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Bro. Harry Carr

In the Quatuor Coronati Lodge summons, dated 22 December 1961, there was a brief note relating to the Wardens’ Columns which attracted considerable attention and comment. As author of the note, and Secretary of the Lodge, I had to answer a number of letters on that subject and on several other topics closely allied to it. During the course of this work it became obvious that there is much confusion on the subject of Pillars, Globes, Columns and Candlesticks, on the dates and stages of their introduction into Craft usage, and most of all, perhaps, on the curious way in which some of these items (which originally had places in the ritual, or furnishings, in their own right) are now made to serve a dual purpose, thereby adding to the confusion as to their origins.

There are, apparently, two main reasons for these difficulties. First, we have grown so accustomed to seeing our present‑day Lodges all more or less uniformly furnished that we accept the furnishings and their symbolism without question. Secondly, the Lectures on the Tracing Boards are given rarely nowadays so that Brethren are unfamiliar with the subject, or with the problems that are involved.

This essay was compiled, therefore, not with the intention of answering all the questions that arise, if indeed that were possible, but in order to separate the various threads which are now so badly entangled.

As these various items appear in our modern procedure, there is an extraordinary mixture of ritual‑references with odd items of furniture, some of which had a purely practical origin, while others were purely symbolical. I have tried to deal with each of these features separately, showing, as far as possible, their first introduction into the Craft, and tracing the various stages through which they passed into our present usage.


 Extract from the Lecture on the Second Tracing Board: “… the two great pillars which were placed in the porchway entrance on the south side . . . they were formed hollow, the better to serve as archives to Freemasonry, for therein were deposited the constitutional Rolls . . .These pillars were adorned with two chapiters . . . [and] … with two spheres on which were delineated maps of the celestial and terrestrial globes, pointing out ‘Masonry universal’.”


The two earliest pillars in the literature of the Craft are those described in the legendary history which forms part of the Cooke MS c1410, and many later versions of the Old Charges. The story goes that they were made by the four children of Lamech, in readiness for the feared destruction of the world by fire or flood. One of the pillars was made of marble, the other of lacerus (ie lateres or burnt brick) because the first ‘would not burn’ and the other ‘would not drown’. They were intended as a means of preserving ‘all the sciences that they had found’, which they had carved or engraved on the two pillars.

This legend dates back to the early apocryphal writings, and in the course of centuries a number of variations arose in which the story of the indestructible pillars remained fairly constant, although their erection was attributed to different heroes. Thus, Josephus ascribed them to Seth, while another apocryphal version says they were built by Enoch.  For some reason, not readily explained, the early MS Constitutions favour the children of Lamech as the principals in this ancient legend, which was embodied in the texts to show how all the then‑known sciences were preserved for mankind by this early piece of practical mason work.

The Old Charges were designed primarily to display the antiquity and high importance of the Craft, and it is highly significant that Solomon’s two pillars do not appear in the early versions. David and Solomon are named among a long list of biblical and historical characters who ‘. . . loved masons well . . .’, and gave or confirmed ‘their charges’, but Solomon’s Temple receives only a casual mention, and the pillars are not mentioned at all. It seems fairly certain, therefore, that in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries Solomon’s two pillars had no special significance for the mason craft.  For an excellent survey of pre‑Christian and other early versions and variations of this legend, see Knoop, Jones and Hamer, The Two Earliest Masonic MSS, pp 39‑44 and 162‑63.



The first appearance of Solomon’s pillars in the Craft ritual is in the Edinburgh Register House MS, 1696, in a catechism associated with the ‘Mason Word’ ceremonies.

The earliest‑known reference to the ‘Mason Word’ appears in 1637, in a diary‑entry made by the Earl of Rothes, and although no kind of ceremony is described in that record, it is reasonable to assume that the ‘Mason Word’ ceremonies were already known and practised at that date. The Edinburgh Register House MS is the oldest surviving document which describes the actual procedure of the ceremonies. The text is in two parts. One section, headed ‘The Forme of Giveing the Mason Word’, describes the rather rough and ready procedure for the admission of an entered apprentice, including ceremonies to frighten the candidate, an oath, a form of ‘greeting’, and certain verbal and physical modes of recognition. There is also a separate and similar procedure for the ‘master mason or fellow craft’. (Only two degrees were known at that time.) The second part of this text is a catechism of some seventeen questions and answers, fifteen for the EA and a further two for the master or FC. It is probable that these questions, with the obligation, entrusting and greeting, represent the whole of the ‘spoken‑work’ of the ceremonies at that time.

The questions are of two kinds:

(a) Test questions for the purpose of recognition.

(b) Informative questions for the purpose of instruction and explanation.

