The Cathedral Builders . . . by the Lighthouse Beam

By Brad Fickling, from Hiram’s Lighthouse, 1 Nov 2015 “providing masonic light from Toronto East district since 2003” as appearing in the Small Town Texas Mason of June 2016, Editor Bro Corky Daut

Tonight we look at the Cathedral Builders, those men who not only laid the foundations of the most magnificent buildings of the world, but built the foundations for modern Freemasons.

What the earliest Freemasons did was truly mystical. They went into rock quarries and carved huge stones. They transported gigantic blocks weighing thousands of pounds and raised them high in the air to construct soaring cathedral walls that defied gravity. They could peer at a small drawing on a tracing board and through the mysterious art of geometry, build monuments to God that have stood for nearly a thousand years.

Freemasons jealously guarded their trade secrets - secrets not even divulge to the bishops, priests or kings who employed the masons. The oldest surviving document recording the rules for the Freemasons is the Regius Manuscript dates 1390 and is now found in the British Museum in London England. It describes the standards of morality and conduct that Masons were expected to abide by. It covers the workmanship, a moral code, rules for membership, and an especially strong desire for friendship among the members.

Although the rules have changed just a bit through the centuries, the essential structure of government of our own modern lodges can be found in this document.

Guilds were developed to train men in the skills needed to construct these magnificent buildings, to enforce a standard of workmanship, and to hold their members to these high standards - as well as to protect their valuable trade secrets.

Master Masons were in possession of the Master’s word and grip, the secret method they used to recognize each other. It was a simple way to quickly identify themselves as a trained member of the guild. Apprentices began as young as twelve, and were indentured to a Master mason for seven years and going through an ignition ceremony after three years. They too were given signs of recognition to identify themselves as a Mason’s apprentice and were granted permission to have their own mark or symbol to be carved into stone that was their own. After the seven years training, they became a Fellow of the Craft and in time an experienced Master Mason.

Freemasons today use the term operative and speculative to describe the difference between the two types of Freemasonry. Operative masonry refers to the time before 1700 and describes the period when Freemasons were really working with stones, chisels and hammers. After the operative masons began to be replaced by “admitted” or “gentleman” masons, the order changed into a philosophical, fraternal, and charitable organization, and became known as Speculative Freemasonry. As an identifying symbol, speculative Masons adopted the working tools of the operative Masons: the compass and the square.

The architect of a medieval cathedral project was a true intellectual. He possessed specialized knowledge that few others had. He had to know about mathematics, geometry, physics, art and even literature. He had to communicate well, because he verbally passed along plans to his workmen, who could not read anyway. He had to be well versed in the Bible, because much of the decoration that was carved in the stone and designed in the stain-glass windows of these cathedrals was meant to tell biblical stories without words. The architects and cathedral builders of the Middle Ages really were liberal arts and science majors.

All Masons believe in a Supreme Being - the Great Architect of the Universe. It is not surprising that metaphors drawn from architecture feature prominently in our Masonic symbolism. Such metaphors serve to teach basic moral rules. A Perfect Ashlar, for instance, is a stone that has been hewn, smoothed and polished so as to be fit for use in building. In Masonic ritual, it is a symbol of the state of perfection that can be attained by means of education. In contrast, a Rough Ashlar, an unworked stone, is a symbol of man’s natural state of ignorance.

In conclusion, for masons, architecture means to construct according to design and purpose and to organize in proportion and symmetry. It continues to be architecture, regardless of whether it is a building that is being constructed, as in Operative Masonry, or a human life that is being planned, as in speculative Masonry. According to our Masonic beliefs, the science of how an actual building is constructed provides wisdom as to how to build a spiritual temple within one’s own soul and collectively for the whole of mankind.