Origins of Masonry
Comprising a different Approach to the
Origins of Freemasonry
Jack (Jacques) Brooksbank
The Cradle of Masonry
1935-36-37 ReportsBy RW Ossain Lang
Grand Historian the Grand Lodge of New York
Published by Jacques Bea Studios, Pub 069, Ref ISBN 0.921826.65.6
Copyright 2001-2002 Jack Brooksbank. Research use approved
Origins of Masonry Medieval Foundation
Jack (Jacques) Brooksbank, MBA.,FRSA.
Based upon The Cradle of Masonry
by RW Ossain Lang, Grand Historian
Of the Grand Lodge of New York (1913-1945)
Comprising a Different Approach to the Origin of Freemasonry
The purpose of this paper is to present a speculative but very probable foundation for ancient stone masons lodges that dates from
1070, in the first century of the medieval period, from 1000 to 1500.
The author based this presentation on the research undertaken by RW Brother Ossian Lang,
(1865-1945) who was the Grand Historian of the Grand Lodge of New York, for a period of 31 years, during which time he reviewed many aspects and subjects related to the Origins of masonry.
The reports of Brother Lang specifically related to this presentation are those of 1935-36-37, that dealt with the subjects respectively of; The Cradle of Masonry; Rules under which our Monastic Forefathers worked; and The heyday of the Mason Monk,
Abbot William of Hirsau
This presentation is focused on Brother Lang's research findings, that indicate the existence
of a Benedictine School of Building that was established in 1070 at the Hirsau Abbey,
some times refered to as Hirschau, located in Germany near the Black Forrest.
This school was originated by Abbot William, of noble origins, who was Abbot of Hirsau from 1069 to 1091, a friend and correspondent of Pope Gregory 7th,
also of Anselm the Archbishop of Canterbury in England.
Abbot William was the one who also discovered the Vitruvius Architectural Manuscript, and established it as a basis of education for his School of Building.
This paper expands on this research of Brother Lang, and also combines the authors
own research into the books on Architecture written by the Marcus Vitruvius Pollio
(65 BC to 14 Ad), a Roman architect and engineer who wrote one of the most influential treatise on architecture related to the Greek and Roman building periods.
This Vitruvius treatise can now be perceived as having had a significant influence on the Benedictine and Cistercian Lay Brother Masons in the period from 1070 to 1250, and subsequently on Renaissance architects
This Hirsau School of Building of Abbot William was set up as a
special 'Lay Brother Group' of individuals to be educated and trained
as stonemasons and builders, who were given their own quarters,
refractory, and place in Church.
Lay Brother groups were first introduced into Benedictine monasteries in 1012 at St Romualds, and later at St Blaise near the black Forest in Germany in the 1030s.
St Blase trained builders for their own building program.
St Blase was close to Abbey Hirsau and may have been the inspiration and example
that Abbot William considered when comptemplating the setting up of a Lay Brother Builder Group at Hirsau in 1070, based upon a more extensive plan.
It is probable that Abbot William decided to start a Lay Brother School at Hirsau, after finding the Vitruvius architectural manuscript, devoted to educating and training stonemasons.
This Hirsau School became well known for its quality of lay builders.
Educated and trained Builders from Hirsau but were sent to over 200 other Benedictine building sites in all part of Europe,
validated subsequently by masons marks.
The extensive supply and spread of Hirsau trained stonemasons to many building sites
in all parts of Europe, can be perceived as the very probable origin of stone masons lodges in those same areas, based on the format, concepts, assets and attributes of masons trained at Hirsau.
The Hirsau concept and method of training stonemasons was adopted by the later Cistercian order of monks that started about 1100.
The Cistercian order of monks built more than 500 monastic centers in Europe, England, Scotland and Palestine before 1200, and continued building other centers up to their
period of decline in the 1350s.
The type of building taught at the Benedictine Hirsau School was that of the Gothic style, that was also adopted by the subsequent Cistercian order of monks,
and probably accounts for the extensive use of the Gothic style of building by Church and Monastic foundations in the medieval period.
It is evident that Abbot William had the vision and wisdom to realize the value of the Vitruvious Manuscript treatise and the intellectual capacity and motivation to utilize it and apply it to the teaching of masonry in the Building School of Hirsau.
This School achieved a great reputation.
