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What is a Lewis?

What part does it play in Masonry?

What is a Lewis?

It is an instrument in Operative Masonry. It is an Iron Cramp, which is inserted into a cavity prepared for that purpose so that large stones may be raised to any height, by rope and pulley. The stone is then placed in it's proper position. This implement was known to the Romans and several were taken from old ruins and are now in the Vatican. In the ruins of Whitby Abbey in England which was founded by "Oswy" King of Northumberland in 658, large stones were discovered with the necessary excavation for the insertion of a Lewis.

Where did the word come from?

Probably from the old French word "L…WIS" meaning "any contrivance for lifting". In the English system of Masonry, the "LEWIS" is found on the Tracing-board of the Entered Apprentice, where it is used as a symbol of "STRENGTH", (English Constitution) because by it's assistance the heaviest of stones can be lifted with comparatively little exertion. The son of a Mason in England is called a "Lewis", because it is his duty to support the sinking power and aid the failing strength of his father.

Or as Dr. Oliver has put it "To bare the burden in the heat of the day that his Parents may rest in their old age, thus rendering the evening of their lives peaceful and happy."

In Browns "Master Key" which is supposed to represent the Prestonian Lecture we find the following:

Question What do we call the son of a Freemason ?

Answer A Lewis

Question What does that denote?

Answer Strength

Question How is a Lewis depicted in a Masonic Lodge?

Answer As a cramp of metal, by which, when fixed into a stone, great and ponderous weights are raised to a certain height, fixed on their proper bases, without which Operative Masons could not so conveniently do.

Question What is the duty of a Lewis to his aged parents?

Answer To be made a Mason before any other person, however dignified by birth, rank or riches, unless he by complaisance waives this privilege.

The term occurs in this sense in the constitutions of 1735 at the end of the Deputy Grand Masters song, in allusion to the expected birth of George III son of Frederick Prince of Wales.

"May a Lewis be born whom the whole may admire;
Serene as his mother, august of his sire.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014