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An insiders look at Freemasonary written by Freemason Senior Grand Deacon John Hamill, Director of Communications (2016) of the United Grand Lodge of England.
By means of a variety of references in our ceremonies to antiquity. we may be led to suppose that Masonry dates back to biblical days particularly to the building of King Solomon’s temple. The evidence available. however. points strongly to the fact that speculative Freemasonry dates back only as far as the seventeenth century. or just possible as far back as the reign of Elizabeth 1. This evidence will be discussed shortly. Operative masonry does, of course, date further into the past. in England certainly to the period immediately following the Norman conquest in the eleventh century when the major buildings of the Norman style we re begun. such as the cathedrals and abbey churches at Canterbury. Lincoln. St Albans. Winchester and Gloucester. to name but a few. Operative masons. how ever. apart from their practical work. were concerned with the moral and professional behaviour of practicing craftsmen as well as matters such as rates of pay and keeping out unskilled workers.
What then does operative masonry have to do with speculative Masonry and why are our ceremonies based on the traditions and vocabulary of medieval builders? Part of the answer lies in the fact that manuscripts exist which indicates that these medieval builders had not only a set of articles and ordinances which prescribed their behaviour, but also a history of masonry which places its origins ns in biblical days. and which told of the approval of masonry by a variety of illustrious persons from Solomon in c950 BC to King Athelstan in the tenth century ADA version of the articles. ordinances, and history exists today in a literary work which dates from c1390. known as the Regius MS. Another manuscript, the Cooke. containing a more extensive history. dates from c1420. From references contained in the Cooke Nianuscript, such as those to the Polychronicon a Latin history whose author died in 1364, and which was translated into English in 1387. it seems unlikely that the history was a product of a period earlier than the mid-fourteenth century. The Regius Manuscript gives the impression of being one of the several English literary efforts of the fourteenth century which marked the supersedure of French as the written language, in this case based on an account of the traditions of operative masons.