Help Me Maintain OUR Website!!!!!!
STONE-MASONS OF THE MIDDLE AGES.
The history of the origin and progress of the Brotherhood of Stone Masons in Europe, during the Middle Ages, is of great importance, as a study, to the Masonic scholar, because of the intimate connection that existed between that brotherhood and the Fraternity of freemasons. Indeed, the history of the one is but the introduction to the history of the other. In an historical excursus, we are compelled to take up the speculative science where we find it left by the operative art. Hence, whoever shall undertake to write a history of Freemasonry, must give, for the completion of his labors a very full consideration to the brotherhood of Stone-Masons.
In the year 1820, there issued from the press of Leipsic, in Germany, a work, by Doctor Christian Ludwig Steiglitz, under the title of Von Altdeutscher Baukunst that is, An Essay on the Old German Architeture, published in 1820. In this work the author traces, with great exactness, the rise and the progress of the fraternities of Stone-Masons from the earliest times, through the Middle Ages, until their final absorbtion into the associations of Freemasons. From the labors of Doctor Steiglitz, collated with some other authorities in respect to matters upon which is either silent or erroneous, Doctor Mackey compiled the following sketch:
It is universally admitted that, in the early ages of Christianity, the elergy were the most important patrons of the arts and sciences. This was because all learning was then almost exclusively confined to ecclesiastics. Very few of the laity could read or writes and even kings affixed the sign of the cross, in the place of their signatures, to the Charters and other documents which they issued, because, as they frankly confessed, of their inability to write their flames; and hence comes the modern expression of signing a paper, as equivalent so subscribing the name.
From the time of Charlemagne, in the eighth century, to the middle of the twelfth, all knowledge and practise of architecture, painting, and sculpture were exclusively confined to the monks; and bishops personally superintended the erection of the churches and cathedrals in their dioceses, because not only the principles, but the practice of the art of building were secrets scrupulously maintained within the walls of cloisters, and utterly unknown to laymen. brother Cawthorne dissents at this point and says this view was long held, but is by no means correct, for we now know that there were many scholarly architects during this period of supposed darkness.
Many of the founders of the Monastic Orders, continues Doctor Mackey, and especially among these Saint Benedict, made it a peculiar duty for the Brethren to devote themselves to architecture and church building. The English monk Winfrid, better known in ecclesiastical history as Saint Boniface, and who, for his labors in Christianizing that country, has been styled the Apostle of Germany, followed the example of his predecessors in the erection of German monasteries. In the eighth century he organized an especial class of monks for the practise of building, under the name of Operarii, or Craftsmen, and Magistri operum, or Masters of the Works.
The labors and duties of these monks were divided. Some of them designed the plan of the building; others were painters and sculptors; others were occupied in working in gold and silver and embroider; and others again, who were called Caementarii , or Stone-Masons, undertook the practical labors of construction. Sometimes, especially in extensive buildings, where many workmen were required, laymen were also employed, under the direction of the rnonks. So extensive did these labors become, that bishops and abbots often derived a large portion of their revenues from the earnings of the workmen in the monasteries.
Among the laymen who were employed in the monasteries as assistants and laborers, many were, of course, possessed of superior intelligence. The constant and intimate association of these with the monks in the prosecution of the same design led to this result, that in process of time, gradually and almost unconsciously, the monks imparted to them their art secrets and the esoteric principles of architecture. Then, by degrees, the knowledge of the arts and sciences went from these monkish builders out into the world, and the laymen architects, withdrawing from the ecclesiastical fraternities, organized brotherhoods of their own.
Such was the beginning of the Stone-Masons in Germany, and the same thing occurred in other countries. These Brotherhoods of Masons now began to be called upon, as the monks formerly had been, when an important building, and especially a church or a cathedral, was to be erected. Eventually they entirely superseded their rnonkish teachers in the prosecution of the art of building about the beginning of the twelfth century.
To their knowledge of architecture they added that of the other sciences, which they had learned from the monks. Like these, too, they devoted themselves to the higher principles of the art, and employed other laymen to assist their labors as stone-masons. And thus the union of these architects and stone-masons presented, in the midst of an uneducated people, a more elevated and intelligent class, engaged as an exclusive association in building important and especially religious edifices.
But now a new classification took place. As formerly, the monks, who wele the sole depositaries of the secrets of high art, separated themselves from the laymen, who were entrusted with only the manual labor of building; so now the more intelligent of the laymen, who had received these secrets from monks, were in turn distinguished as architects from the ordinary laborers, or common masons. The latter knew only the use of the trowel and mortar, while the former were occupied in devising plans for building and the construction of ornaments by sculpture and skilful stone-cutting.
|The Reviser of this work may perhaps to advantage inject a few lines here upon an assumption made by Doctor Makey and many other writers. This belief is well illustrated by the above paragraph. While the conclusion is a debatable one yet there are those who hesitate in crediting to the religion of the Middle Ages all that is valuable in medieval art. Beautiful penmanship is exhibited by manuscripts of that time written and illuminated by skilled monks. But that they " were the sole depositaries of the secrets of high art" is quite another and a large conviction questioned by some such critical scholars as Dr. G. G. Coulton in the Lowell Lectures at Boston, Massachusetts in the spring of 1923 (see Art and the Reformation, 1928, published by Basil Blackwell, Oxford, England).
