The Historical Origins of Freemasonry


After the departure of the Roman legions and the withdrawal of the Roman protection, Britain, left to its own resources, was soon harassed by the invasions of Scots and Picts, by predatory excursions of barbarians from the opposite shores of the North Sea, and by civil distractions which were the natural result of the division of power among many rival petty principalities.

Among the Britons there was one leader, Gwotheyrn, or, as he is more generally called, Vothgern, who seems to have assumed, if he did not legally possess it, a predominating position over the other British princes. Feeling, after various unsuccessful attempts, that he could not, by his unaided forces, repulse the invaders, he sought the assistance of the Saxons.

The Saxons were a tribe of warlike sea-kings who occupied the western shore of what has since been known as the Duchy of Holstein, with the neighboring islands on the coast. Brought across the sea by the invitation of the Britons, they soon expelled the Picts and Scots.

But, attracted by the delights of the climate and the fertility of the soil, so superior to the morasses of their own restricted and half-submerged territory, they remained to contest the possession of the island with its native inhabitants. Hence there followed a series of conflicts which led at last to the expulsion of the native Britons, who were forced to retire to the southwestern parts of the island, and the establishment of tlie Saxon domination in England.

During the period of intestine wars which led to this change, not only of a government, but of a whole people, it is not to be supposed that much attention could have been paid to the cultivation of architecture or Masonry. Amid the clash of arms the laws are silent, and learning and the arts lie prostrate.

Yet we are not to believe that all the influences of the preceding four or Eve centuries were wholly paralyzed. Gildas, it is true, complains in querulous language and an involved style, [i] in the Epistle which is annexed to his History, of the wickedness both of the clergy and the laity, but the greatest licentiousness is not altogether incompatible with the preservation of some remains of the architectural skill and taste which had been originally imparted by the Roman artificers.

The Saxons themselves were not a thoroughly barbarous people. The attempts to subdue the tribes of Germany as they had those of Spain, of Gaul, and of Britain were not very successful. The ferocious bravery of the Germans under the leadership of the great Hermann, into Herminius by Tacitus, was able to stem the progress of the Roman legions in the interior of the country and to confine them eventually to the possession of a few fortresses on the Rhine.

The German tribes, among whom we are, of course, to count the Saxons, were thus enabled to retain their own manners, customs, and language, while their communication with the legions, both in war and in peace, must have imbued them with some portion of Roman civilization. Many new ideas, feelings, reasoning and habits, says Mr. Turner, must have resulted from this mixture, and the peculiar minds and views of the Germans must have been both excited and enlarged.

The result of this union of German and Roman improvement was the gradual formation of that new species of the human character and society which has descended, with increasing melioration, to all the modern states of Europe.[ii]

Dr. Anderson, when describing the Saxon invasion of Britain, says that the Anglo-Saxons came over all rough, ignorant heathens, despising everything but war; nay, in hatred to the Britons and Romans, they demolished all accurate structures and all the remains of ancient learning, affecting only their own barbarous manner of life, till they became Christians.[iii]

Entick and Northouck, in their subsequent editions of the Book of Constitutions, havc repeated this slander, which, even if it were a truth, could not have forever obliterated the connection which we are seeking to trace between the Masonry of the Roman Colleges and that of mediaeval England; because, although it might have been suspended by Saxon barbabsn, it is easy to prove that it could have been renewed by subsequent intercourse with the architects of France.

But against this careless misrepresentation of Anderson and his subsequent editors, let us trace the more accurate and better digested views of the historian of the Anglo-Saxons. Mr. Turner, when writing of the arrival of Hengist with his Saxon followers in England, says:

The Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain must therefore not be contemplated as a barbarization of the country. Our Saxon ancestors brought with. them a superior domestic and moral character, and the rudiments of new political, juridical, and intellectual blessings.

An interval of Aaughor and desolation unavoidably occurred before they established themselves and their new systems in the island. But when they had completed their conquest, they laid the foundations of that national constitution, of that internal polity, of those peculiar customs, of that female modesty, and of that vigor and direction of mind, to which Great Britain owes the social progress which it has so eniinently acquired.[iv]

The fact is that, though the Saxons introduced a style of their own, to which writers on architecture have given their name, they borrowed in their practice of the art the suggestions left by the Romans in their buildings, and used the materials of which they were composed.

Thus a writer on this subject says that the Saxons appear to bave formed for themselves a tolerably regular and rude style, something midway between the indigenous and the Roman in its details, and he attributes this to the buildings left by the Romans in the country, which, though rare, must have been sufficiently abundant long after their departure from the island.

