The Origins Of Freemasonry
Where Freemasonry Started?
Dr. Thomas Lomas,
University of Bradford
A Lecture given on 25 August 2000, at the 5th International
Conference of Great Priories in The Albert Halls, Stirling, Scotland.
Robert has been interested in the history and
origins of Freemasonry for many years. He lectures regularly on the subject to
both Masonic meetings and to the general public. He has written many articles
and co-authored a number of books on the subject.
Freemasonry, in the form we would recognise today, started at
the building of Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh.
Rosslyn Chapel, before the present
external roof was put in place
How do I know this?
There are three important pieces of evidence which support this
Rosslyn links the Jewish Temple through the Knights Templar to
The ground plan of Rosslyn is a copy of Herod’s Temple and
above ground it replicates the Herodian Architecture of Jerusalem.
Rosslyn contains the oldest document showing a modern First
Degree Ceremony being conducted by a Knight Templar.
The Ground Plan
The layout of Rosslyn, which was started in 1440, is an exact replica of the
ground plan of the Third Temple, built in Jerusalem by Herod and destroyed in
the First Century by the Romans.
(See The Hiram Key, Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas, Arrow, London,
1997 for full details)
The layout of Herod's Temple was
not known to Archeologists until the mid nineteenth century, nearly four hundred
years after the construction of Rosslyn
A Stone Document showing the First Degree of Freemasonry
All the carvings in Rosslyn were first cut in wood and produced
to the Master of Works for inspection before being cut in stone. This is one of
the earliest examples of Quality Control in Britain.
On the lower frame of the window in the South West corner of the
Chapel there is a carving which seems to be of a Freemasonic First Degree.
(See The Second Messiah, Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas,
Arrow, London, 1998
for full details)
This carving shows seven distinct
points of similarity to the modern First Degree of Freemasonry, and it was
carved between 1440-50. It was inspected and passed before being cut in stone so
the features within it are intended to be there.
Is it Just Chance?
John Hamill, the Librarian of the United Grand Lodge of England,
has suggested that it may be just co-incidence that this little figure seems to
show a link between Templarism and Freemasonry.
The figure shows a man kneeling between two pillars. He is
blindfolded and has a running noose about his neck. His feet are in a strange
and unnatural posture and in his left hand he holds a bible. The end of the rope
about his neck is held by another man who is wearing the mantle of a Knight
Now for those of you are not familiar with our strange ways of
within the craft, when somebody is admitted they are called the Candidate. Men
are admitted to men's lodges and women to separate women's lodges. The candidate
is dressed in a very odd manner but will only be admitted when properly dressed
for the ceremony. The way of dressing is to wear a rough white clothing folded
back to reveal particular parts of the body. The candidate is blindfolded and
has a running noose about his neck. Here is a picture of a Masonic candidate who
is correctly dressed for the ceremony standing before the two pillars that
appear in every Masonic Lodge.
A Candidate properly prepared to
be made a Mason
The statue at Rosslyn shows a number of features which are now
considered to be Masonic. Here is a drawing of the main features of the Statue.
Drawing of the main features of
The problem for John Hamill is that the statue was carved five
hundred and fifty years ago and this is two hundred and seventy years before the
claimed founding of the Craft in England. When Chris Knight and I published this
information it caused a tremendous fuss in English Freemasonry. Many articles
were written by various Masonic writers supporting the Hamill's view that these
similarities were simply co-incidence.
How, the gentleman from England must have asked themselves,
could Freemasonry have come from such an outlandish place as Scotland? :-)
(This lecture was delivered in Stirling surrounded by many
Scots, as well as a considerable number of overseas delegates. This statement
caused considerable amusement)
However, their counter claim of co-incidence, can be tested
using standard techniques of Hypothesis Testing and here is the detailed
There are seven points of congruence (agreement) between the
carving and the modern Masonic ceremony. These are
1. The man is blindfolded. This is unusual in medieval statues
and the only other example it the figure of blind justice. There is no other
blindfold figure carved in Rosslyn.
2. The man is kneeling. This is fairly common in medieval
carvings and there are other kneeling figures in Rosslyn.
3. The man is holding a bible in his left hand. There are a
number of other carvings showing figures holding books or scrolls within
4. The man has a noose about his neck. There are few known
figures of the period showing nooses about their necks. The best known is the
statue called 'The dying Gaul'. There is one other figure in Rosslyn which has
a noose in it and that is the figure of the hanged man which represents the
angel Shemhazai whose sins caused God to send the Flood and who was so afraid
to face God that he hung himself between heaven and earth with his face away
from God. Shemhazai is carved with a noose about his feet but there is no
other noose carved in Rosslyn.
5. The man has his feet in the posture that is still used
today by Masonic candidates. This is a very unusual position and does not
occur in any other carvings in Rosslyn.
6. The ceremony is being carried out between two pillars as it
is in a Masonic Lodge. Pillars figure in a lot of the carvings at Rosslyn.
7. The noose is being held by a man clearly dressed as a
Templar. There are many Templar symbols and images of Templars carved in
So what is the chance of all these factors coming together by
chance? I set up a null hypothesis that it was pure co-incidence that all these
elements linking Templarism and Freemasonry occurred in the same carving and
then set out to test the probability of the idea.
1. The probability that the figure is blindfolded by chance is
0.5 as it can only be blindfolded or not blindfolded. This is a worst case
probability that gives the null hypothesis the best chance of succeeding as
there is no other blindfolded figure in Rosslyn.
2. The probability that the figure is kneeling by chance is
0.5 as it again can only be kneeling or not kneeling.
3. The probability that the figure is holding a bible by
chance is 0.5 as there are again only two possibilities. Holding a bible or
not holding a bible.