Every student reads the preceding and the following paragraphs with the reservation in his mind that the laymen then were likely enough expert Craftsmen hired by the monks because they and not their religious superiors had the technical knowledge and the artistic wisdom to contrive and supervise as well as to do manual labor upon the finest of architectural structures. These laymen were themselves fully competent artists according to the latest records and any assertion suggesting the contrary conviction based upon any lingering and quite common conclusion that they lacked these artistic qualifications and that the monks exclusively possessed them, should be carefully checked with all the ascertained facts which to say the least do not conclusively establish claims of that sort.
Doctor Mackey alludes rightly to the superior intelligence of the laymen builders, but this complimentary reference can truthfully be much enlarged; they were the cathedral architects of their times. As Doctor Coulton said (page 69) of a great era of church-building, " Even at this time of exceptional fervor and prosperity, there is no real evidence that any but a very small minority of the monks worked themselves, either as designers or as Craftsmen."]
These brotherhoods of high artists soon won great esteem, and many privileges and franchises were conceded to them by the municipal authorities among whom they practised their profession. Their places of assembly wele called Hütten, Logen, or Lodges, and the members took the name of Steinmetzen. Their patron saint was Saint John the Baptist, who was honored by them as the mediator between the Old and the New Covenants, and the first martyr of the Christian religion. To what condition of art these Freemasons of the Middle Ages had attained, we may judge from what Henry Hallam says of the edifices they erected—that they "united sublimity in general composition with the beauties of variety and form, skilful or at least fortunate effects of shadow and light, and in some instances extraordinary mechanical science'" (Europe in the Middle Ages iv, page 280).
And he subsequently adds (page 284), as an involuntary confirmation of the truth of the sketch of their origin just given, that the mechanical execution of the buildings was "so far beyond the apparent intellectual powers of those times, that some have ascribed the principal ecclesiastical structures to the Fraternity of Freemasons, depositaries of a concealed and traditionary science. There is probably some ground for this opinion, and the earlier archives of that mysterious association, if they existed, might illustrate the progress of Gothic architecture, and perhaps reveal its origin." These archives do exist, or many of them; and although unknown to Hallam because they were out of the course of his usual reading, they have been thoroughly sifted by recent Masonic scholars, especially by our Gerrnan and English Brethren; and that which the historian of the Middle Ages had only assumed as a plausible conjecture has, by their researches, been proved to be a fact.
The prevalence of Gnostic symbols—such as lions, serpents, and the like—in the decorations of churches of the Middle Ages, have led some writers to conclude that the Knights Templar exercised an influence over the architects, and that by them the Gnostic and Ophite symbols were introduced into Europe. But Doctor Steiglitz denies the correctness of this conclusion. He ascribes the existence of Gnostic symbols in the church architecture to the fact that, at an early period in ecclesiastical history, many of the Gnostic dogmas passed over into Christendom with the Oriental and Platonic philosophy and he attributes their adoption in architecture to the natural compliance of the Architects or Masons with the predominant taste in the earlier periods of the Middle Ages for mysticism, and the favor given to grotesque decorations, which were admired without any knowledge of their actual import. Steiglitz also denies any deduction of the Builders' Fraternities, or Masonic Lodges, of the Middle Ages from the Mysteries of the old Indians, Egyptians, and Greeks; although he acknowledges that there is a resemblance between the organizations.
This, however, he attributes to the fact that the Indians and Egyptians preserved all the sciences, as well as the principles of architecture, among their secrets, and because, among the Greeks, the artists were initiated into their Mysteries, so that, in the old as well as in the new brotherhoods, there was a purer knowledge of religious truth, which elevated them as distinct associations above the people. In like manner, he denies the descent of the Masonic Fraternities from the sect of Pythagoreans, which they resembled only in this: that the Samian sage established schools which were secret, and were based upon the principles of geometry.
But Steiglitz thinks that those are not mistaken who trace the Associations of Masons of the Middle Ages to the Roman Colleges, the Collegia Caementariorum, because these colleges appear in every country that was conquered and established as a province or a colony by the Romans, where they erected temples and other public buildings, and promoted the civilization of the inhabitants. They continued until a late period. But when Rome began to be convulsed by the wars of its decline, and by the incursions of hordes of barbarians, they found a welcome reception at Byzantium, or Constantinople, whence they subsequently spread into the west of Europe, and were everywhere held in great estimation for their skill in the construction of buildings.
In Italy the Associations of Architects never entirely ceased, as we may conclude from the many buildings erected there during the domination of the Ostrogoths and the Longobards. Subsequently when civil order was restored, the Masons of Italy were encouraged and supported by popes, princes, and nobles. And Muratori tells us, in his Historia d'Italia, that under the Lombard Kings the inhabitants of Como were so superior as masons and bricklayers, that the appellation of Magistri Comacini, or Masters from Como, became generic to all those of the profession (see Comacine Masters).