Abundant evidence will be shown in the course of the present chapter that there was not a total disruption of Saxon architecture and Masonic methods of associated labor from that which was first introduced into Britain by the architects of the Roman Colleges.

There were, of course, some modifications to be attributed partly to a want of experienced skill, partly to the suggestions of new ideas, and partly to the influence of novel religious relations.

The temple, for instance, of the Romans had to be converted into the church of the Christians, but the Roman basilica was the model of the Saxon church, and the Roman architect was closely imitated, as well as could be, by his Saxon successor.

The spirit and the influence and the custom of the Roman College was not lost or abandoned. Scarcely more than a century elapsed between the arrival of the Saxons and the entire subjugation of the country, and that space of time is to be divided among the briefer periods required for the continued successes of different chieftains.

Thus it took Hengist only eight years after his first coming to firmly establish himself in the kingdom of Kent. Only forty years after the establishment of the Saxon octarchy, Pope Gregory sent St. Augustine from Rome with missionaries to convert the Saxons to the faith of Christianity.

During all this interval many Roman buildings had existed in England, which, from their size and magnificence of construction, must have become models familiar to the Saxons. The temples of the Saxon idols had been constructed of wood, and as Gregory permitted them to be converted into Christian places of worship, the Saxon churches at first were almost all of that material.

There was a deficiency of better materials. But we find an effort to use them whenever they could be obtained, so that a kind of construction called stone carpentry prevailed, in which we find a wood design contending with stone materials. [v] But in not much later times, and long before the Norman Conquest or the introduction of Gothic architecture, the Saxons built their churches, monasteries, and other public edifices entirely of stone.

Although it may be admitted that the pagan Saxons on their first arrival did indeed destroy many of the churches which had been erected by the British Christians and expelled the priests, yet it must be remembered that by the subsequent advent of Augustine from Rome a new life was restored to architecture and the arts, and that as Mr. Paley says, the frequent missions and pilgrimages to Rome, together with the importation of Italian churchmen, which took place as early as the end of the 7th century, must have exercised great influence upon ecclesiastical architecture in England. [vi]

It will be seen hereafter that the Saxons repeatedly resorted to the aid of foreign workmen from Rome or from Gaul in the construction of their churches, so that the influences of the Roman system which was derived in former times from the Roman Colleges continued at frequent intervals to be renewed, and the link of connection was thus kept unbroken.

The principal difference between the works of the Roman and the Saxon architects has been supposed to be that the former built in shine and the latter in wood. And if this were true, it is evident that all inquiry into the nature of Saxon architecture must be at an end; for as the wooden edifices must have long since perished, all the remens of stone structures which have been excavated in England will have to be attributed to the age of the Roman domination before the invasion of the Saxons, or to that which succeeded the conquest by the Normans.

The perishable fabrics of timber erected by the Saxons would have left no traces behind. The erroneous opinion that the Saxons built all their churches of timber was first advanced by Stow, in his Survey of London, and afterward by Mr. Somner in his Antiquities of Canterbury, who says that before the Norman advent most of our monasteries and church buildings were of wood, and he asserts that upon the Norman Conquest these fabrics of timber grew out of use and gave place to stone buildings raised upon arches.

But the Rev. J. Bentham, in his History of the Cathedral Church of Ely, has refuted the correctness of this view with unanswerable arguments. He has shown that although there were some instances of wooden edifices, yet that the Saxon churches were generally built of stone, with pillars, arches, and sometimes vaultings of the same material.

And he adds the following remarks, which are important in the present connection as showing that the Roman influence continued to be felt in the Saxon times, and thus that the chain which we are tracing remained unbroken.

"There is great probability that at the time the Saxons were converted the art of constructing arches and vaultings and supporting stone edifices by columns was well known among them; they had many instances of such kind of buildings before them in the churches and other public edifices erected in the times of the Romans.

For notwithstanding the havoc that had been made of the Christian churches by the Picts and Scots, and by the Saxons themselves, some of them were then in being.

Bede mentions two in the city of Canterbury. Besides these two ancient Roman churches it is likely there were others of the same age in different parts of the kingdom, which were then repaired and restored to their former use." [vii]

Of the two Roman churches for whose existence Bentham refers to the authority of Bede, that venerable historian says,

There was on the east side of the city a church dedicated to the honor of St. Martin, built while the Romans were still in the island, wherein the queen, who, as has been said before, was a Christian, used to pray, [viii] and of the other that Augustine recovered in the royal city a church which he was informed had been built by the ancient Roman Christians, and consecrated it to our Saviour.[ix]

In an article on Anglo-Saxon architecture, published in the Archaeological Journal for March, 1844, Mr. Thomas Wright (no mean authority on antiquarian science) has, like Mr. Bentham, successfully combated the doctrine that all the Saxon churches were wooden.

