by D.J. MacLaurin
From: Ron Blaisdell [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Sunday, July 25, 1999 8:28 AM
Subject: The Ashlars by D.J. MacLaurin, SGW, GLBC, March 1980
The origins of the word 'ashlar' can be traced back through various English and Medieval French words to Old Latin words. It is a word of ancient lineage and is associated with building stones for special uses. Ashlars are hewn stones in which all edges meet at right angles. Thus, such stones could be slabs of various dimensions or even cubes. These squared stones were used in square pavements and in walls. Some ancient walls were built with two outside faces of dressed ashlars and a space between the faces filled with rubble and mortar. The preparation and laying up of the outer facings was work for skilled craftsmen. Filling the interspace with rubble was done by unskilled laborers. Other walls were built entirely of square stones. In these walls, two parallel but staggered courses of ashlars were tied together every so often with a 'perpend' ashlar. A perpend ashlar was a square stone about twice as long as wide. This stone was laid across the parallel courses, through the wall from face to face, with both its end faces in view, and 'perpend'-icular. Thus, it bound the two courses together. Let us note that the preparation of a smooth ashlar stone, whether oblong or cube, requires a high degree of skill, carefully and patiently applied. Perhaps some of the Brethren will recall the "test exercise" we were assigned during war-time training as aero- engine mechanics and engineers. In this exercise, we had to produce a perfect half inch cube of steel by hand-filing. Truly it was a case of "perseverance being necessary to establish perfection". That lesson has made a lasting impression. As Freemasons we have incorporated the ashlar stones into our symbolism since the beginnings. Old catechisms and lectures include reference to the rough ashlar and the perfect ashlar. These stones appear on our Grand Lodge certificates and on various tracing boards. Masonic scholars consider that the term 'perfect' ashlar has evolved from the 'perpend' ashlar of Medieval times. In most workings the ashlars are included in the "Jewels of the Lodge". In the Canadians and other Emulation-based workings, they are "immoveable jewels" which "lie open in the Lodge from the Brethren to moralize on". In the Antient working they are "moveable jewels". An explanation for this difference has not been found. It is interesting to note the various locations and sizes of the ashlars in different Lodges. In many Lodges the rough ashlar is in front of or on the Junior Warden's pedestal and the perfect ashlar at the Senior Warden's station. This probably recalls the legendary connection between the supervision by the Junior Warden of the less-experienced craftsmen who worked on the rough ashlar and by the Senior Warden and skilled craftsmen who used the perfect ashlar to try and to adjust their tools on. In some Emulation Lodges, the perfect ashlar has a lewis set into its upper from which the stone is suspended from a tripod-crane. This crane is located about midway between the East and the West. In some Lodges, the suspended perfect ashlar is lowered to the bottom in the first degree, raised half up in the second degree and to the top in the third degree. In other Lodges, the two ashlars are placed in the N.E. and S.E. angles of the Lodge, sometimes on the level at the corners of a square pavement and sometimes off the floor in the East or at the corners of a tracing board on trestles in the N.E. In our present-day rituals not too much is included about the moral geometry of the ashlars. Perhaps this is because so much of our teaching is so eloquently depicted by the two ashlars and particularly in the symbolic transition from the rough to the perfect. We start in Freemasonry as rough ashlars and by the repeated efforts of the gentle persuasions of its teachings, we may progress through our lives toward that ideal stone of true die - the perfect ashlar.