In England, When the Romans took possession of it, the Corporations, or Colleges of Builders, also appeared who were subsequently continued in the Fraternity of Freemasons, probably established, as Steiglitz thinks, about the middle of the fifth century, after the Romans had left the island. The English Masons were Subjected to many adverse difficulties, from the repeated incursions of Scots, Picts, Danes, and Saxons, which impeded their active labors; yet mere they enabled to maintain their existence, until, in the year 926, they held that General Assembly at the City of York which framed the Constitutions that governed the English Craft for eight hundred years, and which is claimed to he the oldest Masonic record now extant. It is but fair to say that the recent researches of Brother Hughan and other English writers have thrown a doubt upon the authenticity of these Constitutions, and that the very existence of this work Assembly has been denied and practically disproved.
In France, as in Germany, the Fraternities of Architects originally sprang out of the connection of las builders with the monks in the era of Charlemagne. The French Masons continued their Fraternities throughout the Middle Ages, and erected many cathedrals and public buildings. We have now arrived at the middle of the eleventh century, tracing the progress of the Fraternities of Stone-Masons from the time of Charlemagne to that period. At that time all the architecture of Europe was in their hands. Under the distinctive name of traveling freemasons they passed from nation to nation, constructing churches and cathedrals wherever they were needed. Of their organization and customs, Sir Christopher Wren, in his Parentalia, gives the following account: "Their government was regular, and where they fixed near the building in hand, they made a camp of huts. A surveyor governed in chief; every tenth man was called a Warden, and overlooked each nine."
Thomas Hope, who, from his peculiar course of studies, was better acquainted than Henry Hallam with the history of these Traveling Freemasons, thus speaks, in his Essay on Architecture, of their organization at this time, by which they effected an identity of architectural science throughout all Europe: "The architects of all the sacred edifices of the Latin Church, wherever such arose—North, South, East, or West—thus derived their science from the same central school; obeyed in their designs the dictates of the same hierarchy; were directed in their constructions by the same principles of propriety and taste; kept up with each other, in the most distant parts to which they might be sent, the most constant correspondence; and rendered every minute improvement the property of the whole body, and a new conquest of the art."
Working in this way, the Stone-Masons as corporations of builders, daily increased in numbers and in power. In the thirteenth century they assumed a new organization, which allied them more closely than ever with that brotherhood of Speculative Freemasons into which they were finally merged in the eighteenth century, in England, but not in Germany, France, or Italy. These Fraternities or Associations became at once very popular. Many of the potentates of Europe, and among them the Emperor Rudolph I, conceded to them considerable powers of jurisdiction, such as would enable them to preserve the most rigid system in matters pertaining to building, and would facilitate them in bringing master builders and stone-masons together at any required point.
Pope Nicholas III granted the Brotherhood, in 1278, Letters of Indulgence, which were renewed by his successors, and finally, in the next century, by Pope Benedict XII. The Steinmetzen, as a Fraternity of Operative Masons, distinguished from the ordinary masons and laborers of the craft, acquired at this time great prominence, and were firmly established as an association. In 1452 a General Assembly was convened at Strasburg, and a new Constitution framed, which embraced many improvements and modifications of the former one. But seven years afterward, in 1459, Jost Dotzinger, then holding the position of architect of the Cathedral of Strasburg, and, by virtue of his office, presiding over the Craft of Gerrnany, convened a General Assembly of the Masters of all the Lodges at the City of Ratisbon.
There the code of laws which had been adopted at Strasburg in 1452, under the title of Statutes and Regulations of the Fraternity of Stone-Masons of Strasburg was fully discussed and sanctioned. It was then also resolved that there should be established four Grand Lodges—at Strasburg, at Vienna, at Cologne, and at Zurich; and they also determined that the Master Workman, for the time being, of the Cathedral of Strasburg should be the Grand Master of the Masons of Germany. These Constitutions of Statutes are still extant, and are older than any other existing Masonic record of undoubted authenticity, except Halliwell & Cooke Manuscripts. They were "kindly and affably agreed upon," according to their preamble, "for the benefit and requirements of the Masters and Fellows of the whole Craft of Masonry and Masons in Clermany,"
Besides the Strasburg Constitution of 1459 there are two other very important documents of the Steinmetzen of Germany: The Torgau Ordinances of 1462 and the Brothers' Book of 1563.
General Assemblies, at which important business was transacted, were held in 1464 at Ratisbon, and in 1469 at Spire, while provincial assemblies in each of the Grand Lodge Jurisdictions were annually convened.
In consequence of a deficiency of employment, from political disturbances and other causes, the Fraternity now for a brief period declined in its activity. But it was speedily revived when, in October, 1498, the Emperor Maximilian I confirmed its Statutes, as they had been adopted at Strasburg, and recognized its former rights and privileges. This Aet of Confirmation was renewed by the succeeding Emperors, Charles V and Ferdinand I. In 1563 a General Assembly of the Masons of Germany and Switzerland was convened at the City of Basle by the Grand Lodge of Strasburg. The Strasburg Constitutions were again renewed with amendments, and what was called the Stone-Masons' Law, das Steinwerkrecht, was established.
