, and not unnaturally, by reason of its importance to the order, it became known as a Masonic assembly.

Moreover, the Charge agreed upon was evidently no ordinary charge, for it is spoken of as “the Charge,” called by one MS “a deep charge for the observation of such articles as belong to Masonry,” and by another MS “a rule to be kept forever.” 

Other assemblies were held afterwards, either annually or semi-annually, until the time of Inigo Jones who, in 1607, became superintendent general of royal buildings and at the same time head of the Masonic order in England; and he it was who instituted quarterly gatherings instead of the old annual assemblies.

Writers not familiar with the facts often speak of Freemasonry as an evolution from Guild-masonry, but that is to err.

They were never at any time united or the same, though working almost side by side through several centuries.

Free-masons existed in large numbers long before any city guild of Masons was formed, and even after the Guilds became powerful the two were entirely distinct.

The Guilds, as Hallam says;

“were Fraternities by voluntary compact, to relieve each other in poverty, and to protect each other from injury.

Two essential characteristics belonged to them: the common banquet, and the common purse.

They had also, in many instances, a religious and sometimes a secret ceremonial to knit more firmly the bond of fidelity.

They readily became connected with the exercises of trades, with training of apprentices, and the traditional rules of art.”

Guild-masons, it may be added, had many privileges, one of which was that they were allowed to frame their own laws, and to enforce obedience thereto.

Each Guild had a monopoly of the building in its city or town, except ecclesiastical buildings, but with this went serious restrictions and limitations.

No member of a local Guild could undertake work outside his town, but had to hold himself in readiness to repair the castle or town walls, whereas Free-masons journeyed the length and breadth of the land wherever their labor called them.

Often the Free-masons, when at work in a town, employed Guild-masons, but only for rough work, and as such called them “rough-masons.”

No Guild-mason was admitted to the order of Free-masons unless he displayed unusual aptitude both as a workman and as a man of intellect.

Such as adhered only to the manual craft and cared nothing for intellectual aims, were permitted to go back to the Guilds.

For the Free-masons, be it once more noted, were not only artists doing a more difficult and finished kind of work, but an intellectual order, having a great tradition of science and symbolism which they guarded.


The Norman Conquest – Arrival in England scene from the Bayeux Tapestry
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Following the Norman Conquest, which began in 1066, England was invaded by an army of ecclesiastics, and churches, monasteries, cathedrals, and abbeys were commenced in every part of the country.

Naturally the Free-masons were much in demand, and some of them received rich reward for their skill as architects—Robertus Cementarius, a Master Mason employed at St. Albans in 1077, receiving a grant of land and a house in the town.

In the reign of Henry II no less than one hundred and fifty-seven religious buildings were founded in England, and it is at this period that we begin to see evidence of a new style of architecture—the Gothic.

Most of the great cathedrals of Europe date from the eleventh century—the piety of the world having been wrought to a pitch of intense excitement by the expected end of all things, unaccountably fixed by popular belief to take place in the year one thousand.

When the fatal year—and the following one, which some held to be the real date for the sounding of the last trumpet—passed without the arrival of the dreaded catastrophe, the sense of general relief found expression in raising magnificent temples to the glory of God who had mercifully abstained from delivering all things to destruction.

And it was the order of Free-masons who made it possible for men to “sing their souls in stone,” leaving for the admiration of after times what Goethe called the “frozen music” of the Middle Ages—monuments of the faith and gratitude of the race which adorn and consecrate the earth.


Norwich Cathedral – one of the finest examples of Norman-style Medieval masonry – building started in 1096. Photo by Diliff – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
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Little need be added to the story of Freemasonry during the cathedral-building period; its monuments are its best history, alike of its genius, its faith, and its symbols—as witness the triangle and the circle which form the keystone of the ornamental tracery of every Gothic temple.

Masonry was then at the zenith of its power, in its full splendor, the Lion of the tribe of Judah its symbol, strength, wisdom, and beauty its ideals; its motto to be faithful to God and the Government; its mission to lend itself to the public good and fraternal charity.

Keeper of an ancient and high tradition, it was a refuge for the oppressed, and a teacher of art and morality to mankind.

In 1270, we find Pope Nicholas III confirming all the rights previously granted to the Free-masons, and bestowing on them further privileges.

Indeed, all the Popes up to Benedict XII appear to have conceded marked favors to the order, even to the length of exempting its members from the necessity of observance of the statutes, from municipal regulations, and from obedience to royal edicts.

What wonder, then, that the Free-masons, ere long, took Liberty for their motto, and by so doing aroused the animosity of those in authority, as well as the Church which they had so nobly served.

Already forces were astir which ultimately issued in the Reformation, and it is not surprising that a great secret order was suspected of harboring men and fostering influences sympathetic with the impending change felt to be near at hand.

As men of the most diverse views, political and religious, were in the lodges, the order began first to be accused of refusing to obey the law, and then to be persecuted.