I think, he says, the notion Anglo-Saxon churches were all built of wood will now hardly find supporters. He admits, which none will deny, that there were structures of this kind. A few wooden churches are mentioned in Domesday Book, and we learn from other authorities that there were some others.

But he contends that a careful perusal of the early chroniclers would afford abundant proof that churches were not only abundant among the Anglo-Saxons but that they were far from being always mean structures.

Speaking of the Saxon churches, which Odericus Vitalis tells us were repaired by the Normans immediately after the conquest, he remarks that if they had been mean structures and in need of repairs, it is more probable that the Normans would have built new ones.

The conclusions which are to be drawn from Mr. Wright s article are that while there were undoubtedly some wooden structures, just as there are in this day, the Anglo-Saxons built many churches, and built them sumptuously of stone, and in the Roman manner.

The Rev. Richard Hart is therefore right when he says, on the authority of the architect Mr. Rukman, that in the construction of their churches, the Anglo-Saxons imitated Roman models; as might naturally be expected, considering that Rome was the source from which their Christianity had been derived, the birthplace of many of their prelates and clergy, and at that period the very focus of learning and civilization.[x]

It has been conceded that during the comparatively brief period that was occupied by the Saxons after their arrival in Britain until they obtained complete possession of the country, the intestine wars between them and the natives must have had the effect of suspending the pursuit of architecture.

But it has been shown that this suspension did not altogether obliterate the influence of the Roman builders. who had established their methods of building when the island was a province of the empire.

And it has also been seen that the destruction by the Saxons of the Christian churches which had been built by Roman architects was not so thorough or so universal as has been supposed by some writers, and that they did not, as Northouck, amplifying the language of Anderson, says, root out all the sands of learning and the arts that the Romans had planted in Britain.[xi]

On the contrary, we have the evidence of the Venerable Bede and the repeated testimony of modern excavations that there were at the time of the Saxon conversion to Christianity at least two Roman churches standing which might serve as models for the Saxon Masons, and numerous remains of Roman buildings which afford materials for new structures.

And now, after the conversion, we find the chain connecting Roman Masonry with that pursued by the Saxons renewed and strengthened not only by these models, but by the direct influence of the prelates who were sent from Rome, and who brought with them or sent for workmen to Rome and Gaul, who might carry out More Romano (in the Roman manner) their designs in the building of churches and monasteries.

Butler, in his Lives of the Saints, a work, however, in which we must not place implicit confidence, says that on the permanent settlement of Augustine in Britain, at the close of the 6th century, when Ethelbert, the King, had been converted, and the people generally were accepting the new, religion, the princes and nobles were very zealous in building and endowing churches and religious houses, and many of them travelled to Rome and other foreign parts to improve themselves in the sacred sciences. [xii]

That there was at that time a constant and uninterrupted communication between Rome and Britain is evident from the frequent epistles from Gregory, the Pontiff, to Augustine and to the King, Ethelbert.

Missionaries were also sent to Britain to assist Augustine in his pious work, and it is not at all improbable that Masons came with them from Rome, or from Gaul, to be employed in the construction of churches and monasteries, with which the land was being rapidly filled.

But we have more to rely on than mere supposition.

There are abundant records showing that workmen were imported from abroad for the purpose of building, and that thus the Roman method was renewed in the island.

Anderson is not, therefore, strictly correct when he says that the Anglo-Saxons, affecting to build churches and monasteries, palaces and fine mansions, too late lamented the ignorant and destructive conduct of their fathers, but knew not how to repair the public loss of old architecture. [xiii] It has been shown that there were some models of Roman buildings still remaining, and there was no ignorance of the need of obtaining workmen from Rome or Gaul, and no want of opportunity to obtain them.

He is, therefore, more historically right when he adds, though it contradicts his former assertion, that these works required many Masons, who soon formed themselves into societies or lodges by direction of foreigners who came over to help them. [xiv]

He is altogether wrong in saying that the Saxons adopted the Gothic style in building. That style of architecture was not invented until long afterward. In the year 627, Edwin, King of Northumbria, who had been converted by Paulinus, one of the missionaries of Augustine, was baptized in the city of York, the capital of his kingdom.