The Grand Lodge of Strasburg continued to be recognized as possessing supreme appellate jurisdiction in all matters relating to the Craft. Even the Senate of that city had acknowledged its prerogatives, and had conceded to it the privilege of settling all controversies in relation to matters connected with building; a concession which was, however, revoked in 1620, on the charge that the privilege had been misused.
Thus the operative Freemasons of Germany continued to work and to cultivate the high principles of a religious architectural art. But on March 16, 1707, up to which time the Fraternity had uninterruptedly existed, a Degree of the Imperial Diet at Ratisbon dissolved the connection of the Lodges of Germany with the Grand Lodge of Strasburg, because that city had passed into the power of the French. The head being now lost, the subordinate Bodies began rapidly to decline. In several of the German cities the Lodges undertook to assume the name and exercise the functions of Grand Lodges; but these were all abolished by an Imperial Edict in 1731, which at the same time forbade the administration of any oath of seereey, and transferred to the government alone the adjudication of all disputes among the Craft.
From this time we lose sight of any national organization of the Freemasons in Germany until the restoration of the Order, in the eighteenth century, through the English Fraternity. Thus we see, as Brother Cawthorne here observes, that the great Order of the Steinmetzen of Germany took no part in the formation of the Speculative Freemasons.
But in many cities—as in Basle, Zurich, Hamburg, Dantzic, and Strasburg—they preserved an inde pendent existence under the Statutes of 1559, although they lost much of the profound symbolical knowledge of architecture which had been possessed by their predecessors. Before leaving these Gerrnan Stone-Masons, it is worth while to say something of the symbolism which they preserved in their secret tcachings. They made much use, in their architectural plans, of mystical numbers, and among these five, seven, and nine were especially prominent. Among colors, gold and blue and white possessed symbolic meanings. The foot rule, the compasses, the square, and the gavel, with some other implements of their art, were consecrated with a spiritual signification.
The East was considered as a sacred point; and many allusions were made to Solomon's Temple, especially to the pillars of the porch, representations of which are to be found in several of the cathedrals.
In France the history of the Free Stone-Masons was similar to that of their German Brethren. Originating, like them, from the cloisters, and from the employment of laymen by the monkish architects, they associated themselves together as a Brotherhood esuperior to the ordinary stone-masons. The connection between the Masons of France and the Roman Colleges of Builders was more intimate and direct than that of the Germans, because of the early and very general occupation of Gaul by the Roman legions: but the French organization did not materially differ from the German. Protected by popes and princes, the Masons were engaged, under ecclesiastical patronage, in the construction of religious edifices.
In Franee there was also a peculiar association, the Pontifices, or Bridge Builders, closely connected in design and character with the Masonic Fraternity, and the memory of which is still preserved in the name of one of the Degrees of the Scottish Rite, that of Grand Pontiff.. The principal seat of the French Stone-Masonry was in Lombardy, whence the Lodges were disseminated over the kingdom, a fact which is thus accounted for by Thomas Hope:
"Among the arts exercised and improved in Lombardy," he says, "that of building held a pre-eminent rank, and was the more important because the want of those ancient edifices to which they might recur for materials already wrought, and which Rome afforded in such abundance, made the architects of these more remote regions dependent on their own skill and free to follow their own conceptions."
But in the beginning of the sixteenth century, the necessity for their employment in the further construction of religious edifices having ceased, the Fraternity began to decline, and the Masonic Corporations were all finally dissolved, with those of other workmen, by Francis I, in 1539. Then originated that system which the French call Compagnorlaye, a system of independent Gilds or brotherhoods, retaining a principle of community as to the art which they practiced, and with, to some extent, a secret bond, but without elevated notions or general systematic organizations. The societies of Compagnons were, indeed, but the debris of the Building Masons. Masonry ceased to exist in France as a recognized system until its revival in the eighteenth century.
We see, then, in conclusion, that the Stone-Masons —coming partly from the Roman Colleges of Architects, as in England, in Italy, and in France, but principally, as in Germany, from the cloistered brotherhoods of monks—devoted themselves to the construction of religious edifices.. They consisted mainly of architects and skilful operatives; but—as they were controlled by the highest principles of their art, were in possession of important professional secrets, were actuated by deep sentiments of religious devotion, and had united with themselves in their labors, men of learning, wealth, and influence—to serve as a proud distinction between themselves and the ordinary laborers and unedueated workmen, many of whom were of servile condition.
Subsequently, in the beginning of the eighteenth century, they threw off the operative element of their institution, andb adopting an entirely speculative character, they became the Freemasons of the present day, and established on an imperishable foundation that sublime Institution which presents over all the habitable earth the most wonderful system of religious ane moral symbolism that the world ever saw.
STONE OF FOUNDATION.
