« AnteriorContinua »
.. Of the Origin and History of Free-Masonry.
THE origin of this fraternity is very ancient ; but we have no authentic account of the time when it was first instituted, or even of the reason of such an association under the title of masons, more than that of any other mechanical profession. In a work entitled “ Illustrations of Masonry," published in the year 1792, by William Preston, Esq. master of the Lodge of Antiquity, in London, the origin of masonry is traced from the creation. « Ever," says he, “ since symmetry began, and harmony displayed her charms, our order has had a being.” By other accounts, the antiquity of masonry is carried up no farther than the building of Solomon's temple. ln Dr. Henry's History of Great Britain, we find the origin of the Free-Mason's society attributed to the difficulty, found in former times, of procuring workmen to build the vast number of churches, monasteries, and other edifices, which the religious opinions entertained in those ages, prompted the people to raise.
Hence the masons were greatly favoured by the popes, who granted them many indulgences, with a view to aug. ment their numbers. In those times, it may be well supposed, that such encouragement from the supreme pastors of the church must have been productive of the
most beneficial effects to the fraternity, and in consequence of such patronage, the society rapidly increased.
An ancient author, who was well acquainted with their history and constitution says, that “ the Italians, with some Greeks, and with them French, Germans, and Flemings, joined into a fraternity of architects, procuring papal bulls for their encouragement. They styled themselves Free-Masons, and travelled from one country to another, wherever they found it was wanted that churches should be built. Their government was regu. lar, and they fixed themselves near the edifice on which they were employed, in a camp of buts. A surveyor governed in chief, and every tenth man was called a warden, and superintended the other nine."
Preston supposes, that the introduction of masonry into England was prior to the Roman invasion, and says, that there are remains yet existing of some stupendous works executed by the Britons, at a much earlier period than the time of the Romans, and that even these display no small share of ingenuity and invention ; so that we can have no doubt of the existence of masonry in Britain, even in those early periods. The Druids are likewise said to have had many ceremonies amongst themselves, similar to those of the masons, which they most probably received from Pythagoras or his disciples.* :
Masonry is said to have been encouraged by Cæsar the Roman emperor, and by many of his generals, who were appointed governors of Britain ; but whaterer may have been recorded concerning their lodges and conventions is now lost. The civil wars which, for a long time prevailed in that country, greatly obstructed the progress of
* Pythagoras died in the year 497, before Christ. He obtained his knowledge of masonry by travelling into Egypt, and other countries, where the art had been known tong before his time. See ANTIQUI.
masonry, and it did not revive till the time of Carausius. This general collected the best artificers he could bring over from different countries, particularly masons, whom he held in veneration, and appointed St. Alban, his steward, as superintendent of their assemblies. Lodges were now regularly held, and the masons obtained a charter from Carausius to hold a general council, at which Alba nus himself presided. This Albanus was the celebrated. St. Alban, who suffered martyrdom for the Christian faith, A. D. 303.
The progress of masonry was greatly impeded by the departure of the Romans from Britain, and soon fell into neglect. This was occasioned first by the furious irruptions of the Picts, and afterwards by the ignorance of the Saxons, whom the Britons called in as allies, but who soon became their masters.
The art continued in this situation till the year A. D. 557, when St. Austin with 40 monks, among whom the sciences had still been preserved, came to England. By them, christianity was propagated, masonry patronised, and the gothic style of building introduced.
St. Austin appeared at the head of the fraternity in founding the old cathedral of Canterbury, A. D. 600 ; that of St. Paul in London 604, and of many others, by which the number of masons was greatly increased.
During the heptarchy, however, or that period when England was divided into seven kingdoms, masopry was in a low state ; but it acquired great splendour in the year 872, when it found a zealous protector in Alfred the Great, who was the liberal patron of all arts, sciences, and manufactures. He appropriated a seventh part of his revenue to the maintenance of a number of masons, whom he employed in rebuilding the cities, castles, &c. ruined by the Danes. The complete re-establishment of masonry in England, however, is dated from the reign
of King Athelstane, wbo in 926 granted a charter to the grand lodge of York, of which prince Edwin, the king's brother, was the first grand master. By virtue of this charter, all the masons in the kingdom were convened at a general assembly in that city, where they established their constitution. Hence the appellation of Ancient York Masons, an expression well kuown in every part of the British dominions, as well as in the United States of America, and in most parts of the civilized world.
During the reign of Henry II, the lodges were superintended by the grand master of the Knights Templars, who employed them in building their Temple, in 1155. Masonry continued under this order till the year 1199, when Peter de Colechurch was appointed grand master. On the accession of Edward I. in 1272, the superintendence of the masons was entrusted to Walter Gifford, archbishop of York. They afterwards wrought under the bishop of Exeter, who had been elected grand master in 1307. Edward III, who began his reign in 1327, and died in 1377 not only patronised masons, but studied the constitution of the order, revised the different charges, and added several useful regulations to the ancient code. He appointed five deputies to inspect the proceedings of the lodges, which, as appears from old records, were at that time, very numerous. On the accession of Henry V. to the throne, the fraternity were governed by Henry Chichely, archbishop of Canterbury, under whom the meetings were frequent.
In the year 1425, however, during the minority of Henry VI, an act was passed for suppressing the weetings of masons, because it was alledged, that by such meetings « the good course and effect of the statute of labourers, were openly violated and broken, in subversion of the law, to the great damage of all the commons." But the act was not enforced, and the fraternity continued to
meet as usual, under archbisbop Chichely, their grand master. · This extraordinary act had originated chiefly from the jealousy and ambition of Beaufort, bishop of Winchester, uncle to the duke of Bedford, who was then prince regert, and who wished to abolish the meetings of the fra. ternity, on account of the secrecy, which was therein observed. Dr. Anderson, in his book of constitutions, says, that “ this act was made in ignorant times, when true learning was a crime, and geometry condemned for conjuration." He adds“ that the parliament were influenced by the illiterate clergy, who were not accepted masons, nor understood architecture (as the clergy of former ages), and were generally thought unworthy of this brotherhood. Thinking they had an indefeasible right to know all secrets, by virtue of auricular confession, and the masons never confessing any thing on the subject, they were bigbly offended, and represented them as dangerous to the state. But Humphreys.. duke of Gloucester, brother to the regent, and guardian. of the kingdom, to his absence, knowing the innocence of the party accused, took the masons under his direction, and transferred the charge of sedition from them to the bishop and his followers. The death of the prelate how. ever, having happened in two months thereafter, put a stop to all those proceedings. wbich bad been intended against him : and the masons not only continued to meet in safety, but were joined by the king himself, who in the year 1442, was initiated into the order, and from that time, spared no paios to become master of the art. He perused the ancient charges, revised the constitutions, and honoured them with his sanction. The royal example was followed by many of the mobility, who assiduously studied the art.