WHAT IS FREEMASONRY?
According to the legends which form part of the tradition of Freemasonry, the fraternity dates back to the time of the construction of King Solomon's Temple.
This enormous structure required a highly organised workforce and led to stonemasons, architects and others, being organised into various grades or guilds, each with its own responsibilities.
Towards the end of the 19th century, while excavating in the Libyan desert, the British archaeologist and Egyptologist, Sir William Petrie, unearthed papyrus records describing secret meetings around 2000 BC of such a guild. These records concerned not only matters such as working hours, wages and rules for their labour, but also the relief and assistance for workers in distress and for widows and orphans.
Of the many great buildings erected by the Masons of the Middle ages, attention has focused mainly on the great cathedrals of England and Europe.
To build these vast structures, it was necessary for masons to gather in large groups, which moved from one finished structure to the next one under construction.
Considerable knowledge of geometry, arithmetic and engineering was necessary and these craftsmen formed themselves into guilds to maintain a level of qualification for their membership and to protect the secrets of their trade.
The resulting Guild of Stonemasons became a significant centre of learning, serving not only to protect its members, but also to educate worthy apprentices and to increase the reputation of the craft It was not then possible to verify a man's credentials by a union card or by telephone, and signs and words were used for this purpose.
Much of the work of these marvellous craftsmen survives to this day; and from it we find a living inspiration to bring similar qualities to the creation, not of a material building, but of a brotherhood of men of good will.
The status and reputation of these Craft Guilds rose to such a height that it became common for leading citizens to become honorary members.
They were known as ‘Speculative' (as opposed to ‘Operative') Masons or Freemasons. As their numbers grew, and as matters concerned with education and qualification of craftsmen were formalised and controlled at a national level, so the structure of the guilds changed over the years and Lodges came to be composed exclusively of ‘Freemasons'.
One of the earliest mentions of the term ‘Freemason' is in a City of London manuscript dated 1375, which includes reference to regulations for the society; duties to God, church and country; and many references to brotherhood.