Sacred Texts  Gnosticism  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

The Gnostics and Their Remains, by Charles William King, [1887], at

No Relation of Modern Masons to Mediæval Guilds

An interesting feature in the treatise is the fact of its ascribing these same "Constitutions" to King Athelstan. There is very good reason for accepting this statement as founded upon trustworthy tradition. The Saxon Prince was the first British sovereign who possessed either wealth or inclination for decorative architecture or building of any sort. His father, Edward the Elder, and his aunt Ethelfleda "the Lady of Mercia," are recorded as the first of the Saxon line who built fortifications of stone about their chief cities. Before this the Saxons, like all other Teutons, had no other idea of building than of constructions in wood, all stone-masons had to be brought over from France when wanted (as numerous references, unnecessary here to quote, conclusively evince), in which country architecture had kept up a feeble existence after the fall of the Empire, its preservation being due to the patronage of the Church, which kept growing in wealth and

p. 384

power in proportion as the Roman authority died away. The simplicity of the Constitutions in prescribing the convening of mere craftsmen under the presidency of the sheriff and mayor, betokens a truly Saxon state of society, and moreover a time when these masons were actually working-men. Under the Normans, regular architects (in one sense) first appear as the "Masters," who were almost invariably churchmen. Furthermore, the prohibition against taking a "bondman" for prentice unmistakably betokens the same early period, when domestic slavery, not mere villanage, was recognised by law: the Norman legislation makes no such distinction of bond and free.

Aubrey indeed quotes the authority of Dugdale that "the Fraternity of Adopted Masons," having signs and passwords for the purpose of mutual recognition, owed its origin to a company of Italian masons, who in Henry III.’s time obtained a patent from the Pope to go about Europe, building churches. But the absurdity of this statement is manifested by a single fact: when the Italians of that period wished to erect any important edifice, so far from being competent to do so for other nations, they were forced to call in architects from Germany and France. To give a few decisive examples, as regards the wealthiest and most polished states of that country:--Pisa employed Guglielmo il Tedesco to plan her celebrated Campanile; Florence, Lapo, alias Jacopo il Tedesco, father of Arnolfo (who had already gained high reputation by the triple church he had built at Assisi for the Franciscans), to construct their bridge "Alla Carraia," the Bargello or Townhall, several churches, and to drain the Piazza Grande. Even a century later the Visconti were obliged to employ German architects to design the Duomo at Milan. It is true Henry III. had in his pay one Peter "civis Romanus," but only in the capacity of a decorative artist, for the mosaic work at the Westminster Shrine. But in truth, during the entire Gothic period, architecture, as a national art, may be said to have been extinct in Italy, the grand centre of the art then being established in the very middle of France.

All this evidence goes to show that our Freemasons have no

p. 385

relationship, either actual or traditional, with the mediæval guilds bearing the same appellation, a pretence they so zealously maintain. The latter were corporations of real workmen, in which each person, after serving a regular apprenticeship, and, according to the custom still kept up in some counties, producing a trial-piece to prove his competency, was admitted "free" of the Guild, and "accepted" amongst the members of the same. The compotations accompanying the ceremony are in truth the sole point of resemblance between the ancient and the modern Freemasons.

The 'Bulletin Monumental' for 1884, p. 34, contains a memoir, "Les signes de Tacherons sur les remparts d’Avignon," which gives the fullest collection (six pages) of these marks that has ever been published. They can be here traced from Roman times where they appear as single letters or as Trionian shorthand, down to the actual Masons’ Marks of mediæval and modern times. Many clearly represent the tools used in building. Some of these marks, and more of those from Avignon, are to be recognised upon Lichfield's "Baphometic Tablet;" which may, after all, be no modern forgery, but a genuine register of such segli of the seventeenth century. *

The mediæval guild of Masons, as we have seen, was no more a secret society than were the guilds of Carpenters, Cordwainers or Tailors. Every man indeed belonging to the first-named (and this is the only thing belonging to the Craft, that really carries with it an air of mysterious antiquity) had, upon admission, a mark (or cypher) assigned him, which he was bound to put upon every stone he dressed (a rule still observed) in order to distinguish his work from that of his fellows, against the time when the materials should be examined by the master-mason, who paid him for those approved, but stopped his wages for those spoiled through his fault. Similarly every "Merchant of the Staple" joined with his initials upon his seal, or trade mark, the mark of the staple-town to which he belonged. This latter, though

p. 386

much alike in outline, was variously modified so as to indicate each of the fifteen towns in England, Ireland, and Wales, appointed by Edward III. In all mediæval documents relating to building, the name "Freemason" signifies merely the worker in hewn stone, the inferior workman who ran up the body of the wall in rubble or ragstone being called the "Rough-waller." Lastly, a very puzzling question presents itself--if our Freemasons be the legitimate successors in an unbroken line of the ancient lodges and guilds, how came it that all the principles of Gothic architecture were utterly lost within less than a century?


385:* Most interesting of all, on account of their early date, are the Masons’ Marks at Westminster Hall, lately published by Dr. Freshfield, in the Archæologia, Vol. 50, Part I.

Next: Masons’ Marks