The Stone of foundation constitutes one of the most important and abstruse of all the symbols of Freemasonry. It is referred to in numerous legends and traditions not only of the Freemasons, but also of the Jewish Rabbis, the Talmudic writers, and even the Mussulman doctors. Many of these, it must be confessed, are apparently puerile and absurd; but most of them, and especially the Masonic ones, are deeply interesting in their allegorical signification.. The Stone of Foundation is, properly speaking, a symbol of the higher Degrees.
It makes its first appearance in the Royal Arch, and forms indeed the most important symbol of that Degree. But it is so intimately connected, in its legendary history, with the construction of the Solomonic Temple, that it must be considered as a part of Ancient Craft Masonry, although he who confines the range of his investigations to the first three Degrees will have no means, within that narrow limit, of properly appreciating the symbolism of the Stone of Foundation. As preliminary to the inquiry, it is necessary to distinguish the Stone of Foundation, both in its symbolism and its legendary history, from other stones which play an important part in the Masonic Ritual, but which are entirely distinct from it.
Such is the corner-stone, which was always placed in the northeast corner of the building about to be erected, and to which such a beautiful reference is made in the ceremonies of the First Degree; or the Keystone, which constitutes an interesting part of the Mark Master s Degree; or, lastly, the capstone, upon which all the ritual of the Most Excellent Master's Degree is founded.
They are all, in their proper places, highly interesting and instructive Symbols, but have no conneetion whatever with the Stone of Foundation, whose symbolism it is our present object to discuss. Nor, although the Stone of Foundation is said, for peculiar reasons, to have been of a cubical form, must it be confounded with that stone called by the Continental Freemasons the cubical stone—the pierre critique of the French and the cubik stein of the German Freemasons but which in the English system is known as the perfect ashlar.
The Stone of Foundation has a legendary history and a symbolic significationl which are peculiar to itself, and which differ from the history and meaning which belong to these other stones. We propose first to define this Masonic Stone of Foundation, then to collate the legends which refer to it, and afterward to investigate its significance as a symbol. To the Freemason who takes a pleasure in the study of the mysteries of his Institution, the investigation cannot fail to be interesting, if it is conducted with anv ability.
But in the very beginning, as a necessary preliminary to any investigation of this kind, it must be distinctly understood that all that is said of this Stone of Foundation in Freemasonry is to be strictly taken in a mythical or allegorical sense. Doctor Oliver, while undoubtedly himself knowing that it was simply a symbol, has written loosely of it as though it were a substantial reality; and hence, if the passages in his Historical Landmarks, and in his other works which refer to this celebrated stone, are accepted by his readers in a literal sense, they will present absurdities and puerilities which would not occur if the Stone of Foundation was received, as it really is, as a myth conveying a most profound and beautiful symbolism.
It is such that it is to be treated here; and, therefore, if a legend is recited or a tradition related, the reader is requested on every occasion to suppose that such legend or tradition is not intended as the recital or relation of what is deemed a fact in Masonic history, but to wait with patience for the development of the symbolism which it conveys. Read in this spirit, as all the legends of Freemasonry should be read, the legend of the Stone of Foundation becomes one of the most important and interesting of all the Masonic symbols.
The Stone of Foundation is supposed, by the theory which establishes it, to have been a stone placed at one time within the foundations of the Temple of Solomon, and afterward, during the building of the second Temple, transported to the Holy of Holies. It was in form a perfect cube, and had inseribed upon its upper face, w ithin a delta or triangle, the sacred Tetragrammaton, or Ineffable Name of God. Doctor Oliver, speaking with the solemnity of a historian, says that Solomon thought that he had rendered the house of God worthy, so far as human adornment could effect, for the dwelling of God, "when he had placed the celebrated Stone of Foundation, on which the sacred name was mystically engraven, with solemn ceremonies, in that sacred depository on Mount Moriah, along with the foundations of Dan and Asher, the eentre of the Most Holy Place, where the Ark was overshadowed by the Shekinah of God."
The Hebrew Talmudists, who thought as much of this stone, and had as many legends concerning it, as the Masonic Talmudists, called it eben shatijah, or Stone of Foundation, because as they said, it had been laid by Jehovah as the foundation of the world, and hence the apocryphal Book of Enoch speaks of the "stone which supports the corners of the earth."
This idea of a foundation-stone of the world was most probably derived from that magnificent passage of the Book of Job (xxxviii, F7) in which the Almighty demands of Job,
Where wast thou, when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Declare, since thou hast such knowledge!
Who fixed its dimensions, since thou knowest!
Or who stretched out the line upon it?
Upon what were its foundations fixed?
And who laid its corner-stone,
When the morning stars sang together.
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Noyes, whose translation we have adopted as not materially differing from the common version, but more poetical and more in the strain of the original, thus explains the allusions to the foundation-stone: "It was the custom to celebrate the laying of the corner-stone of an important building With music, songs, shouting, etc. Hence the morning stars are represented as celebrating the laying of the cornerstone of the earth."