Statute of Edward III in 1356 – the ‘Regulations for the trade of Masons’ – see this month’s ‘Masonic Miscellanies’ for the full Statute. 

Statute of Edward III in 1356 – the ‘Regulations for the trade of Masons’ – see this month’s ‘Masonic Miscellanies‘ for the full Statute.

In England a statute was enacted against the Free-masons in 1356, prohibiting their assemblies under severe penalties, but the law seems never to have been rigidly enforced; though the order suffered greatly in the civil commotions of the period.

However, with the return of peace after the long War of the Roses, Freemasonry revived for a time, and regained much of its prestige, adding to its fame in the rebuilding of London after the fire, and in particular of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

When cathedral-building ceased, and the demand for highly skilled architects decreased, the order fell into decline, but never at any time lost its identity, its organization, and its ancient emblems.

The Masons’ Company of London, though its extant records date only from 1620, is considered by its historian, Conder, to have been established in 1220, if not earlier, at which time there was great activity in building, owing to the building of London Bridge, begun in 1176, and of Westminster Abbey in 1221; thus reaching back into the cathedral period.

At one time the Free-masons seem to have been stronger in Scotland than in England, or at all events to have left behind more records—for the minutes of the Lodge of Edinburgh go back to 1599, and the Schaw Statutes to an earlier date (1598). 

The First William Schaw Statutes (1598)

We look at a modern transcript of the first William Schaw Statutes dated 1598. An operative masons charter for stone cutters and layers in the building industry of the time.


Nevertheless, as the art of architecture declined Masonry declined with it, not a few of its members identifying themselves with the Guilds of ordinary “rough-masons,” whom they formerly held in contempt; while others, losing sight of high aims, turned its lodges into social clubs.

Always, however, despite defection and decline, there were those, as we shall see, who were faithful to the ideals of the order, devoting themselves more and more to its moral and spiritual teaching until what has come to be known as “the revival of 1717.”



98:1 The Cathedral Builders, chap. i.

99:1 “The honor due to the original founders of these edifices is almost invariably transferred to the ecclesiastics under whose patronage they rose, rather than to the skill and design of the Master Mason, or professional architect, because the only historians were monks. . . They were probably not so well versed in geometrical science as the Master Masons, for mathematics formed a part of monastic learning in a very limited degree.”—James Dallaway, Architecture in England; and his words are the more weighty for that he is not a Mason.

99:2 History of Masonry. In the St. Sebaldus Church, Nuremburg, is a carving in stone showing a nun in the embrace of a monk. In Strassburg a hog and a goat may be seen carrying a sleeping fox as a sacred relic, in advance a bear with a cross and a wolf with a taper. An ass is reading mass at an altar. In Wurzburg Cathedral are the pillars of Boaz and Jachin, and in the altar of the Church of Doberan, in Mecklenburg, placed as Masons use them, and a most significant scene in which priests are turning a mill grinding out dogmatic doctrines; and at the bottom the Lord’s Supper in which the Apostles are shown in well-known Masonic attitudes. In the Cathedral of Brandenburg a fox in priestly robes is preaching to a flock of geese; and in the Minster at Berne the Pope is placed among those who are lost in perdition. These were bold strokes which even heretics hardly dared to indulge in.

100:1 History of Masonry, by Steinbrenner, chap. iv. There were, Indeed, many secret societies in the Middle Ages, such as the Catharists, Albigenses, Waldenses, and others, whose initiates and adherents traveled through all Europe, forming new communities and making proselytes not only among the masses, but also among nobles, and even among the monks, abbots, and bishops. Occultists, Alchemists, Kabbalists, all wrought in secrecy, keeping their flame aglow under the crust of conformity.

101:1 Realities of Masonry, by Blake (chap. ii). While the theory of the descent of Masonry from the Order of the Temple is untenable, a connection between the two societies, in the sense in which p. 102 an artist may be said to be connected with his employer, is more than probable; and a similarity may be traced between the ritual of reception in the Order of the Temple and that used by Masons, but that of the Temple was probably derived from, or suggested by, that of the Masons; or both may have come from an original source further back. That the Order of the Temple, as such, did not actually coalesce with the Masons seems clear, but many of its members sought refuge under the Masonic apron (History of Free-masonry and Concordant Orders, by Hughan and Stillson).

103:1 Every elaborate History of Masonry—as, for example, that of Gould—reproduces these old documents in full or in digest, with exhaustive analyses of and commentaries upon them. Such a task obviously does not come within the scope of the present study. One of the best brief comparative studies of the Old Charges is an essay by W. H. Upton, “The True Text of the Book of Constitutions,” in that it applies approved methods of historical criticism to all of them (A. Q. C., vii, 119). See also Masonic Sketches and Reprints, by Hughan. No doubt these Old Charges are familiar, or should be familiar, to every intelligent member of the order, as a man knows the deeds of his estate.