The Hirsau Building School would have influenced thousands of
Lay Brother Masons and their lodges in all parts of Europe up to the1550's of the Benidictine, Cistercian, and other monastic orders.
It would also have established an ongoing building tradition of discipline and dedication for Stonemasons.
A tradition that would have been passed down from one generation to the next, as a continuing expression and function of their established education and training programs.
This ongoing tradition that would have continued unchanged through the dramatic period of change, when stonemasons lodges in France universally broke the bond of Lay Brother Status and domination by the Church of Rome in 1250.
Thereafter stonemasons achieved the distinction and privilege, of becoming independent and 'Free' stonemasons, and their lodges everywhere became 'Free Masons Lodges.
Freed from the dominance and conditions of labour and other restrictions they had
lived under for over two generations, such as dress codes and compulsory attendance at church services.
Stonemasons Lodges thereafter became independent and self governing fraternities.
A distinction that they cherished, emphasized and protected.
This dramatic change in status from dependence to independence would have taught stonemasons everywhere the wisdom and advantages of avoiding future allegiance, commitment, or connection with religious and political factions. Particularly the wisdom to focus all their efforts and interests on their craft, as independent masons. This freedom also made it easier for them to work for many different religious orders an civil authorities, of various stripes, in various countries. Thereby providing flexability in work opportunities.
The new status of 'free' masons lodges in the 1250's and thereafter, also had the effect of consolidating and renewing the traditions of the lodge structures, in terms of their self governing democratic status. It also emphasized the need to be self reliant, and particularly their need and obligation to recruit, train and educate new fellows into the traditional art of building skills, as an ongoing requirement to consistently replace those who departed the trade for various reasons.
The significant emphasis on the title of 'Free Masons', from the 1250's onward probably explains why these qualifying stone masons words have been perpetuated through the ages
and into modern masonry.
RW Ossian Lang the Grand Historian of the Grand Lodge of New York , in his research report of 1936, referred to the achievements of the Hirsau school, that included the following 4 quotations;
*From Abbot William's organization of the masons and other operatives developed the famous Hirschau (later Hirsau) School for the training of skilled craftsmen and master builders, who in the course of
time, became chief factors in the establishment of independent fraternities of Masons.
*The Hirschau idea spread to Alsace, Switzerland, Lorraine, Bohemia, Austria and most parts of Germany and Great Britain.
*Association with the clerics was a great asset. The discipline of the monastery taught the lay brothers (stonemasons) many things they
never could have obtained outside; organization, teamwork, brotherhood, order in all things, not doing any needless talking, beginning and closing the day with a prayer, letting each day's product take its placein the whole which they never may see complete, each contributing his best to an unending scheme of progress.
*Moreover, association with learned clerics, accustomed them to search for the reasons of things as they are, for self improvement, for ways and means to advance in grasp of the techniques of their craft and its artistic possibilities, from stone-hewing to carving and sculpture, from laying stone upon stone to the mystery of the laws of dynamics, to the improvement of styles more adequately expressing the objective of their toil for the glory of the Master Builder of the Universe."
When reviewing these various assets, attributes, values and craft ethics of the early Lay Brother Stonemasons, it is very interesting to reflect on how most of these themes are still evident in
We can speculate that one of the key assets of the Hirsau School of Building would have been the knowledge of building, that they were able to learn from the Roman Vitruvius Manuscript on Architecture. In the context of this paper it is of interest to appreciate the significance of this Vitruvius manuscript to Abbot William and the Hisau Building School, in terms of its contents that deals with many aspects of Greek and Roman architecture and building techniques practiced by the Romans.
We can begin with a glimpse of the author that he includes in the introduction of his treatise addressed to the Roman Emperor Caesar, two quotes;
*I am infinitely grateful to my parents because they approved of the law of Athens
and was concerned that I should be taught my art, one which cannot be brought to perfection without learning and liberal education in all branches of knowledge.
*For my part, Caesar, I have never been zealous about acquiring money from my profession, but have maintained that modest means and good reputation are a better pursuit than wealth and notoriety, for that reason I have only a modest reputation.
The scope and extent of the Vitruvious treatise on architecture and building can be appreciated by considering some of the following
subject quotations from his 10 books, that are more like 10 chapters;
1. Architects should have knowledge of the theory and practice of architecture, should work with dignity and be high minded, courteous, just and honest, without avariciousness.
