Category Archives: Mark Masonry

Is the Mark Degree older than the Craft Degrees? A four-part article by Mike Lawrence. Part Four

To conclude the article, I began with the question “Is the Mark Degree older than the Craft Degrees?” and I first looked at the start of the squared stone building industry in England in the early Middle Ages. This was followed by a look at the organisation of Masons in England and Scotland in the high and late Middle Ages. I then moved to that period what modern day Masonic historian’s call the “transition” which is in fact, the reasons that made men, who were not involved in the building trade or craft want to become non-working or Accepted mason and join a lodge alongside working masons.

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So, to answer the original question, I think we may apply the following scenario, first put by Revd. Barker Cryer:

“There is a realisation amongst Masons that ritual material once possessing infinite mystical value had at some time been discarded from some old practices and suddenly revived and expanded into a rite purporting to restore the genuine secrets”

Can we apply this to Mark Masonry?

The first record we have of Mark Masonry in England is on 1st September 1769 at the Royal Arch Chapter No. 257 when certain brethren were made Mark Masons, after which they chose their mark.

Obviously for there to be a ceremony on that night would certainly indicate a ritual of some kind was used which logic dictates would have been introduced before that date. We know that there is an occasional reference to the term “mark” in several earlier documents, but the same goes for “arch”, but they are not necessarily used in the context with which we understand Mark or Holy Royal Arch to be, so sadly this does not indicate a full separate degree or ritual being practiced earlier than 1769.

The re-introduction of assigning marks could be considered as a once discarded practice, but the Mark ceremony does not have the same antiquity and therfore cannot be.

So, the answer to the first scenario is, NO!

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Secondly, the Revd. Barker Cryer says:

“One of the peculiarities of ritual growth is that customs discarded from the ritual or ignored through lack of understanding in one place surprisingly turns up in another at a much later date.”

This could apply to Mark Masonry as the use of marks, the discarding of spoilt stones and the name Adoniram, pre-date Craft practices, but this does not necessarily prove a direct unbroken chain or link beyond the Craft. After all, much of the Craft system is evident in Mark Masonry, the giving of tokens, signs and words, the administration set up, the position of some of the Officers and the use of the lodge room, which as we know was a late 18th century innovation. Lately, the Mark Degree did developed an independent Lodge room, but this was not prior to the development of the Craft Lodge room.

So, we could partly answer yes to the second scenario, but not with any conviction as we still have no further clues to the antiquity of the Mark Degree, nor that it was ever an independent order.

The final point to make is that we must not confuse the use of mason’s marks and their antiquity, particularly as they have been found on the earliest of squared stone buildings, as being the basis for an independent Mark Degree. Marks were used by all trades to identify the producer or maker or the origin of the piece of work and in this case, given to all qualified stone masons who were not, at that time, known as Mark Masons.

There may even have been a short ceremony involved in the choosing of a mark at the end of an Apprenticeship, but end of Apprenticeship rituals (being one of fun, frivolity and initiation into the trade generally at the expense of the newly qualified individual) was by no means exclusive to Masons. I am sure so many of the more mature Freemasons, will recall from your youth, before the advent of Health and Safety, the things that were done to blood the newly qualified Apprentice on the completion of his indentures.

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It was the French that had a great fondness for religious and chivalric ceremony and this is evident by the development of hundreds of Masonic, non-Masonic and quasi-Masonic degrees which are held by the Grand College of Rites and which included such rituals as:

The Egyptian Rite                    The Rite of Memphis

The Order of Dervishes           The Rite of Mizraim

The Martinist Order                The Early Grand Rite of Scotland

Then we have:

The Rite of Memphis Mark     The Travelling Mark

The French Mark                     The Black Mark

The Ragon Mark

Therefore, many of the Degrees which have, these days, attached themselves under the Masonic banner were developed in France in the early 18th century and their antiquity, which appears to have been lost in the midst of time, in truth date back no further than that.

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So whether we like it or not, we are left with the knowledge that as our Craft Ritual bears little resemblance to pre-1717 practices, particularly as most of the its ritual, dress and surroundings etc., were innovations developed many years after, so I believe Mark has that same distinction.

Mark Masonry is not older than the Craft Masonry, it is not a direct or closer link to Operative Masonry, nor as it is often described “a completion of the Second Degree”, nor is it actually officially recognized within the Grand Lodge of England, as being “pure and antient masonry.”