104:1 The Hole Craft and Fellowship of Masonry, by Conder. Also exhaustive essays by Conder and Speth, A. Q. C., ix, 29; x, 10. Too much, it seems to me, has been made of both the name and the date, since the fact was older than either. Findel finds the name Free-mason as early as 1212, and Leader Scott goes still further back; but the fact may be traced back to the Roman Collegia.

107:1 He refers to Herodotus as the Master of History; quotes from the Polychronicon, written by a Benedictine monk who died in 1360; from De Imagine Mundi, Isodorus, and frequently from the Bible. Of more than ordinary learning for his day and station, he did not escape a certain air of pedantry in his use of authorities.

108:1 These invocations vary in their phraseology, some bearing more visibly than others the mark of the Church. Toulmin Smith, in his English Guilds, notes the fact that the form of the invocations of the Masons “differs strikingly from that of most other Guilds. In almost every other case, God the Father Almighty would seem to have been forgotten.” But Masons never forgot the corner-stone upon which their order and its teachings rest; not for a day.

109:1 Such names as Aynone, Aymon, Ajuon, Dynon, Amon, Anon, Annon, and Benaim are used, deliberately, it would seem, and of p. 110 set design. The Inigo Jones MS uses the Bible name, but, though dated 1607, it has been shown to be apocryphal. See Gould’s History, appendix. Also Bulletin of Supreme Council S. J., U. S. (vii, 200), that the Strassburg builders pictured the legend in stone.

111:1 The Cathedral Builders, bk. i, chap. i.

114:1 See the account of “The Origin of Saxon Architecture,” in the Cathedral Builders (bk. ii, chap. iii), written by Dr. W. M. Barnes in England independently of the author who was living in Italy; and it is significant that the facts led both of them to the same conclusions. They show quite unmistakably that the Comacine builders were in England as early as 600 A. D., both by documents and by a comparative study of styles of architecture.

115:1 Maestri Comacini, vol. i, chap. ii.

115:2 Story of Architecture, chap. xxii.

116:1 Gould, in his History of Masonry (i, 31, 65), rejects the legend as having not the least foundation in fact, as indeed, he rejects almost everything that cannot prove itself in a court of law. For the other side see a “Critical Examination of the Alban and Athelstan Legends,” by C. C. Howard (A. Q. C., vii, 73). Meanwhile, Upton p. 117 points out that St. Alban was the name of a town, not of a man, and shows how the error may have crept into the record (A. Q. C., vii, 119-131). The nature of the tradition, its details, its motive, and the absence of any reason for fiction, should deter us from rejecting it. See two able articles, pro and con, by Begemann and Speth, entitled “The Assembly” (A. Q. C., vii). Older Masonic writers, like Oliver and Mackey, accepted the York assembly as a fact established (American Quarterly Review of Freemasonry, vol. i, 546; ii, 245).

118:1 History of the English Constitution. Of course the Guild was indigenous to almost every age and land, from China to ancient Rome (The Guilds of China, by H. B. Morse), and they survive in the trade and labor unions of our day. The story of English Guilds has been told by Toulmin Smith, and in the histories of particular companies by Herbert and Hazlitt, leaving little for any one to add. No doubt the Guilds were influenced by the Free-masons in respect of officers and emblems, and we know that some of them, like the German Steinmetzen, attached moral meanings to their working tools, and that others, like the French Companionage, even held the legend of Hiram; but these did not make them Free-masons. English writers like Speth go too far when they deny to p. 119 the Steinmetzen any esoteric lore, and German scholars like Krause and Findel are equally at fault in insisting that they were Free-masons. (See essay by Speth, A. Q. C., i, 17, and History of Masonry, by Steinbrenner, chap. iv.)

120:1 Notes on the Superintendents of English Buildings in the Middle Ages, by Wyatt Papworth. Cementarius is also mentioned in connection with the Salisbury Cathedral, again in his capacity as a Master Mason.

123:1 Hearing that the Masons had certain secrets that could not be revealed to her (for that she could not be Grand Master) Queen Elizabeth sent an armed force to break up their annual Grand Lodge at York, on St. John’s Day, December 27, 1561. But Sir Thomas Sackville took care to see that some of the men sent were Free-masons, who, joining in the communication, made “a very honorable report to the Queen, who never more attempted to dislodge or disturb them; but esteemed them a peculiar sort of men, that cultivated peace and friendship, arts and sciences, without meddling in the affairs of Church or State” (Book of Constitutions, by Anderson).


Article by: Joseph Fort Newton


Rev. Newton (1880–1950) , was an American Baptist minister,  authored a number of masonic books, including his best-known works, The Builders, published in 1914, and The Men’s House, published in 1923.

He received the third degree of Freemasonry on May 28, 1902 in Friendship Lodge No. 7, Dixon, Illinois, later affiliating with Mt. Hermon Lodge No. 263, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

He also served as Grand Chaplain of the Grand Lodge of Iowa from 1911 to 1913 and Grand Prelate of the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar.

The Builders has been called "an outstanding classic in Masonic literature offering the early history of Freemasonry."

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