While receiving the necessary religious instructions he built a temporary church of timber, in which the sacrament of baptism might be administered. But immediately afterward, under the direction of Bishop Paulinus, he caused the foundation to be laid of a larger and nobler church, of stone, which, although immediately begun, was not finished until after his death, by his successor, Oswald. [xv]

Although Bede, in narrating the event, says nothing of any foreign aid that had been asked or received in its construction, yet it is evident from the facts that the church was built of stone and in a square form, like a Roman basilica, [xvi] and would imply the necessity of Roman Masons, or other foreigners imbued with the Roman method, to superintend the work.

In the assembling of foreign Masons at York to erect St. Peter's Church, under the auspices of King Edwin, is supposed by modern Masonic writers to be the assembly incorrectly referred to in the Legend of the Craft as an assembly held at York, under the patronage of Prince Edwin, the son of Athelstan, three hundred years afterward.

But this subject has been so thoroughly discussed in the preceding part of this work, under the head of the York Legend, that it is unnecessary to renew the controversy. Besides St. Peter s, at York, Paulinus built many other churches.

Some of them we know were of stone, and the others might have been of the same material, as Bentham says, for aught that appears to the contrary.

He was certainly a great patron of ecclesiastical architecture, but Anderson makes no mention of him, although, according to his fashion, he should have styled him, as he does Charles Martel, a Right Worshipful Grand Master.

Another distinguished architect, of a not much later period, was Benedict Biscop, Abbot of Weremouth, whom the Roman Church has canonized.

In the year 675 he built a church at Weremouth, and two monasteries, one at Weremouth and one six miles distant from Jarrow. Of these Bede has given a particular account in his history of them.

He tells us that the abbot went over into France to engage workmen to build his church after the Roman manner, and brought many back for that purpose The monk was prosecuted with such vigor that within a year the church was completed and divine service performed in it.

But a very important fact stated by Bede is that when the church was nearly finished Benedict sent over to France for artificers skilled in the mystery of making glass (an art hitherto unknown in Britain), who glazed the windows and taught the art to the Saxons.

We learn from this statement that it was customary with the Saxons to seek assistance from the skill of the continental artists and handicraftsmen. This will explain the true meaning of the passage in the Legend of the Craft, which refers to the introduction of French and other Masons into England in the 7th century, in the time of Charles Martel, and afterward at the supposed Assembly at York, in the 10th century.

And it affords a confirmation of what has been frequently said in the previous part of this work, that the Legend of the Craft, though often chronologically absurd and incorrect in many of its details, yet has throughout in its most important particulars a really historical foundation.

The historians of that period supply us with many proofs that churches and monasteries were erected by the Saxons of stone after the Roman manner, or that they sent abroad for architects to superintend the construction of their buildings.

Eddius Stephanus, who flourished at the beginning of the 8th century, and whose name has been transmitted to posterity by his Life of Saint Wilfrid, informs us that that saint, who was also Bishop of York about the middle of the 7th century, erected many sumptuous buildings in his diocese and thoroughly repaired the church of St. Peter at York, which had been much injured in the war between the Mercians and the Northumbrians.

But Eddius especially refers to two churches built by Wilfrid, the one at Ripon in Yorkshire and the other at Hexham in Northumberland.

Of the former he says that Wilfrid built a church at Ripon from the foundations to the top of polished stone, [xvii] and supported it with various columns and porticos. This polished stone as a material and these columns and porticos, where arches would probably be required, indicate the presence and the instruction of Roman architects, whether they came from Rome or Gaul.

But of all his works, the church of St. Andrew at Hexham seems to have been the most magnificent. Hexham was a part of the crown- lands of the Kings of Northumbria, and, having been settled in dower on Queen Ethelrida by King Egfrid, a grant of it was made to Wilfrid for the purpose of erecting it into an episcopal see.

Wilfrid began to lay the foundations of the cathedral church in the year 674. Eddius speaks of it in terms of great admiation, and says that there was no other building like it on this side of the Alps.

He describes its deep foundations and the subterranean rooms, all of wonderfully polished stones, and of the building consisting of many parts above ground, supported by various columns and many porticos, ornamented with a surprising length and height of walls, and surrounded by mouldings, and having turnings of passages sometimes ascending or descending by winding stairs, so that he asserts that he had not words to explain what this priest, taught by the spirit of God, had contemplated doing.

Five centuries after, in 1180, the remains of this famous church were still standing, though in a condition of decay. Richard, Prior of Hexham, who lived at that time, describes the church with still more minuteness. He says that the foundations were laid deep in the earth for crypts and subterranean oratories, and the passages underground which led to them were contrived with great exactness.