Upon this meager statement has been accumulated more traditions than appertain to any other Masonic symbol. The Rabbis, as has already been intimated, divide the glory of these apocryphal histories with the Freemasons; indeed, there is good reason for a suspicion that nearly all the Masonic legends olve their first existence to the imaginative genius of the writers of the Jewish Talmud. But there is this difference between the Hebrew and the Masonic traditions: that the Talmudie scholar reeited them as truthful histories, and swallowed, in one gulp of faith, all their impossibilities and anachronisms; while the Masonic scholar has received them as allegories, whose value is not in the facts, but in the sentiments which they convey.
With this understanding of their meaning, let us proceed to a collation of these legends. In that blasphemous work, the Toldoth Jessie, or Life of Jesus, written, it has been supposed, in the thirteenth or fourteenth century, we find the following account of this wonderful stone: "At that time (the time of Jesus) there was in the House of the Sanctuary (that is, the Temple) a stone of foundation, which is the very stone that our father Jacob anointed with oil, as it is described in the twenty-eighth chapter of the Book of Genesis. On that stone the letters of the Tetragrammaton were inscribed, and whosoever of the Israelites should learn that name would be able to master the world.
To prevent, therefore, any one from learning these letters, two iron dogs were placed upon two columns in front of the Sanctuary. If any person, having acquired the knowledge of these letters, desired to depart from the Sanctuary, the barking of the dogs, by magical power, inspired so much fear that he suddenly forgot what he had acquired." This passage is cited by the learned Buxtorf in his Lexicon Talmudicum; but in his copy of the Toldoth Jeshu, Doctor Mackey found another passage, which gives some additional particulars, in the following words: "At that time there was in the Temple the ineffable name of God, inscribed upon the Stone of Foundation. For when King David was digging the foundation for the Temple, he found in the depths of the excavation a certain stone on which the name of God was inscribed. This stone he removed and deposited it in the Holy of Holies."
The same puerile story of the barking dogs is repeated still more at length. It is not pertinent to the present inquiry, but it may be stated, as a mere matter of curious information, that this scandalous book, which is throughout a blasphemous defamation of our Savior, proceeds to say, that he cunningly obtained a knowledge of the Tetragrammaton from the Stone of Foundation, and by its mystical influence was enabled to perform his miracles.
The Masonic legends of the Stone of Foundation, based on these and other rabbinical reveries, are of the most extraordinary character, if they are to be viewed as histories, but readily reconcilable with sound sense, if looked at only in the light of allegories.
They present an uninterrupted succession of events, in which the Stone of Foundation talces a prominent part, from Adam to Solomon, and from Solomon to Zerubbabel. Thus, the first of these legends, in order of time, relates that the Stone of Foundation was possessed by Adam while in the Garden of Eden; that he used it as an altar, and so reverenced it that, on his expulsion from Paradise, he carried it with him into the world in which he and his descendants were afterward to earn their bread by the sweat of their brow.
Another legend informs us that from Adam the Stone of Foundation descended to Seth. From Seth it passed by regular succession to Noah, who took it with him into the Ark, and after the subsidence of the Deluge made on it his first thank-offering. Noal left it on Mount Ararat, where it was subsequenty, found by Abraham, who removed it, and constantly used it as an altar of sacrifice. His grandson Jacob took it with him when he fled to his uncle Laban in Mesopotamia, and used it as a pillow when, in the vicinity of Luz, he had his celebrated vision.
Here there is a sudden interruption in the legendary history of the stone, and we have no means of conjecturing how it passed from the possession of Jacob into that of Solomon. Moses, it is true, is said to have taken it with him out of Egypt at the time of of the exodus, and thus it may have finally reached Jerusalem. Dr. Adam Clarke repeats, what he very properly calls a foolish tradition, that the stone on which Jacob rested his head was afterward brought to Jerusalem, thence carried after a long lapse of time to Spain, from Spain to Ireland, and from Ireland to Scotland, where it was used as a seat on which the kings of Scotland sat to be crowned. Edward I, we know, brought a stone to which this legend is attached from Scotland to Westminster Abbey where under the name of Jacob's Pillow, it still remains, and is always placed under the chair upon which the British Sovereign sits to be crowned; because there is an old distich which declares that wherever this stone is found the Scottish Kings shall reign. But this Scottish tradition would take the Stone of Foundation away from all its Masonic connections, and therefore it is rejected as a Masonic legend.
The legends just related are in many respects contradietory and unsatisfactory, and another series, equally as old, is now very generally adopted by Masonic scholars as much better suited to the symbolism by which all these legends are explained. This series of legends commences with the patriarch Enoch, who is supposed to have been the first consecrator of the Stone of Foundation. The legend of Enoch is so interesting and important in this connection as to excuse its repetition in the present work.
The legend in full is as follows: Enoch, under the inspiration of the Most High, and in obedience to the instructions which he had received in a vision, built a Temple underground on Mount Moriah, and dedicated it to God. His son, Methuselah, constructed the building, although he was not acquainted with his father's motives for the erection. This temple Consisted of nine vaults, situated perpendicularly beneath each other, and communicating by apertures left in each vault.