He Should be knowledgeable in ; History; Philosophy; Music; Medicine; Arithmetic; Geometry; Science principals; Ancient art and architecture; Architectural fundamentals; Ground Plans; Elevation
and Perspective; Beauty; Symmetry and Harmony; Rules for sites of cities,
city walls and streets; The influence of winds; Sites for public buildings;
Mathematical theory and Geometrical method.
Also to be skilled with, Pencil, Rule, Compass, Square, Level and Plummet.
2. The origins of dwelling houses. The School of Pythagoras.
3. Socrates (wisest or men). Rules of symmetry and proportion.
Plato and figure 10, Measurement.
5. Greek Forums, Basilica, and Greek Theatre, Acoustics.
6. Intellectual education and honorable practice, Climate and house types.
7. Philosophers and the treatise of Socrates and Aristotle.
8. The seven Sages, Water sources and Quality.
9. The right angle triangle theorem of Pythagoras, Reference to the
morning star and seven stars.
10. Machines and implements, Elements of motion.
After reviewing these subjects of the Vitruvius manuscript, we can readily appreciate
the interest and enthusiasm with which Abbot William might have reacted to the
discovery of this outstanding treatise on architecture and building, that
included comments on ethics in addition to the extensive knowledge of building practice.
Abbot Williams discovery of the Vitruvius treatise would
have given his confidence a significant boost when making
the decision to establish his School of Building.
Similarly it would also have instilled confidence in the
Lay Brothers educated and trained at Hirsau, also for those
who could read and acquired a copy of the treatise, a ready
reference that became a part of their ongoing learning,
capability and credibility, where ever they may be sent.
The Vitruvius Architectural Manuscript.
The Vitruvius treatise manuscript was discovered in 1070 at Cluny, and later on, was once again rediscovered in 1403.
It is interesting to follow the trail of the Vitruvious architectural manuscript, since its discovery in 1070 by Abbot William.
The document would have been well used from the 1070s onward at Hirsau, and would have been copied frequently to both act as an educational training aid at Hirsau, and also would have been sent to the many Benedictine sites served by Hirsau Builders.
Some 50 copies of the Vitruvius manuscript are known to have survived the medieval period.
One of these surviving medieval copies was rediscovered in 1410 by a Florentine Nobleman Paggio (Gian Bracciolini) who after serving as a secretary to the Church Curia, retired to become the Chancellor and Historian to the Republic of Florence.
During his retirement period he allowed copies of the treatise to be made for prominent Florentine architects, such as Brunnelleschi, Alberti, Bramanti, and others, and as become a standard historical reference on Greek and Roman architecture. The manuscript became one of the first group of books to be printed by the
new printing presses set up in that city in 1485.
Subsequently the Vitruvius treatise was translated into various languages, namely; Italian 1514, Spanish 1526, French 1539, Portuguese 1540, English 1563, German and Dutch.
The treatise became a standard architectural reference for Greek and Roman architecture from that period to the present time.
~Other references to Cistercian Lay Brother Builders~
Brother Lang's other references to Cistercian Lay
brother builders in England, Ireland and Scotland are included briefly as a point of interest. Ref 1937R-P6-7
*The advantages, which the Cistercian derived from the Lay
brothers, appealed to other Orders and caused these to copy
the plan. A Lay Brothers House (domum conversorum)
became part of almost every monastery. At York and in the Northland (Of England) generally the monasteries depended in their building operations almost entirely upon Lay brothers skilled in the various branches of such work.
*In Ireland too, the Cistercians set up establishments in which the Lay brothers had their important part. St Malacy, Archbishop Armagh gave them Mellifont Abbey, which then became the parent house of the ( Cistercian) Order in Erin.
*From Rievaulx (Yorkshire Cistercian foundation) a colony of monks was transplanted to Scotland in 1136, at the request of King David I, to set up an Abbey at Melrose, near the site of the ancient monastery of Old Melrose of which St Cuthbert had been the prior almost five hundred years before.
*It took the Lay Brothers ten years to build the Abbey (at Melrose). In 1322 it was reduced to ruins by the ruffians of Edward II.
*The reference to Kilwinning, in the second paragraph, (from the discourse of 1737 by Andrew Michael Ramsey 1680-1743) deserves a special word; An abbey church (Benedictine) was founded at Kilwinning, in 1140, by Hugh de Morville. Constable of Scotland. From the building of that church the Lodge of Kilwinning claims its origins, and in the days before debunking had set in, insistently defended such claim. Ref 1929R-P184
The expansion of the stone masons trade during the heyday of building monastic church foundations, can be better appreciated when we consider that in the early 1500s, there were some thirteen hundred, abbeys, priories, nunneries, cells, and hospitals.
