Operative to Speculative
An Address Given by WBro Alan Hunt, PAsstGDC, JW
At the 6th February Meeting of the Lodge
Soon after I joined freemasonry, one of my friends was initiated and I asked him what he thought of the degree. He said, “It is a bit of a mystery, what I would like to know is where it all began.”
This paper surveys some of the relationship between ancient operative Masonry and modern speculative Freemasonry. How ancient was the operative trade, and just what is its relevance to modern Freemasonry?
Fifteen years after I was initiated my wife and I toured the British Isles and Europe and we were amazed at the beauty and size of the cathedrals and buildings that were made of stone blocks. We also noted that there were figures and faces carved out of stone.
We had the privilege of touring by bus to Jericho, a known example of masonry and buildings of stone. It is a small city in the desert, miles from anywhere, with the original foundations some nineteen metres below present ground level. It is built on the earth's crusted tectonic plate, prone to earthquakes, thus new walls were built amongst the debris. Archaeological dating procedures gave the approximate date of the original construction as 7000BC - that is 9000 years ago.
Ancient history leads to successive civilizations - Jericho 7OOO BC; Stonehenge (UK) 2750 BC; the Egyptian pyramids and temples 2700 to 220 BC; Greek construction in stone 1400 to 300 BC; Rome 753BC to 455AD; Great Wall of China 2150BC to 1644AD; European and UK medieval churches 1200 to 1300AD. The Romans seem to have been the best tradesmen, the roads they formed have their pavements about a metre square and they still sit perfectly today. The Greek tiles are only half the size and are uneven.
Stonemasonry in the British Isles
A small section of the many works follows:
1. Pre-400AD … Rochester Castle, a Roman fort, was built during the Roman occupation in Great Britain.
2. 507 … Canterbury Cathedral replaced a Roman Church on the same site.
3. 510 … Tay Bridge at Danville, Wales.
4. 546 … St Columba's house at Kells in Ireland.
5. 1253 - 1400 … Westminster Abby.
6. 1283 … Comarvon Castle, Scotland
7. 1300 … York Minster
8. 1309 - 1407 … London Bridge. This bridge required continuous repairs due to the shortcomings in design and construction. The old nursery song 'London Bridge is falling down' is a literal truth.
9. 1601 … Trinity College at Dublin.
Contrast what has been gleaned about medieval stonemasonry construction in the British Isles, where the owners were the church or the crown, with present day construction where the owners are any organization or individual who can afford the costs.
The designers then were master masons, now they are architects and professional engineers.
The clerk of works was then employee of the owner but is now employed by the architect or professional engineer.
The site manager, who was then a master mason, is now a project manager who is, maybe, the architect or the professional engineer.
There is not a great difference in the principals of the industrial organization as it was then and is now. Owners found the money for wages and materials. There is no difference today.
Although Master Masons were in charge of their design and work in general, there were a number of non-masons involved in the work scene. There is no difference today.
In the old days the master mason and his skilled tradesman used a structure near the building site for their planning of the day’s work. This rough shelter was known by the Latin speaking medieval employers as the logia, meaning shelter. In Middle English it was known as a lodge. Today there is a site office in lieu of a lodge.
There is no written record of any speculative freemasonry before the 1590's. The mason who was free of one of the old bodies controlling a trade, was able to travel from place to place in search of work to enable him to establish his knowledge of trade. Secret signs and secret passwords were used. These seemed to have been known universally to masons but were kept confidential.
In Scotland this took the form of a master masons word and expression embracing whatever that no mutual personal knowledge of the other existed. Early in the 1600's, a period of late renaissance, a movement had begun in Italy, which then spread through Europe and British Isles. These changes were manifest by the ego demand by all people for acquaintance with the new knowledge which was becoming available. Books became accessible to many with the invention of movable type fonts and the effect on printing methods. People were becoming gregarious and clubs or associations were beginning.
In this atmosphere social and industrial changes were taking place. Philosophy was a great interest and people were questioning the established order and beliefs. One of the philosophies, in which there was much interest, was that of the Greek, Plato, as was transmitted through the Egyptians and then to Europe. This philosophy was credited to Hermes Trismegitus, hence the Hermitic ideas.