However, like the Craft, knowledge of its past and its development should never detract from this most beautiful and friendly Degree or the deep spiritual message it contains, neither should it go unacknowledged the great role played and the work carried out by the Mark Benevolent Fund.

For more information about the Mark Masonry please visit:

https://markmasonshall.org/orders/mark-master-mason

https://markmasonshall.org/mbf-home/mark-benevolent-fund

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Is the Mark Degree older than the Craft Degrees? A four-part article by Mike Lawrence – Part Two

We commence the second part of this article with a look at the term ‘Lodge’. A word often found in old manuscripts and spelt in a variety of ways for example: logia, logge, loygge, luge, ludge, a word derived from old French Gallic, meaning hut and which appears to have been used both in England and Scotland in three different senses:

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A) In both countries, the term lodge was used to designate a mason’s workshop that was generally erected in connection with all building operations. Hence, we read in the Vale Royal Abbey building accounts of 1278, that carpenters were paid to erect lodges. The same goes for masons’ lodges and workshops at Catterick Bridge in 1421, Kirby Muxloe Castle in 1481. Then we have details of repairs to masons’ lodges at Beaumaris Castle in 1330 and Westminster Abbey in 1413.

 

The lodge was in fact a workshop where masons cut, dressed and carved stone and it would be fair to say that they would also have taken their permitted breaks within its walls, as at the lodge attached to York Minster in 1370 and St Giles, Edinburgh in 1491. It is also most likely that within its walls, questions affecting the masons trade were discussed along with difficulties experienced during work, techniques, grievances and without doubt, superstitions, fables and stories passed down from the beginning of English squared stone building. We must bear in mind that the Regius MS c.1390 and the Matthew Cooke MS c.1450, our earliest MS contain both charges and the legendary history of the craft.

B) In both countries, the term lodge was often used to describe a group of masons working together on the same building operation. Thus we find references to them at York in 1352 which refers to by-laws and ordinances, Canterbury in1429 which refers to its members as the “masons of the Lodge“, Aberdeen in 1481 which refers to conditions of employment and Edinburgh in 1491 which refers to written statements of old established customs. In effect, it is highly probable that the lodges were in fact much older than the respective dates shown which is only the earliest traceable evidence and not necessarily the start or formation dates.

C) In Scotland, the word Lodge was also used to describe an organised body of masons associated with a particular town or district. In the Schaw Statues of 1598 &1599 we read that “Edinburgh shall be the first principle lodge and Kilwinning the second.” From the St. Clair Charters of 1601 & 1628 we learn of other territorial lodges at St. Andrews, Dundee and Glasgow to name but three. These lodges carried out certain official duties of a trade nature including the regulation of Apprentices, keeping records of the reception and entry of Apprentices, the admission of Fellow Crafts and assigning marks to members. Other duties included settling disputes between Masters and their servants, ensuring no cowans were employed, ensuring Masters did not employ Apprentices or Journeymen of other Masters, collecting funds by way of fees and fines, relief of the distressed, feasting at the expense of the candidate and conferring the Mason Word on qualified members.

But the organizational set up in both England and Scotland were different. Scotland had “Incorporations”. Very briefly, these existed in certain Scottish burghs for the ruling and governing of particular crafts. Established under what is called the “seals of cause”, they were rules and statutes made by the craftsmen and approved by the municipality. Part of the role of the Incorporations was to protect the public or consumer by seeing that the work was properly carried out by authorised and qualified craftsmen to an good quality level.

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In England there were “Craft Gilds”. Surprisingly, the term “Craft Gild” was an invention by 19th century historians who used it to distinguish a particular type of medieval municipal organisation which was concerned, like the Incorporations, with industrial trade regulation and quality, from that other municipal organisation, the “Merchant Gild” which was more concerned with the trading of goods for the whole town.

In medieval documents the organisation which we call a “Craft Gild” is described as a fellowship or mystery, the term has nothing to do with secrets or mysteries of ancient mythology as has long been believed, but the mystery of the craftsman’s trade or his skill, which he long considered his ‘secrets’ and which he would only pass on to an accredited apprentice.

However, since the beginning of the belief that there is a transitional link between stone/operative masons and non-operative or accepted masons, Masonic writers have wrongly devoted considerable space and time to the stone workers fraternities and their mysteries by mistakenly overlooking the fact that the secrets and mysteries of an artisan was his professional skill and not ritualized secrets or mysteries from an ancient civilization.