The walls were of great length and height, and divided into three separate stories, which were supported by square and other kinds of well-polished columns. The walls, the capitals of the columns which supported them, and the arch of the sanctuary were decorated with historical representations, images, and various figures in relief, carved in stone and painted in an agreeable variety.

The body of the church was encompassed with penthouses and porticos which, above and below, were divided with wonderful art by partition walls and winding stairs. Within the staircases and upon them were flights of stone steps and passages leading from them, both ascending and descending, which were disposed with so much art that multitudes of people might be there and go all around the church without being perceived by any one who was in the nave.

Many beautiful private oratories were erected with great care and workmanship in the several divisions of the porticos, in which were altars in honor of the Blessed Virgin, of St. Michael, Archangel, of St. John the Baptist and of the holy Apostles, martyrs, confessors, and virgins, with the proper furniture for each.

Some of these, Prior Richard says, were remaining; at his day, and appeared like so many turrets and fortified places. [xviii]

Of a church of such grand proportions, such massive strength, and such artistic construction, it cannot, for a single moment, be supposed that it was built by the uncultivated skill of Saxon Masons.

The stone material, the supporting arches, the intricate passage, the winding stairs, all proclaim the presence of foreign architects and a continuation or a resumption in England of the methods of Roman Masonry.

Nor is this at all improbable.

Wilfrid, although a Saxon, had from an early age received his ecclesiastical education in Rome, and after his return to Northumberland had not only maintained a constant correspondence with, but had made several visits to, the imperial city, and was personally well acquainted with France.

When, therefore, he commenced the construction of important religious houses of such magnitude, he had every facility for the importation of foreign workmen, and there can be no reason for denying that he availed himself of the opportunities which were afforded to him.

Indeed the Venerable Bede conceeds this when he says that the most reverend Wilfrid was the first of the English bishops who taught the churches of the English nation the Catholic, that is the Roman, mode of life. [xix]

During the long period of forty-five years, in which he occupied the Episcopal See of York, Bishop Wilfrid caused a very great number of churches and monasteries to be built, and must in that way have greatly enlarged and improved the architectural skill of his people by the introduction of foreign artists.

Singularly enough, neither Anderson nor his successors, Entick and Northouck, in the various editions of the Rook of Conctitutions have thought him to be worthy of the slightest mention, though undoubtedly we have historical evidence that he was far better entitled than that less important and less useful man, St. Alban, to have it said of him that he loved Masons well and cherished them much.

Indeed all that is said in the Legendof the Craft of the protomartyr might with more plausibility be ascribed to Wilfrid, Bishop of York. Bentham, in his History of the Cathedral Church of Ely, [xx] has said of Wilfrid, relying on the almost contemporaneous authority of Bede, of Eddius Stephanus and of Richard, the Prior of Hexham, that in consequence of the favor and the liberal gifts bestowed upon him by the kings and the nobility of Northumberland, he rose to a degree of opulence so as to vie with princes in state and magnificence and was thus enabled to found several rich monasteries and to build many stately edifices.

In the prosecution of these great undertakings he gave due encouragement to the most skillful builders and artificers of every kind who were eminent in their several trades. He kept them in his service by proper rewards, or, as the Legend of the Craft says of St. Alban, he made their pay right good.

Some of these he obtained at Canterbury, whither they had been introduced by Augustine to aid him in the construction of the churches in Kent. Eddius is distinct on this point, for he says, in his Life of Wilfrid, that when he returned home from his visit to Canterbury, he brought back not only skillful singers, who might instruct his choirs in the Roman method of singing, but also Masons and artists of almost every kind. [xxi]

Richard, Prior of Hexham, says that he secured from Rome, Italy, France, and other countries where he could find them, Masons and skillful artificers of other kinds, whom he brought to England for the purpose of carrying on his works. [xxii]

William of Malmesbury also says that to construct the buildings that Wilfrid had designed Masons had been attracted from Rome by the hope of liberal rewards, [xxiii] and both Eddius, his biographer, and William of Malmesbury concur in declaring that he was eminent for his knowledge and skill in the science of architecture.

The spirit of improvement and the skill in architecture which had been introduced into Northumberland by its Bishop were not confined to his own country, but through his influence were extended to the other kingdoms of the Heptarchy.

They made their way even into the more northern parts of the island, for Bede informs us [xxiv] that in the beginning of the 8th century, Naitan, King of the Picts, sent messengers to Ceolfrid, Abbot of the Monastery of Weremouth, praying to have architects sent him to build a church in his nation after the Roman manner.