Enoch then caused a triangular plate of gold to be made, each side of which was a cubit long; he enriched it with the most precious stones, and encrusted the plate upon a stone of agate of the same form. On the plate he engraved the true name of God, or the Tetragrammaton, and placing it en a cubical stone, known thereafter as the Stone of Foundation, he deposited the whole within the lowest arch.
When this subterranean building was completed, he made a door of stone, and attaching to it a ring of iron, by which it might be occasionally raised, he placed it over the opening of the uppermost arch, and so covered it that the aperture Could not be discovered Enoch, himself, was permitted to enter it but once a year, and on the deaths of Enoch, Methusalem, and Lamech, and the destruction of the word by the Deluge, all knowledge of the vault or subterranean temple and of the Stone of Foundation, with the Sacred and Ineffable Name inscribed upon it, was lost for ages to the world.
At the building of the first Temple of Jerusalem, the Stone of Foundation again makes its appearance. Reference has already been made to the Jewish tradition that David, when digging the foundations of the Temple, formal in the excavation which he was making a certain stone, on which the Ineffable Name of God was inscribed, and which stone he is said to have removed and deposited in the holy of Holies. That King David laid the foundations of the Temple upon which the superstructure was subsequently erected by Solomon, is a favorite theory of the legendmongers of the Talmud.
The Masonic tradition is substantially the same as the Jewish, but it substitutes Solomon for David, thereby giving a greater air of probability to the narrative, and it supposes that the stone thus discovered by Solomon was the identical one that had been deposited in his secret vault by Enoch. This Stone of Foundation, the tradition states, xvas subsequently removed by King Solomon and, for wise purposes, deposited in a secret and safer place.
In this the Masonic tradition again agrees with the Jewish, for we find in the third chapter of the Treatise on the Temple, the following narrative: "There was a stone in the Holy of Holies, on its west side, on which was placed the Ark of the Covenant, and before the Pot of Manna and Aaron's rod. But when Solomon had built the Temple, and foresaw that it was at some future time to be destroyed, he constructed a deep and Winding vault underground, for the purpose of concealing the ark, wherein Josiah afterwards, as we learn in the Second Book of Chronicles (xxxv, 3) deposited it with the Pot of Manna, the Rod of Aaron, and the Oil of Anointing."
The Talmudical book Yoma gives the same tradition, and says that "the Ark of the Covenant was placed in the centre of the Holy of Holies, upon a stone rising three fingers' breadth above the floor, to be as it were a pedestal for it." This stone, says Prideaux, in his Old and New Testament Connected (volume i, page 148), "the Rabbins call the Stone of Foundation, and give us a great deal of trash about it."
There is much controversy as to the question of the existence of any Ark in the second Temple. Some of the Jewish writers assert that a new one was made; others that the old one was found where it had been concealed by Solomon; and others again contend that there was no Ark at all in the temple of Zerubbabel, but that its place was supplied by the Stone of Foundation on which it had originally rested.
Royal Arch Masons well know how all these traditions are sought to be reconciled by the Masonic legend, in which the Substitute Ark and the Stone of Foundation play so important a part.
In the Thirteenth Degree of the Ancient and Accepted Rite, the Stone of Foundation is conspicuous as the resting-place of the Sacred Delta.
In the Royal Arch and Select Master's Degrees of the American Rite, the Stone of Foundation constitutes the most important part of the ritual. In both of these it is the receptacle of the Ark, on which the ineffable Name is inscribed.
Lee, in his Temple of Solomon, has devoted a chapter to this Stone of Foundation, and thus recapitulates the Talmudic and Rabbinical traditions on the subject: "Vain and futilous are the feverish dreams of the ancient Rabbins concerning the Foundation Stone of the Temple. Some assert that God placed this stone in the centre of the world, for a future basis and Settled consistency for the earth to rest upon.
Others held this stone to be the first matter out of which all the beautiful visible beings of the world have been hewn forth and produced to light. Others relate that this was the very same stone laid by Jacob for a pillow under his head, in that night when he dreamed of an angelic vision at Bethel, and he afterwards anointed and consecrated it to God. Which when Solomon had found, no doubt by forged revelation or some tedious Search like another Rabbi ,Selemoh, he durst not but lay it sure, as the principal Foundation-Stone of the Temple. Nay, they do say further, he caused to be engraved upon it the Tetragrammaton, or the Ineffable Name of Jehovah."
It will be seen that the Masonic traditions on the Subject of the Stone of Foundation do not differ very materially from these Rabbinical ones, although they add a few additional circumstances. In the Masonic legend, the Foundation-Stone first makes its appearance, as we have already said, in the days of Enoch, who placed it in the bowels of Mount Moriah. There it was subsequently discovered by King Solomon, who deposited it in a crypt of the first Temple, where it remained concealed until the foundations of the second Temple were laid, when it was discovered and removed to the Holy of Holies.
