The exact origin of Freemasonry is unknown and only theories try to explain its genesis and original purpose. The only certainty is that on 24 June 1717, the feast day of St John the Baptist, four London lodges met to create the Grand Lodge of England, the first of its kind in the world. Before that there was only limited written references to Freemasonry as well as some records of small lodges of operative stonemasons. In addition there are the well-known earliest records known as “the Old Charges”, some dating from the end of the fourteenth century, while most of them are from after 1600. They define a series of regulations, or charges, for the social behaviour of the Masons within their Craft and in the outside world. They also include a legendary history of Geometry, Architecture and the Craft of Masonry as well as a description of the Seven Liberal Art and Sciences.
It is from these Old Charges that the “official or traditional” history of Freemasonry, included in the Constitutions of the eighteenth century, is derived. It is, of course, mostly fictitious and it states that Freemasonry is descending from the working, or operative, stonemasons of the Middle Ages. The Traditional history goes even further back to the Biblical Patriarchs (Noah, Moses,…), and to King Solomon and the building of the first Jerusalem Temple. From there traditional history jumps to Charles Martel, St Alban, King Athelstan, and the mythical “Great Assembly of Masons at York” under Prince Edwin in 930 AD. All this is pure invention, but it was taken as true in the eighteenth century. This traditional history was dropped from the Constitutions in 1815 although some romantic members of the Craft still believe it. Other historians believe in a lineage as ancient and as impressive as the traditional history.
There is no doubt that there were some connections between medieval operative masons and the so-called modern speculative Freemasons, as the structure of the Craft makes clear. The exact nature of the connection is still the object of heated arguments between historians. Some believe in a direct lineage, while others believe that the reality was more complex.
In 1737 Chevalier Andrew Ramsay wrote an “Oration” that claimed that Freemasonry, as a symbolic system, has its origin among the Knights Templar, the true founder of the Craft according to him. This theory has no historical basis. The Order of the Templars was created in 1118 in Jerusalem at the time of the first crusade. The crusaders were thrown out of Palestine and the order continued in Western Europe until 1307 when the king of France, Philip the Fair, had all Templars in France arrested and sent to trial after being tortured. The Pope dissolved the Order on 1312 and its last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, was burned at the stake in 1314. They were accused of sorcery and blasphemy. Some Freemasons believe that a few Templars fled to Scotland where they perpetuated their Order in secret until it became public again as Freemasonry. In this way the “secrets” of the Templars became the “secrets” of the Freemasons. There are some similitude between the Templars and the Freemasons (hierarchical structure, secret initiation, concerned about King Solomon’s Temple), but there are also big differences (different initiation ceremonies, vows of celibate and poverty for the Templars only, different secrets). Although no link has ever been found between the Templars and the Freemasons the myth remains alive, even to day, and some Freemasons still proclaim their beliefs in their Templar origins.
Another theory links the Freemasons to the Rosicrucians. There is no evidence to support this theory, or even to affirm that the Rosicrucian brotherhood ever existed. It has been said in 1730 that the English Freemasonry adopted the Rosicrucian ceremonies as their own. At the end of the eighteenth century various lodges proclaimed that they were the heirs of Christian Rosenkreuz and that Rosicrucianism, and Freemasonry, were always linked together or, even more, that Freemasonry emerged from Rosicrucianism but again there are no historical evidences to prove it. The publication of three anonymous Manifestos in 1614 was the first public reference to Rosicrucianism. The Manifestos asked for a reformation of religions and manners, and told the story of Christian Rosenkreuz, the mythical founder of Rosicrucianism. The legend of Christian Rosenkreuz is very similar to the life of Jesus Christ; his followers are required to follow a life of apostolic zeal and simplicity. The followers are part of a kind of Protestant monastic Order; they are obliged to heal the sick and to find a worthy “successor”. The structure and rituals of the Rosicrucians are very different from those of Freemasonry. The Masonic ceremonies teach moral lessons, whereas the Rosicrucian ceremonies are directed to spiritual attainment and on wisdom acquisition. No such order was known to exist before the publication of the manifestos. Afterwards some lodges pretended to carry on the Rosicrucian myth. (9)