Hence, says Bentham, it should seem that the style of architecture generally used in that age in England was called the Roman manner, and was the same that was then used at Rome in Italy and in other parts of the empire. [xxv]

Mr. John M. Kemble, when commenting on circumstances like these in the learned Introduction to his Diplomatic Codex of the Saxon Era, has very justly said that the great advance in civilization made especially in Northumberland before the close of the 7th century proves that even the rough denizens of that inhospitable portion of our land were apt and earnest scholars.[xxvi]

The next eminent Saxon patron of Masonry of whom we have any record is Albert, who in 767 became the successor of Egbert as Archbishop of York.

The church which had been built by Paulinus in the 7th century, having been much dilapidated by a conflagration and not having been sufficiently repaired, was wholly taken down by Albert, who determined to rebuild it.

This he did with the assistance of two eminent architects, his disciples, Eanbald, who succeeded him in the see of York, and the celebrated Alcuin, who afterward introduced learning into the court of Charlemagne, of whom he became the preceptor.

Alcuin, in a poem On the Pontiffs and Saints of the Church of York, [xxvii] has given a full description of the rebuilding of the church, from which we may learn the degree of perfection to which architecture had then arrived.

We find in that description the account of a complete and exquisitely finished piece of architecture, the new construction of a wonderful church, as Alcuin expresses it, consisting of a tall building supported by solid columns, with arches, vaulted roofs, splendid doors and windows, porticos, galleries, and thirty altars variously ornamented.

This templum, says the poem of Alcuin, [xxviii] was built under the orders of the Master Albert by his two disciples, Eanbald and Alcuin, working harmoniously and devotedly.

The predatory aggressions of the Danish pirates, and their more permanent invasion in the latter part of the 9th century, though marked by all the atrocities of a barbarous enemy, and with the destruction of innumerable churches and monasteries and the burning of many towns and villages, must of course have suspended for a time all progress in architecture.

But it could have been only a temporary suspension.

Their occupancy lasted but twelve years, and the knowledge of the Roman method which had been acquired by the Saxons could not have been lost in that brief period, nor were all the monuments of their skill destroyed.

Enough remained for models, and many of the old Masons must have been still living when civilization was renewed in England by the restoration of Alfred to the throne.

Asser, the contemporary and the biographer of Alfred or whoever assumed his name, [xxix] admits that during the Danish domination the arts and sciences had begun to be neglected, but the wise and vigorous measures pursued by Alfred on his accession soon restored them to more than their former condition of prosperity.

Matthew of Westminster, a Benedictine monk who lived in the 14th century and whose narrative of events is valuable because it is that of a careful observer, tells us that with a genius of his own, not hitherto displayed by others, Alfred occupied himself in building edifices which were venerable and noble beyond anything that had been attempted by his predecessors, and that many Frenchmen and natives of other countries came to England, being attracted by his amiable and affable character and by the protection and gifts which he bestowed on all strangers of worth, whether noble or low-born.

Among these foreigners we must naturally suppose that there were many architects and builders from France and Italy, who came to find employment in the various works on which the king was engaged. [xxx] Matthew also tells us that Alfred bestowed one-sixth of his revenues on the numerous artisans whom he employed and who were skillful in every kind of work on land. [xxxi]

Florence of Worcester, a monk who wrote in the 12th century, says that among the other accomplishments of Wilfrid he was skilled in architecture and excelled his predecessors in building and adorning his palaces, in constructing large ships for the security of his coasts, and in erecting castles in convenient parts of the country.[xxxii]

Indeed all the chroniclers of his own and following ages concur in attributing to the great Alfred, the best and wisest monarch who ever sat on the English throne, the resuscitation of Saxon architecture and the introduction anew into the kingdom of foreign architects from Italy and France, so that the connection between the Roman and the Saxon was continued without material interruption.

In the last year of the 9th century, Alfred was succeeded by his eldest son, Edward, a prince who has been described as inferior to his father in learning and the love of literature, but who by his martial prowess greatly extended the boundaries of his dominions.

Though not so great a patron of architecture as his predecessor, the science was not deteriorated during his reign. He founded or repaired some churches and monasteries, and built. several cities and towns, which he encompassed with massive walls as a protection against the sudden incursions of the Danes.

In 924 Edward was succeeded by his illegitimate son, Athelstan. Although the records of the old chroniclers of England speak only of a few monasteries that were founded by Athelstan, the legendary history of the Craft assigns to him an important character as having granted a charter for the calling of an Assembly of Masons at the city of York.