4. The probability that the figure has noose about its neck by
chance is 0.5 even though it is the only figure in Rosslyn with a noose about
its neck. Again I am giving the Null Hypothesis the best possible chance of
5. The probability that the figure has his feet in a Masonic
posture (which the ritual says is the only way a Candidate will be admitted to
Freemasonry) by chance is 0.5 because he can have them that way or not. No
other figure in Rosslyn holds in feet in this strange symbolic way so again
the Null Hypothesis is being given the full benefit of any doubt.
6. The probability that the ceremony is taking place between
two pillars by chance is 0.5 because the alternative would be not to place the
two pillars there.
7. The probability that a Templar is holding the noose by
chance is 0.5 and this is generous towards the Null Hypothesis because the
rope could be loose or held by somebody who is not a Templar. In the modern
Masonic ceremony the rope is held by the senior deacon whilst the candidate
takes his oath hold the bible.
I now needed to consider the possibility of all these seven
probabilities occurring at the same time. To find the composite probability I
must multiply the separate probabilities together.
So the highest possible probability of the null hypothesis being
(0.5)*(0.5)*(0.5)*(0.5)*(0.5)*(0.5)*(0.5) which works out as
So there are only eight chances in a thousand that all these
elements linking Freemasonry to Templarism and Sir William St Clair are there by
co-incidence. This probability is less than the 95% confidence level one in 20
and less than the 99% confidence level of one in 100. There is only one chance
in 128 of the links being co-incidence. On this evidence I reject the null
hypothesis, that leaves me with a strong claim that Sir William was linked to
Freemasonry in 1440 and that this link involved Templars.
So to sum up, if each point of similarity is given a 50% chance
of being there by accident. (Which is giving the opposite view the best odds
possible) There are only 8 chances in 1000 that it is pure chance.
Who Built Rosslyn?
Rosslyn was built by Sir William St Clair Last St Clair Jarl of
Orkney. He was a direct descent of William de St Clair Last Temple Grand Master
of Scotland, who died taking the heart of the dead king, Robert de Bruce on a
last crusade to Jerusalem.
The Tombstone of the Templar Sir
William St Clair, preserved in Rosslyn
Sir William, the chapel builder, is also the direct ancestor of
First Grand Master Mason of Scotland, also named William St Clair (Sinclair)
Why did William Build Rosslyn?
To house artifacts brought by the Knights Templar to Scotland in
1126. Between 1118 and 1128 the Templars excavated the ruins of Herod’s Temple
in Jerusalem. Hugue de Payen, first Grand Master of the Knights Templar, served
on the First Crusade with Henri St Clair, First Earl of Roslin and Hugue visited
Roslin in 1126 where he was given land to build the first Templar Preceptory
outside the Holy Land.
How do I know about the Templar Excavations?
In 1860 the British Army Engineers mounted an expedition to
Jersualem and two Lieutenants ,Wilson and Warren, mapped out the city to
Ordnance Survey standards. They excavated beneath Temple Mount and found many
deep tunnels in which they also found and recorded Templar artifacts.
(See The Second Messiah, Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas,
Arrow, London, 1998
for full details)
Here is an illustration of the shaft and tunnels dug by the
Templars beneath Temple Mount, taken from the Army report of 1870
Drawing of the tunnels found by
the British Army Expedition which excavated below Temple Mount in Jerusalem
showing the tunnels left by Templars The shaft is 80 feet deep.
Why Build a Copy of Herod’s Temple?
In 1440 William St Clair was the most powerful man in Scotland.
He decided to build Rosslyn to house the treasures he had
inherited from the Templars and establish a seat of spiritual authority to rival
James II who was dabbling in English politics and finally got himself killed
during the War of the Roses.
William brought in Masons to build Rosslyn and built the town of
Roslin to house them.
When James II died (1460) his son, James III, thought William
was posing to great a threat to the Crown of Scotland so he stripped William of
Orkney and broke up his estates
So now we have visited briefly some of the key events involved
in the creation of Freemasonry. There is much more to the story, for example the
St Clairs had lands at Kilwinning and were involved with famous Mother
Kilwinning Lodge there, but there is not enough time today to tell the full
story. So let me finish with a Timeline of the Key events which led to the
Formation of the Grand Lodge of Scotland in 1736.
The Timeline of Freemasonry
1440 Masons given the Mason word by William to preserve the
secrets of the Templars he was building Rosslyn to house.
1483 The burgh of Aberdeen is recorded as being involved in
settlement of a dispute between six ‘masownys of the lurge’. Masonry is starting
to spread out as lodges initiate Candidates and give the the 'Mason Word'
1599 Earliest surviving Lodge Minutes from Edinburgh
1601 James VI made a Mason at Lodge of Scoon and Perth.
1602 William Schaw sets up the modern lodge system in Scotland
following the instructions of James VI
1602 The Lodges of Scotland affirm William St Clair of Roslin as
hereditary Grand Master Mason of Scotland from TI
1603 James VI takes Freemasonry to England when he becomes James
I of Britain
1641 Sir Robert Moray becomes the first Mason recorded to be
made on English Soil.
1715 First Jacobite Rising, lodges begin to disclaim their
1717 Formation of Grand Lodge of London denies Jacobite Heritage
1725 First National Grand Lodge formed in Ireland
1736 Grand Lodge of Scotland Formed as a counter measure to
1736 William St Clair of Roslin made First Grand Master Mason of
Scotland and signs away his hereditary rights in favour of elected officers.
Let me leave you with a portrait of William Sinclair of Roslin,
First Grand Master Mason of Scotland 1736
Incidentally, William had to be made a Mason before he could
take over as grand master mason.
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