But the most important point of the legend of the Stone of foundation is its intimate and constant connection with the Tetragrammaton or Ineffable Name. It is this name, inscribed upon it within the Sacred and Symbolic Delta, that gives to the stone all its Masonic value and significance. It is upon this fact, that it was so inscribed, that its whole symbolism depends.
Looking at these traditions in anything like the light of historical narratives, we are compelled to consider them, to use the plain language of Lee, "but as so many idle and absurd conceits." We must go behind the legend, which we acknowledge at once to be only an allegory, and study its symbolism. The following facts can, we think, be readily established from history. First, that there was a very general prevalence among the earliest nations of antiquity of the worship of stones as the representatives of Deity; secondly, that in almost every ancient temple there was a legend of a sacred or mystical stone; thirdly, that this legend is found in the Masonic system; and lastly, that the mystical stone there has received the none of the Stone there has recieved the name of the Stone of Foundation.
Now, as in all the other systems the stone is admitted to be symbolic, and the traditions connected with it mystical, we are compelled to assume the same predicates of the Masonic stone. It, too, is Symbolic, and its legend a myth or an allegory. Of the fable, myth, or allegory, Bailly has said that, "subordinate to history and philosophy, it only deceives that it may the better instruct us. Faithful in preserving the realities which are confided to it, it covers with its seductive envelop the lessons of tile one and the truths of the other." It is from this standpoint that we are to view the allegory of the Stone of Foundation, as developed in one of the most interesting and important symbols of Freemasonry.
The fact that the mystical stone in all the ancient religions was a symbol of the Deity, leads us necessarily to the conclusion that the Stone of Foundation was also a symbol of Deity. And this symbolic idea is strengthened by the Tetragrammaton, or sacred name of God, that was inscribed upon it. This Ineffable Name sanctifies the stone upon which it is engraved as the symbol of the Grand Architect. It takes from it its heathen Signification as an idol, and consecrates it to the worship of the true God. The predominant idea of the Deity, in the Masonic system, connects him with his creative and formative power. God is to the Freemason Al Gabil, as the Arabians called him, that is, The Builder; or, as expressed in his Masonic title, the Grand Architect of the Universe, by common consent abbreviated in the formula G. A. O. T. U.
Now, it is evident that no Symbol could so appropriately suit him in this character as the Stone of Foundation, upon which he is allegorically supposed to have erected his world. Such a symbol closely connects the creative work of God, as a pattern and exemplar, with the workman's erection of his temporal building on a similar foundationstone.
But this Masonic idea is still further to be extended. The great object of all Masonic labor is Divine Truth. The search for the Lost Word is the search for truth. But Divine Truth is a term Synonymous with God. The Ineffable Name is a symbol of truth, because God, and God alone, is truth. It is properly a Scriptural idea. The Book of Psalms abounds with this sentiment. Thus it is said that the truth of the Lord "reacheth unto the clouds," and that "his truth endureth unto all generations."
If, then, God is Truth, and the Stone of Foundation is the Masonic symbol of God, it follows that it must also be the symbol of Divine Truth. When we have arrived at this point in our speculations, we are ready to show how all the myths and legends of the Stone of Foundation may be rationally explained as parts of that beautiful "science of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols," which is the acknowledged definition of Freemasonry. In the Masonic system there are two Temples: the First Temple, in which the Degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry are concerned, and the Second Temple, with which the higher Degrees, and especially the Royal Arch, are related. The first Temple is symbolic of the present life; the Second Temple is symbolic of the life to come. The First Termple, the present life, must he destroved; on its foundations the Second Temple, the life eternal, must be built.
But the mystical stone was placed by King Solomon in the foundations of the first Temple. That is to say, the First Temple of our present life must be built on the sure foundation of Divine Truth, "for other foundation can no man lay." But although the present life is necessarily built upon the foundation of truth, yet we never thoroughly attain it in this sublundary sphere. The Foundation Stone is concealed in the First Temple, and the Master Mason knows it not. He has not the true word. He receives only a substitute.
In the Second Temple of the future life, we have passed from the grave which had been the end of our labors in the First. We have removed the rubbish and have found that Stone of Foundation which had been hitherto concealed from our eyes. We now throw aside the substitute for truth which had contented us in the former Temple, and the brilliant effulgence of the Tetragrammaton and the Stone of Foundation are discovered, and thenceforth we are the possessors of the true word—of Divine Truth. And in this way, the Stone of Foundation, or Divine Truth, concealed in the First Temple, but discovered and brought to light in the Second, will explain that passage of the Apostle: "For now we see through a glass darkly; but then, face to face: now I know in part; but then I shall know face to face."
And so the result of this inquiry is, that the Masonic Stone of Foundation is a symbol of Divine Truth, upon which all Speculative Freemasonry is built, and the legends and traditions which refer to it are intended to describe, in an allegorical way, the progress of truth in the soul, the search for which is a Freemason's labor, and the discovery of which is his reward.
[What is Freemasonry] [Leadership
Development] [Education] [Masonic
This site is not an official site of any recognized Masonic body in the United
States or elsewhere.
Last modified: March 22, 2014