Among these we find the first faint hints of the beginning of Masonic symbolism. A question in the catechism of 1696, and in six of the texts that followed soon after, runs:

  1. Where was the first lodge?
  2. In the porch of Solomon’s Temple.

Now, the Edinburgh Register House MS is a complete text; no part of it has been lost or obliterated during the 290 years or so since it was written, in 1696. In fact, there are several related texts belonging to the next twenty years, which amply demonstrate its completeness. It is therefore noteworthy that in this whole group of texts the two earlier pillars, built by the children of Lamech, have virtually disappeared. Barely a hint of them remains in any of the ritual documents from 1696 onwards.

The Dumfries No 4 MS c1710, is a version of the Old Charges which has been greatly enlarged by a collection of ritual questions and answers, with many items of religious interpretation. In its first part, it has the expected reference to the four children of Lamech and their two pillars, but towards the end of the catechism the pillars are mentioned again:

  1. Where [was] the noble art or science found when it was lost?
  2. It was found in two pillars of stone the one would not sink the other would not burn.

This is followed by a long passage of religious interpretation saying that Solomon named his own two pillars in reference to ‘ye two churches of ye Jews & gentiles . . .’ That need not concern us here, but Solomon’s pillars are not normally mentioned in the Old Charges, and the appearance of both sets of pillars in the two parts of the Dumfries MS, suggests that when the ceremonies were shaped to contain Solomon’s J and B, the earlier `indestructible’ pair were abandoned.

There is, in fact, no evidence that they had ever formed any part of the admission ceremonies, but we know very little about the ceremonies in their earliest forms. It seems fairly certain, however, that Solomon’s pillars had achieved a really important place in the Craft ritual in the early 1600s.

Soon after their first mention in the early ritual‑texts these two pillars became a regular part of the ‘furnishings’ of the lodge, and it is possible to trace them from their earliest introduction up to their present place in the lodge‑room, as follows:

(1) Their first appearance as part of a question in the catechism, with much additional evidence that they then had some esoteric significance. The early catechisms are particularly interesting in this respect, because they indicate that both of Solomon’s Pillar names belonged at one time to the EA ceremony.

(2) They were drawn on the floor of the lodge in chalk and charcoal, forming part of the earliest versions of our modern ‘Tracing Boards’. In December, 1733, the minutes of the Old King’s Arms Lodge, No 28, record the first step towards the purchase of a ‘Floor Cloth’. (A QC, vol lxii, p 236.) ‘Drawings’ on the floor of the lodge are recorded in the minutes of the Old Dundee Lodge, No 18, from 1748 onwards. The Herault Letter of 1737 describes the ‘Drawing’, and the later French exposures, from 1744 onwards, contain excellent engravings showing both pillars (marked J and B) on the combined EA and FC floor‑drawing.

(3) Between c1760 and 1765 several English exposures of the period indicate that the Wardens each had a column representing one of the Pillars, as part of his personal equipment in the lodge. The following extract is typical: ‘The senior and junior Warden have each of them a Column in their Hand, about Twenty Inches long, which represents the two Columns of the Porch at Solomon’s Temple, Boaz and Jachin. The Senior is Boaz, or Strength. The Junior is Jachin, or to establish.’ (From Three Distinct Knocks, 1760)

(4) Finally, the two pillars appear as handsome pieces of furniture, perhaps four to eight feet high, standing usually at the western end of the lodge room. The earliest descriptions of the lay‑out of the lodge in the 1700s show both Wardens in the west, facing the Master. The two pillars were generally placed near them, forming a kind of portal, so that the candidates passed between them on their admission, a custom which exists in many lodges to this day.

This was perhaps the last development of all, though some of the wealthier lodges may have possessed such pillars at a comparatively early date. When we consider how many lodge rooms (especially in the provinces) still use pairs of large pillars, it is surprising that the eighteenth‑ and nineteenth‑century inventories make no mention of them. Probably this was because they were part of the equipment of Masonic Halls, so that they belonged to the landlords and not to the various lodges that used the rooms.

So we trace the two pillars from their first appearance as part of a question in the ritual through various stages of development until they became a prominent feature of lodge furniture.

But modern practices are not uniform in regard to the pillars; in London, for example, there are very few lodges which have the tall pillars, but they are always depicted on the second Tracing Board, and they appear in miniature on the Wardens’ pedestals.



Filed under Freemasonry, Gothic Constitutions, Harry Carr, Masonic, Masonic History, Masonic Ritual, Masonic Traditions, Old Charges, Two Pillars


  1. Darren B

    A really interesting article. All too often we take the Lodge furniture as a given and it’s great to find out more about the origin.

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