And to this Assembly the legendist as well as all modern writers up to a very recent period have sought to trace the origin of Freemasonry in England. This subject has already been very fully discussed in the chapter on the York Legend, in the first part of the present work, and it will be unnecessary to renew the discussion here.

I will only add that since writing that chapter I have diligently examined all the charters granted by King Athelstan, copies of the originals of which are contained in the Codex Diplomaticus, published by the English Historical Society, and have failed to find in them any one in which there is the slightest allusion to the calling of an Assembly of Masons at York.

If such a charter ever existed (of which I have no idea), it has been irretrievably lost. The non-appearance of the charter certainly does not prove that it never was granted, but its absence deprives the advocates of the York theory of what would be the best and most unanswerable evidence of the truth of the Legend.

In fact Edgar, his nephew, who ascended the throne in 959, after the brief reigns of his father, Edmund, his uncle, Edred, and his brother, Edwy, was a greater encourager of architecture, or, as the old historians of Masonry would have called him, a better patron of the Craft, than Athelstan.

During his reign the land was so seldom embroiled in strife that the early chroniclers have styled him Edgar the Pacific. Thus was he enabled to devote himself to the improvement of his kingdom and the condition of his subjects. He founded more than forty monasteries, and among them the magnificent abbey of Ramsay, in Huntingdonshire.

From a description of this abbey, given in its history, which has been preserved by Gale, we are led to believe that in the reign of Edgar the old style of building churches in the square form of a basilica or Roman Hall of justice was beginning to be abandoned for the cruciform shape, as more symbolically suited to a Christian temple.

He built also the old abbey church of Westminster, which Sir Christopher Wren says, in the Parentalia, was probably a good, strong building after the manner of the age, not much altered from the Roman way. This way, Wren says, was with piers or round pillars (stronger than Tuscan or Doric), round-headed arches and windows.

And he refers, as instances of this method borrowed from the Roman, to various buildings erected before the Conquest. Whatever may be said of the private and personal character of Edgar and he can not be acquitted of the charge of licentiousness, as a monarch he certainly sought to improve the condition of his kingdom, to secure the comfort of his subjects, and to encourage the cultivation of the arts and sciences, among which architecture was not the least prominent.

It is hardly necessary to pursue the details of the condition of the art of building in the few remaining years of the Anglo-Saxon dynasty. Such a plan would be appropriate to a professional history of English architecture. But enough has been said to maintain the hypothesis of the origin and rise of Masonry, which is the special object of the present work.

It has already been shown that the system of associated workmen in the craft of building arose in the Roman Colleges of Artificers, of Builders, or of Masons, call them by either name; that this system, with the skill that accompanied it, was introduced from Rome into Britain at the time of the real conquest of that island by Claudius, by the artisans who followed the legions and became colonists of the province; that on the accession of the Saxons to the government of the country, though the Britains were driven to the remoter parts of the island in the West, monuments of the Roman workmen remained to perpetuate the method; that the Saxons themselves were not a wholly barbarous people, and that by their rapid conversion to Christianity the communication with Rome was renewed through the missionaries who came to them from that city; that when the monks began the construction of religious houses they sent to Italy or to Gaul for workmen who were educated in the Roman method; and that thus, by the architectural works which were accomplished under ecclesiastical auspices, the continuous chain which connected the Masons of the Roman Colleges with the Saxon builders remained unbroken.

From the death of Edgar to the final extinction of the Saxon dynasty and the establishment of the Norman race upon the throne of England, though history records few great architectural achievements, nothing was absolutely lost of the skill and the methods of Masonry which had been acquired in the lapse of centuries and from continual communications with foreign artists.

Even the interpolation of the reigns of three Danish kings, of which two were very brief, produced no disastrous effects. So when Harold, the last Saxon monarch, was slain at the battle of Hastings, in the year 1066, and the crown passed into the possession of the Norman William, many specimens of Saxon architecture were still remaining. There is one episode in the history of the Anglo-Saxons which is of too much importance to be passed over without an extended notice.

I allude to the establishment of Guilds. These were confraternities which, as will hereafter be shown, gave form and feature to the organization of the modern Masonic Lodges. But this is a subject of so much interest in the present inquiry that it can not be dismissed at the close of the investigation of a different though cognate topic.

Its consideration must therefore be deferred to the succeeding chapter.