In essence, there is little evidence to prove that a mason’s fraternity of this kind existed at all in London before the13th or 14th centuries. For example, the names of those elected and sworn in, in 1328 from the various Mysteries in London to represent the government of these organisations included no masons whatsoever. But things change and in 1356, the introduction to the “Regulations for the Trade of Masons” state that, “unlike other trades, Masons had not been regulated in due manner by the folks of the trade” actually implying that there were no craft guilds or mysteries up to that date. However, it was another twenty years later in 1376, that we find the first specific reference to a permanent organisation of masons in London, when four masons were elected to the Common Council to represent the Mystery and the probability is that an organization for masons was established sometime between 1356 and 1376.

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There is some belief that mason’s organisations existed in towns like Chester and Newcastle, because of the evidence we have that masons participated and performed miracle plays in those towns. The trade regulations in the “York Memorandum Book” of 1376 to 1419, contains details of over forty trades, but no reference to masons, and the same is for Coventry. In Chester there is evidence of the participation in such plays appears in the late 16th century, while at Newcastle a Masons Company was incorporated in 1581 with certain duties which included the presentation of a Corpus Christi play. However, we do find specific mention of wallers, bricklayes, daubers and slaters who were granted Charters under Henry VI 1422-1471.

From the Ordinances of 1481 and 1521 it is clear that we have the London Masons Company, a medieval fraternity or mystery with an oligarchy formed or forming within it, as had happened in many other trades.

Interestingly we note here that “foreigns” or non-freemen were not allowed to be employed, while freemen are available. Restrictions were placed on apprentices, one allotted per member and two for liverymen or those that had twice been wardens. Restrictions on the employment of “foreigns” or non-freemen applied up to 1666, when the rebuilding of London, after the great fire, changed the monopolies once held by the mason’s trade.

One of the problems relating to the mason’s trade which one might have considered part of their “ordinances and records” might concern the control or issue of mason’s marks. The Blacksmiths, helmet makers, bladesmiths and braziers of London were all subject to regulation by way of the maker’s marks, but certainly in London no provision regulating the use of marks has been traced in the Masons ordinances, nor has any book survived in the archives, although masons marks can be found on the earlier built Westminster Abbey.

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Having said that, documents dated 1452 do in fact refer to marks and we are told: “A fellow who has learned the work may appear before his Master and, on exhibiting proof of his skill, the Master may award him a mark…and…the master shall within 14 days of his becoming a Fellow, deliver to the new craftsman his mark.”

End of part two.

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Is the Mark Degree older than the Craft Degrees? A four-part article by Mike Lawrence – Part One

Being a review of the long-held belief that the Mark Degree, more than any other, appears to be connected to or resembles operative masonry and therefore predates the Craft in its practice.

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For over twenty-five years I have been researching, writing and lecturing on the subject of Freemasonry. During my time of study, I have purposely stayed within the confines of realistic fact, actual records and authors that are generally regarded as bona fide Masonic historians and not sensationalists. Many of these authors to whom I refer are now dead, but their aims were to promote Masonic knowledge for knowledge sake, not purely for monetary gain.

Therefore, as boring as it may sound, I have never allowed and do not submit myself to read 90% of Masonic publications both old and new, that took or continues to take Freemasonry into the realms of pure fantasy, romantic hypothesis and sheer speculation, and which are and always have been, detrimental to the craft. I guess we cannot blame these authors for writing such things as our first “Books of Constitution” (1723 & 1738), which were sanctioned by Grand Lodge, were no more than historical works of fiction.

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These as we know, were freely exported to America, translated into French and German and as masonry is universal, probably reached every corner of the world. Ultimately, these innocent books infiltrated all Masonic belief, indoctrinated scores of Masonic writers and underpinned the belief that Freemasonry was something that it was not. I personally believe it was the cleverest unintentional hoax of all time.

Incidentally, the copyright of these two “Books of Constitution” belonged to James Anderson, and although as explained sanctioned by Grand Lodge, he was the sole financial beneficiary. In fact, in 1735, when a certain book entitled, “A Pocket Companion for Freemasonry” was published by William Smith, Anderson not only persuaded Grand Lodge to allow him to produce a second copy of his work, particularly as copies of the first edition were now exhausted, but encouraged Grand Lodge to resolve that the Masters and Wardens of the Lodges should discourage their members from buying Smiths book.

But this article is not about Dr. James Anderson, but rather to examine the question:

“Is the Mark Degree older than the Craft Degrees?”

