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St Edmund’s Church was commissioned by Albert Hudson Royds, a industrialist, banker and Freemason who belonged to Rochdale’s prominent Royds family of wool merchants, financiers of the Rochdale Canal.Royds acquired a crossroads at the highest point of Rochdale and commissioned the Manchester-based practice of James Medland and Henry Taylor to design and construct a new church building “at a time when Freemasonry in Rochdale was a strong force and its members were stalwarts of the local community”. The building was constructed between 1870-1873 at a cost between £22,000 (£1.45 million as of 2013), and £28,000 (£1.84 million as of 2013), at a time when a suitable parish church could have been built for £4,000 (£260 thousand as of 2013).
References to the traditions of Masonry are everywhere at St Edmund’s, in the weathervane and lectern in particular. The interior of the church is designed around the geometric form of a cube. A hammerbeam roof springs from the walls and is decorated with the Masonic symbols of pomegranates, lilies and water lilies. The church has an “elaborate set” of stained glass windows with the Masonic theme on the south side of the building dedicated to building and Freemasonry. The Masonic theme climaxes in Royds Chapel, where the window depicts Nehemiah, Ezra and the Tyler, the guard of a Masonic Lodge, wielding the Tyler’s sword. Solomon’s Temple is shown with a likeness of Albert Hudson Royds as one of the master masons. In the main body of the church, the lectern features three brass columns all with the symbolic tools of masoncraft engraved on the base.
The original Great Seal of the Freemasons was based on the seal of the operative guild Masons working in London and Westminster. It differs slightly from that of the London Masons Company, but the differences are noteworthy. In this short post I will give a brief explanation of the seal so that modern Freemasons will have a better understanding of it.
The seal is comprised of two beavers on either side of a shield. Atop the shield sits a knights’ helmet with the visor down. Perched on top of the helmet is a Lapwing. The coat of arms consists of three silver towers on a sable field divided by a white chevron in which is laid a golden compasses.
In the version pictured to the left is inscribed “Relief and Truth,” but in other versions it reads “Follow Reason.”
The silver towers on the sable field indicate that a valuable treasure is hidden here. That there are three of them indicates the measure of value. The knights’ helmet with the closed visor symbolizes secrecy. The two beavers represent industry, and are nature’s architects.
The two columns of Freemasonry are well known to both the public and Freemasons. They normally sit in the western part of the lodge and are commonly referred to as J and B. At the top of each is a globe. One is the earth, while the other is the celestial sphere, or in older versions the zodiacal wheel. There are many illustrations of these famous columns in Masonic artworks and tracing boards. These artworks and other innovations have led to tremendous confusion regarding the famous columns of the Craft.
In the photo to the left you see two large columns sitting in a lodge room. These are commonly thought to be the two great columns, or pillars, or Freemasonry. They are actually props, or symbols of the symbols they represent. Being a symbol of another symbol is the source of the confusion. This problem came about as a result of the creation of permanent lodge rooms. In the beginning lodges met in the upper rooms of taverns, thus requiring the tools and symbols to be portable and easily stored. Large columns, such as those pictured, would not have been functional or practical.
Another innovation came into being when lodges began to have permanent meeting places. The positions of the officers in the lodge became fixed. In the original rituals the positions of the Wardens changed depending upon the degree. In the first two degrees they were situated in the northwest and southwest corners of the lodge. In the third degree the Senior Warden moved to the west, opposite of the Master, and the Junior Warden to the south. When these stations became permanently fixed to better suit the needs of modern Masonic temples, not only was a significant part of their symbolism lost, but so was the meaning of the two columns.
The master wears an amulet with a blue eye in the center. Before him, a candidate kneels in the candlelit room, surrounded by microscopes and surgical implements. The year is roughly 1746. The initiation has begun.
The master places a piece of paper in front of the candidate and orders him to put on a pair of eyeglasses. “Read,” the master commands. The candidate squints, but it’s an impossible task. The page is blank.
The candidate is told not to panic; there is hope for his vision to improve. The master wipes the candidate’s eyes with a cloth and orders preparation for the surgery to commence. He selects a pair of tweezers from the table. The other members in attendance raise their candles.
