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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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The Starting Point – (or so you think) Final Part – By Michael Lawrence

The second issue we need to address is Anderson’s account in the 1738 Constitution. This account is purely secondary knowledge as it would appear that he took no part in the formation of Grand Lodge or its early activities. Again I refer to Douglas Knoop and G.P.Jones;

“We think it possible that the statement near the end of the ‘historical’ section of the Constitutions of 1723, to the effect that several noblemen and gentlemen of the best rank with clergymen and learned scholars of most professions and denominations joined the Society during the Grand Mastership of the Duke of Montagu (1721-2) may refer to Anderson himself, among others.  This possibly is not incompatible with Anderson’s own account, according to which Grand Lodge in September 1721 (three months after Montagu’s installation), “finding fault with all the copies of the old Gothic Constitutions, order’d Brother James Anderson A.M. to digest the same in a new and better method”.1Douglas knoop

DOUGLAS KNOOP, M.A., HON.A.R.I.B.A.

Professor of Economics in the University of Sheffield

P.M. Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076, London

So the points to be made from Part One, were 1) The first Grand Lodge did not have jurisdiction over all of England and Part Two, was 2) That Anderson’s account of its formation was second hand.

There are, as you may imagine, other issues concerning Anderson which relate to his past, Herbert Inman claims that;

Dr. James Anderson is said to have been appointed Chaplain of St. Paul’s Operative Lodge in London in 1710 (It has been suggested that this was the Lodge that met at the Goose and Gridiron Ale house in St. Paul’s Church Yard), and it has been alleged that he was expelled from the Society in 1715 (for some unknown misdemeanour)…and that he never became a Master Mason…”2However, Anderson was the Master of Lodge No. 17, which according to Knoop & Jones3 has never been identified, but according to Gould4 however, of the nineteen lodges that attended the Quarterly Communications in 1727, No. 17 was the “Mag: Pye, against Bishopsgate Church”, although there appears to be no uniformity regarding lodge numbers, so this may not be the case.

Anderson’s character and credibility with regard to the enthusiasm shown in editing the 1723 and 1738 Constitutions can also be questioned further as Knoop & Jones explain:

“Although Anderson was only editor of the Book of Constitutions, and although it was issued with the approval of Grand Lodge, it was nevertheless his “sole property”, out of the sale of which he doubtless hoped to make a profit. In other words, Anderson owned the copyright. In February 1735, when the first edition of the Constitutions was exhausted, he sought the approval of Grand Lodge for the preparation of a new revised edition.

In February 1935, when seeking approval for a second edition, Anderson represented to Grand Lodge that a certain William Smith (in A Pocket Companion for Freemasons) had pirated a considerable part of his Constitutions, (to the prejudice of the said Dr. Anderson, it being his sole property”; Grand Lodge resolved that the master and Wardens of the Lodges should discourage their members from buying Smith’s books.”5Therefore, before we even begin to discuss 1717 as the starting date, the confusion starts and all I have done is to demonstrate how even that year, which is acknowledged by the United Grand Lodge of England as our stating point, is not only dubious, but open to debate, along with the contents of the Books of Constitution, whose sale solely benefited one man of possibly doubtful character.

However, as we all need a starting point for our research, I am happy that the point has been set at 1717. Having said that, records suggest that Accepted Masonry was practised in England just prior to about 1600 and Non-Operative Masonry in Scotland just after.

Part Two Bibliography

1) Douglas Knoop and G.P.Jones, The Genesis of Freemasonry, published by Q.C. Correspondence Circle Ltd., 1978 edition, p.160

2) Herbert F. Inman, Masonic Problems and Queries, published by A. Lewis, 1947, p.19

3) Douglas Knoop and G.P.Jones, The Genesis of Freemasonry, published by Q.C. Correspondence Circle Ltd., 1978 edition, p.161

4) Robert Freke Gould, The History of Freemasonry, published by Thomas C. Jack, 1885 edition, p.383

5) Douglas Knoop and G.P.Jones, The Genesis of Freemasonry, published by Q.C. Correspondence Circle Ltd., 1978 edition, p.164

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