[i] Of all the post-classical writers in Latin none is so difficult to comprehend or to mandate as Gildas. Beddes, the fact that there are in existence only two codices of the original manuscript, and that subsequent editions have indulged in many, various, and sometimes contradictory readings, add to the difficulty of a correct interpretation of his writings.

[ii] "History of the Anglo-Saxons," i., p. 96

[iii] "Constitutions," 2d edition, p. 60.

[iv] "History of the Anglo-Saxons," i., p. 179

[v] Paley, "Manual of Gothic Architecture," p. 12.

[vi] Paley, "Manual of Gothic Architecture," p. 13.

[vii] "History of the Cathedral Church of Ely," sec. v., P. 17.

[viii] Bede, "Histoire Ecclesiasticle," lib. i., cap. 26.

[ix] Ibid,, lib. i., cap. 33-35

[x] "Ecclesiastical Records," ch. v., note 2, p. 217.

[xi] Northouck, "Constitutions," Part II., ch. ii., p. 90.

[xii] Lives of the Saints," vol. v., pp. 418, 419.

[xiii] "Constitutions," 2d edition, p. 61.

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] Bede, " History," lib. ii., cap. 14.

[xvi] This is the very word used by Bede. "Majorem et augustiorem de lapida fabricare curavit basilicam." The Roman basilica, or Hall of Justice, was the model of all the early churches built by Roman architects, and the old basilica, were often converted with but little change into churches by the Christian emperors.

[xvii] Polito lapide is the language used by Eddius. "Vita S. Wilfridi," cap. xvii., p. 59. He uses the same words in describing the materials of the church at Hexham.

[xviii] Richardi, Prior Hagustal," lib. i., chap. iii

[xix] Bede, "Histroy" lib. iv, cap. ii.

[xx] History of the Cathedral Church of Ely," P- 23

[xxi] Eddius, "Vita S. Wilfridi,"cap.xiv. Camentariis is the word employed by Eddius. Now, caementarius was the word used in mediaeval Latin to designate an Operative Mason. Ducange cites Magister caementariorum, the "Master of the Masons," as used by mediaeval writers to denote one who presided over the building, him whom he calls the Master of the Works.

[xxii] De Roma quoque, et Italia, et Francia, et de aliis terris ubicumque invenire poterat, camentarios et quoslibet alios industrios artifices secum retinuerat, et ad opera sua facienda secum in Angliam adduxerat. "Richardi, Prior Hagustal," lib. i., cap. V.

[xxiii] "Caementarios, quos ex Roma spes munificentioe attraxerat. Gulilm. Malsmb. de Gestis Pontif." Angl., P. 272. The "spes munificentiae" was the expectation of higher wages, just what the "Legend of the Craft" says that St. Alban established. It is curious to remark how everything that that Legend ascribes to St. Alban may with equal propriety be attributed on historic authority to St. Wilfrid. It is strange that the later Masonic writers as well as the legendists should have completely ignored St. Wilfrid, who was the real reformer, if not actual founder, of the English Masonry in connection with the Roman.

[xxiv] In Book V., chapter xxi. of his "Ecclesiastical History."

[xxv] "History of the Cathedral Church of Ely," p. 25.

[xxvi] "Codex Diplomaticus Aevi Saxonici." This learned and laborious work, edited by Mr. Kemble and published in 1839, in six large octave volumes, by the English Historical Society, contains copies either in Saxon or in Latin of nearly all the royal and other charters issued during the Saxon domination which have been preserved in various collections.

[xxvii] "Pontificibus et Sanctis Ecclesise Eboracensis." It was published in 1691 by Dr. Thomas Gale in his "Historian Britanicm," Saxonioe et Anglo-Danicoe Scriptores quindecim, usually cited as " Gale's XV Scriptores."

[xxviii] "Hoc duo discipali templum doctore jubente,

AElig;dificarunt Eanbaldus et Alcuinus, ambo

Concordes operi devota mente studentes."

Alcuin De Pontifet Sanct. Eccl. Ebor.

[xxix] Doubt has been entertained by Mr. Wright, and plausible reasons assigned for the doubt, of the authenticity of Asser's "Life of Alfred," which work he is disposed to believe was written as late as the latter part of the 12th century ("Essays on Archaeology," i., 183). But even if this were correct, it would not affect the truth of the statement in the text.

[xxx] "Matthew of Westminster," c. xvi., ad annum 871.

[xxxi] Ibid., ad annum 888.

[xxxii] Flor. Wegorn, ad annum 871, 887. He calls him "in arte architectonica sumonus " (preeminent in the art of architecture).

"If I have seen further than
others, it is by standing
upon the shoulders of giants."


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