In addition to twenty three hundred and seventy, free chapels and chantries. Located in every part of England, all of them requiring stone mason builders.
King Henry 8th disbanded all of these foundations, during the disillusion of the monasteries in the 1540s. (Ref The Ruined Abbeys of Great Britain, by Ralph Adams Cram, p6)
From these quotations and other references in Brother Langs Reports, it is evident that further Masonic research may be justified into the Monastic Lay Brother StoneMasons Lodge fraternities in the period from 1070-1250, and for the remainder of the medieval period..
Particularly in terms of Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries established in cities, that could have established an ongoing presence of stonemasons and lodges, that continued beyond the 1250' into the 1550s, possibly providing linkages to masons lodges, such as the Old lodge at Kilwinning.
The author recently reviewed James Anderson's Constitution's of 1723,
and was able to find just two references to the Roman Architect Vitruvius.
Geminus, also equall'd by some to Euclid; Diophantus, Nicomachus,
SerenusProclus, Pappus, Theon, etc. all illustrious Cultivaters of the mechanical Arts".
It would appear from these references that Dr Anderson, while appreciating the significance of Vitruvius and his books on architecture, did not find the Vitruvius connection to the training of early medieval stonemasons, and early masonry.
~~~~~ The Origins of Masonry concepts ~~~ Relevance of Hirsau verses other concepts.
It is interesting to review the legendary origins of masonry,
particularly in terms of Brother Langs presentation of 'The Cradle of Masonry,
The publication Freemasonry A Celebration of the Craft published in1992,
celebrated the 275th Anniversary of the founding of the Premier Grand Lodge in London, England in 1717. It contains the following Quotation, related to the origins of masonry.
There is undoubtedly a connection between medieval operative masons and what we now call speculative Free-Masonry: the very structure of the Craft makes this clear.
But the exact nature of the connection remains uncertain and scholars continue to dispute the question, with some arguing for a direct descent from operative masonry, and others for a more complex, indirect link. ( i.e. The Knights Templar and The Rosicrucian Myth )
Relating to the phrase the exact nature of the connection remains uncertain in this quotation, it is reasonable to suggest that Brother Langs proposition of The Cradle of Masonry, provides a more believable and viable approach to make this Connection not only probable, but also acceptable
as a basis for a Masonic Origin and Foundation.
This Publication Origins of Masonry Medieval Foundation (Paper)(Suitable for Email use)
By Jack (Jacques) Brooksbank. Pub No 069. Reference ISBN 0-921826-65-6
W.B. Jack (Jacques) Brooksbank. PM, True Blue lodge 98, Bolton, Ontario, Canada.
Jacques Studios, Hockley Village, Ontario, Canada. May 2002.
More background information on these Origins of Masonry
themes are included in the following publications,
*Origins of Masonry Probable Source (Paper-Reference)(Large Print), includes three of the reports by
RW Ossain Lang, with an introductory comment by
Jack Brooksbank, Pub 066-2002.
(Suitable for presentation purposes)
*The Cradle of Masonry and Related Reports, (large print) includes reproductions of fifteen reports by R.W. Ossain Lang, with an introductory comment
by Jack Brooksbank, Pub 067-2002.(Suitable for Study of this origin theme)
*Masonic Origins - Research Reports, includes all the reports by R.W. Ossain Lang, (small Print) with an introductory comment (Suitable for general historical studies)
by Jack Brooksbank, Pub 068-2002.
*These reports by RW Ossain Lang, contained in these publications are reproduced by kind permission of the Livingston Masonic Library of the Grand Lodge of New York.
* Copies of these publication have been donated to the Grand Lodge libraries of;
New York USA; England; Scotland ; Ontario Canada.
*These publications are respectfully Dedicated to our Brother Masons
who lost their lives in the New York Catastrophe of the 11th September 2001
*The availability of these publications can be obtained from;
Jacques Studios. Fax 519 941 9539 or Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Requesting; Masonic Publications information
Jacques Bea Studios C/o Brooksbank, Hockley Village,
RR5 Orangeville, Ontario, Canada. L9W 2Z2
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