If you have been reading my series of posts Building the New Jerusalem then you will be aware of the jewel given to King James VI of Scotland (1566-1625) by his grandmother, Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox (1515-1578). The official Oxford history of Freemasonry claims that the fraternity began in 1598 when William Schaw issued the first of two statutes organizing the Masons of Scotland under James VI. That history is based on the work of Professor David Stevenson of the University of St. Andrews, and is presented in his book The Origins of Freemasonry: Scotland’s Century. Up until now it was the best evidence historians had for putting a date on the formation of Freemasonry.
Stevenson dismisses the Knights Templar origin theory of Freemasonry as a myth, and Rosslyn Chapel (1456) remains a Masonic mystery. I believe it is now possible to add even more supporting evidence to Stevenson’s argument against the Knights Templar theory, but as I am about to show, Freemasonry did not begin in 1589. It is much older than previously imagined.
Freemasonry claims to make good men better, but is that the real purpose of the Craft? I have to wonder if the marketing slogan “we make good men better” hasn’t done more damage than good to the Craft. While it’s true that Freemasonry aims to improve the individual, the reason for this has apparently been forgotten. Freemasonry is not just a society dedicated to self-improvement. It’s purpose is to bring about an enlightenment within each individual that helps them to realize the beauty of a brotherhood of all mankind.
Each lodge is a microcosm of what the world could be like, if all men were enlightened to the principles of Freemasonry. It’s a proof of concept that men from all walks of life, religions, and philosophies can meet together in peace and harmony -that the commonalities between all people far outweigh the differences.
Many writers and scholars have tried to prove that the origins of Freemasonry are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Zoroastrian, and Pagan. The plethora of Masonic symbols seem to point in all these directions! It can be justifiably claimed that the origins of Freemasonry lie with the pagan Pythagoras, or in the principles of Christianity, or virtually any ancient religion or philosophy. The reason for this is because the founders of the Craft took symbols and concepts from all these traditions in order to make a point. All moral religions share the common belief that we are all brothers bound together by our humanity. We all have the same basic needs, and all our suffering arises out of the same common causes.
There are few things upon which all men can agree, but the core principles of Freemasonry are so universally accepted among all people that it can act as a point of union -a place in time and space where all men can meet and agree that they share a common vested interest in peace and harmony.
This basic Masonic concept is more important than all the others. It is the reason for, and purpose of, Freemasonry.
As a historian I’m appalled by continuing loss of our American Masonic heritage as more old temples are destroyed, and their contents lost forever. It’s not becoming a crisis, it’s IS a crisis! Many of these buildings could be saved if they were properly managed. The West Side Masonic Temple in Cleveland, OH is a perfect exampled of what can be done when Masons get organized, and are determined to do something.
In this post I want to share with you some items that have preserved by Masons who care about our American Masonic Heritage.
In The Ages of Freemasonry I discussed that we are now in a period of Masonic history which I refer to as the Age of Reflection. This will be a tumultuous period, but it won’t last forever. There are already signs that things are changing. These are the seeds of the next era in the evolution of the Craft. They are the product of a deep reflection into, and a more profound understanding of, the true purpose of Freemasonry.
The Age of Reflection is one of internal struggles, and a quest for both meaning and purpose. Masons are dusting off the old books and once again searching for truth, but this time it’s different. In the past it was done for enlightenment alone. This time it will be pursued out of the will to survive. The next age will come rather quickly and unexpectedly because of the powerful psychological forces that will be released as the old gives way to the new.
Towards the end of the Age of Reflection there will be a time of internal healing, where conflicts will be resolved, and commonality of purpose recognized. Bitterness and hostility between brothers will not be tolerated. Good will overcome evil.
The next era will be significantly different from the present in many ways. It will combine the spiritual, esoteric and fraternal elements of the Craft into a powerful rite of passage that reinvigorates the ideals of heroism and manliness. This will be felt throughout society, and men will once again seek out the lodges of their fathers and grandfathers. The Festive Board will rise from the ashes of obscurity to become a central part of each lodge. Men will once again take great pride in being Freemasons.
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