“In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth. The Earth was without form, and void. And darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved across the waters, and God said: ‘Let There Be Light’, and there was Light”. This quote from Genesis 1: 1-3 is powerful, and it is also ironic that it is also read, to every Masonic candidate, during the very first Masonic Degree. It is suiting to a Fraternity, like Freemasonry, to have the new member start his path of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth, with the word of God.
The exact beginning of the society of Freemasons is not known, but many historians, Masonic and Non-Masonic, have many theories. Some place the origins to the days of Noah’s Ark, others may believe it began with the building of King Soloman’s Temple, while some feel it originated with the building of the Great Pyramids in Egypt, and others trace it to King Athelston, of England in 930 ad.
These are highly unlikely, but I will admit, they do make for a very colorful history. However, the most widely supported, and accepted, theory places the origin of the Fraternity to the building trade guilds of the Middle Ages.
The possibility for this theory is because these skilled craftsmen were allowed to travel from city to city, to build the huge Cathedrals and beautiful Castles, which now dot the European landscape. Because of their incredible skills, these workmen; painters, carpenters, stonemasons, etc., were given the freedom to travel from job site to job site, they were not owned like the serfs and other residents of the kingdoms. It is believed this is where the term free-mason comes from.
The humble stone mason, with his common tools: the chisel, the hammer, the square, the plumb-line, and the compasses, were all he needed to create and build the magnificent edifices which have stood for centuries, and are admired by people to this day.
The place where these operative craftsmen ate, slept and drew up the plans for their construction projects, was called a “lodge”. And, each town, or village, that had construction crews, had these lodges of masons, carpenters, painters, etc. This term has stayed in our vocabulary to this day, what was once called a lodge of Free-Masons, is now called a Masonic Lodge.
The friendship and brotherly love these men, and their families developed was an incredibly strong bond. One which was evident by the support of their fellow masons in distress, their widows and orphans. But, as the saying goes… all good things must come to an end, and there began an eventual “phasing out” of these massive construction projects. As this downsizing progressed, all the labor guilds began to lose members, and eventually discontinue all operations. However, these lodges of free masons, which had insisted on the high moral and ethical standards of its members, continued to survive.
The most accepted theory, for the continuation of these groups of “Operative” Masons and their Lodges is that they started to admit new members, men who were not operative stone masons. Doctors, Farmers, Sailors, Merchants and other men, from all walks of life were allowed to join. These men, who did not really work with stones and bricks, were called “Speculative” Masons. When these Speculative members joined the Masonic Lodges, Freemasonry became more of a club or Fraternity, than a labor guild. These new members, the Speculative Masons, became accepted as equals with the Operative
Masons, in a spirit of Fraternal Brotherhood, hence the “Accepted” in Free and Accepted Masons. Although, this colorful beginning of Freemasonry in not necessarily factual, nor is it provable, it only serves to lend an “air” of antiquity to the origins of this Fraternity, as there were several hundred years between the operative and speculative lodges. For instance, there are no records of operative Masonic lodges in England, after 1560, nor are there any records of operative lodges in Scotland, after 1580. So for any person to say there is an actual documented connecting lineage between the two has yet to be proven to any History Scholar, Masonic or Non- Masonic.
While this is the most “popular” theory, there is also some profound research which would trace the origins of Freemasonry to the original Knights Templar, who were founded in 1117. The original name of what we know as the Knights Templar was “The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem”. This is obviously a long name to be called when people are referring to this group, over time the name was modified to “The Knights of the Temple”, later it was modified even more, to the “Knights Templar”. The name with which we are so familiar with today.
The Knights Templar, like the Freemasons, also had three “classes” of membership in its structure. The lowest being that of Sergeant-Foot Soldier, then the highest was that of a full Brother-Knight, the third classification was that of a Cleric- Chaplain-Secretary. The job assigned to each on was well known, and the orders were given by one Grand Master of the Knights Templar who answered directly to the Pope.
According to this theory, Pope Clement V, supported by Philip IV, King of France, issued an order to arrest and execute all of these Knights Templar. The date of this order is possibly significant in more than one way. Friday October 13th, 1307, was the date the Pope chose to start the systematic arrest and execution of these Christian Knights. This action by the Pope caused the Knights themselves to go “underground”. These Knights were suddenly despised by the very people who had instituted their foundation. Which was a very confusing situation for these men to be in, the painful question of “WHY” would be one which became all too clear as time went on. All the wealth that the Knights accumulated became the object of desire in the eyes of the King. France was financially strapped, and the only way King Philip IV apparently felt he could continue the war against England was to convince the Pope to turn over much of the accumulated wealth these Knights possessed.
Where could these Knights flee to that would give them safe harbor ? The most reliable sources trace the travels of these Knights Templar to Scotland. Apparently Robert Bruce, the King of Scotland, in his desire to keep his country free from outside rule, decided he did not need to read the Papal Bull ordering the arrest and execution of the Knights. Besides, if the Knights Templar wished to relocate to Scotland, they might prove useful in the battles with England, either way both groups win. The Knights Templar find safe refuge and the Scots gained a new ally.