Another philosophy was that called Rosicrucian, or Rosy Cross, a movement founded by Christian Rosencreutz. The movement was Christian in character and used by Martin Luther in the development ofprotestant-ism. It was known in 1614 in Germany and knowledge of it soon spread. Today, in New Zealand, there are four Rosicrucian colleges, with the one in Christchurch being established over one hundred years ago.
As already shown, the workings of lodges did have associated with them various persons who were not masons. Perhaps they were associated in some way with the work, such as carriers or as owners. We might call them speculative being not operatives.
At the end of the 1500's, James IV of Scotland, had an appointee who looked after the King’s interests in the building field. At that time building was all in stone - a stonemason’s paradise. The king’s man was William Schaw, a younger son of a Scottish landowner and a catholic, although not a very serious one. He had been in the king's service for many years and was in a position of trust and responsibility. In view of the growth and power of protestant-ism this demonstrated a remarkable degree of tolerance. In 1598 Schaw issued a statute, which aimed to govern and regulate all mason buildings and masons in Scotland with himself as general warden of all masons. This statute among other things required all existing working lodges to keep minutes of whatever business was transacted at their meetings. Such minutes had not been previously been kept. None had been found in the British Isles before 1598.
Schaw placed the lodge of St Mary's Chapel, now in Edinburgh, as number one in the Scottish Constitution and Kilwinning as number two, somewhat to the annoyance of Lodge Kilwinning. There must have been vary strong indications that Kilwinning was not happy with this arrangement because Schaw issued a second statute in 1599 making Kilwinning the head lodge but still not the first lodge. The two statutes confirmed the requirement, that a seven-year period of apprenticeship and further seven years as improver was required before becoming a fellow of the craft.
Not long after this the new speculative mason is taught ritual of the three degrees. Initially he learns of virtue, morals and laws of mankind and as he progresses he learns of desirability to understand the liberal arts and hidden mysteries of nature and science. In the final stages he is confronted with the need to contemplate mankind's ultimate destiny and the hereafter. These ideas are reinforced by many repetitions and in due course the newer freemason participates in those mysteries and drama plays, which we call workings. The masons, operative and speculative, prior to about 1870, were often illiterate. They learned their work and studied by listening to others, by word of mouth and by repetition.
Not long after the second statute, Schaw decided to create a patron of masonry and he appointed William Roselyn, a catholic. The only reason of significance which might have influenced this choice was the Roselyn chapel and that William Roselyn had employed a number of masons to extend his home. William Roselyn was no use as patron and gave up his titles and retired to Ireland in 1615. William Schaw died in 1602. William Roselyn’s son was made patron in succession and was a far different man from his father, eventually being knighted by the King. By the end of 1736, when the Grand Lodge of Scotland was formed, there were thirty-three Schaw type lodges in Scotland and speculative masonry on William Schaw's model was well established throughout the country.
With the creation of the Grand Lodge of England in 1717, the Grand Lodge of Ireland in 1725 and the Grand Lodge of Scotland in 1736, it will be observed how speculative freemasonry moved south to England and eventually back to Scotland. The ambition and foresightedness of William Schaw saw the development of a new type of lodge in 1598 together with the demand for records in the form of lodge minutes. This new kind of lodge of mixed membership, operative and non-operative or speculative, catered for what Schaw appeared to recognize in the effects of the renaissance. The new knowledge was spreading, with people wanting to discuss new discoveries and philosophies.
What of William Schaw? An ambitious man seeking power and statutes as general warden but also, as far as one sees, modern freemasonry owes more to Schaw then many masons will admit.
The following quotation from the preface of David Stevenson's The Origins of Freemasonry, in 1988, is relevant and neatly sums up the position. “I first became aware that there were Masonic lodges in the 17th century. In Scotland, nearly twenty years ago, in the course of a post-graduate research on the covenanters, I came across a reference to two covenanter-generals being admitted to membership of Lodge Edinburgh. My reaction was one of bewilderment, fore I had no idea that Masonic lodges had existed in that time. What did it mean to be a freemason in 1640's? Speculative lodges? They began on British soil in Scotland.”