Born from the assumption that brethren who are advanced to the rank of a Mark Master Mason make, soon after their admission, which is that the Mark Degree, more than any other, would appear to be connected to or resemble Operative Masonry, and therefore predate the Craft. Of course, by Operative Masonry I mean that class or fraternity of men that by their skills during the Middle Ages built those wonderful cathedrals and churches which have stood against all odds and in many cases defied the laws of gravity and continue to grace England’s skyline to this very day. Therefore, we can honestly say that in the whole Masonic system, no Degree seems to lay claim to having a greater antiquity than the Mark Degree as it appears to connect or forge links between the modern day system and the much older operative system?

Let us begin by looking at the start of the squared stone building industry in England in the early Middle Ages. Early medieval buildings in Britain consisted mainly of wood and clay (wattle and daub); therefore, the artisans engaged in these buildings were general carpenters and daubers, not masons. In fact, both Britons and Scots were unfamiliar with stone building which involved the use of squared stone and mortar.

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It was probably the Church that introduced the art and it was evident from early in our history that craftsmen from abroad had to be brought to England to do any form of squared stone work. For example, in 674, Benedict Biscop brought craftsmen from Gaul to help build a stone church, in the Roman style, at Wearmouth Abbey. In 709, St. Wilfred, according to a 12th century chronicler, brought masons from Rome to build his church. Further records by Bede in the 7th century, make references to stone churches in Lastingham and Lincoln.

Now there is little doubt that once this art of building and carving was introduced some knowledge was acquired by native artisans, but the likely hood that early building work was performed by local masons, as their own specialist occupation is probably untrue, as their main occupation was connected with agriculture, as in England, stone working during the first millennium was more a by-occupation of farming.

At that time the French were more architecturally advanced than the English, and it took the Norman Conquest before we begin to see the substitution of stone, for wood and clay. In was the Norman influence that led to the development of stone building in this country which started almost immediately after the invasion of 1066 with the building of, cathedrals and castles, followed by abbeys and priories.

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The use of stone and brick in domestic architecture was a later development still, at first used only for chimneys. In was not until the 17th century that they were commonly used in house building.

So the first records we have of a group of stone cutters being brought together as a group or brotherhood was at the building of Magdeburg cathedral in Germany in 1211. This coincides with Milners “History of Winchester” which tells us that in 1211, Bishop Lucy established a company of workman to further the building of the cathedral.

The erection of abbeys, priories, cathedrals, churches and castles implies that the Church and the Crown were the principle employers of masons and this had a profound effect on the organisation of the industry. For example, the typical medieval artisan was his own master, he owned or purchased his own material, worked it with the assistance of an apprentice or journeyman and sold what he had produced. It was his own business.

However, the medieval mason was, by design, a wage earner, who was employed by an agent acting on behalf of the church or crown for whom the building was being erected. Occasionally called a contractor, or in some cases an independent small-scale employer who specialised in supplying rough-dressed stone, ashlars, and moldings.

Records show us that in general medieval building sites had a “Clerk of the Works” who would oversee the financial operation and the “Master of the works” who would oversee the technical side and in many cases prepare the plans and drawings. There were generally two or three types of stone-workers employed on the work and these were:

1) Hewers or Freemasons, who dressed the stones with mallet and chisel.  The superior craftsmen belonging to this category and were able to elaborately carve and shape stone.  They were also occasionally employed as setters. Their work was mainly carried out on site.

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2) Layers or Roughmasons, who laid ashlars. They often roughly dressed stones with an axe or scappling hammer and also laid finished stone, these could work on site if laying or at the quarry.

3) Quarriers, who mainly uncovered the stones, split and broke them and in some cases carried out some rough hewing or dressing with broaching axes and obviously worked at the quarry.

 

As a final note to this section, work on a medieval building site stopped during the winter months which was generally around November through to March and the majority of those employed where either dismissed or suspended. This was because the mortar used was subject to low temperatures, frosts and snow. Having said that, Freemasons who were responsible for caving and shaping often continued their work throughout the winter in their site hut.

So, this ends the first section which sets out to show how the stone building industry first started in England and how this trades’ employment conditions were quite different from most other trades. Next, we look at the organisation of Masons in England and Scotland in the high Middle Ages.

Approximate Historical Periods

Dark Ages                                                            4th – 7th Century

Early Middle Ages                                            8th – 10th Century

High Middles Ages                                           11th – 13th Century

Late Middle Ages                                             14th – 15th Century

Medieval Period                                               5th – 16th Century

The Reformation                                              1517 – 1648

The Renaissance                                              14th – 17th Century

Opening up of the New World                      16th Century

End of part one

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