Skip to content

C.2.2 The Legend of the Craft (based on the Dowland MS.)

As it is well known, there are seven liberal sciences: Grammar, Rhetoric, Dialectic, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music and Astronomy. Geometry is the science at the base of Architecture, Masonry and, finally, Freemasonry. All these sciences began at the time of Lamech. Geometry, in particular, was founded by his elder son, Jabell, who wrote it down and hid the document in two pillars so that they would not be destroyed in case of natural disasters. After Noah’s flood, Hermarynes, later known as Hermes, found one pillar and discovered Jabell’s document on Geometry. He taught this science to the Babylon’s King, Nemrothe, as well as to the masons who where building the Tower of Babylon. Later on Nemrothe sent some Masons to help the King of Nyneve in the building of his city. Before they left, Nemrothe gave his Masons a charge: they should be true to each other, they should love truly together, and they should serve their lord truly for their pay.

Later on when Abraham and his wife Sara went to Egypt, they taught the Seven Sciences to the Egyptians. One of their best students was Euclyde who became a Master in these sciences. He taught them, especially geometry, to the King’s and all his great lords’ children who soon enough started to build churches, temples, towers, manors and many other types of buildings. Euclyde gave them the following Charges: they should be true to the King and the lords, they should love and be true to each other, they should call each other fellow or brother but certainly not servant, they should work to deserve the pay given to them by the master they serve, the best and wisest among them should be elected Master of the work so that the work should be well done to the pleasure of the lord who pays them and, finally, they should call their chosen leader Master while working for him. He made them swear that they would follow his charges and negotiated reasonable wages so that they could live in comfort. He ordered them to assemble together once a year to discuss how to improve their work in order to please the lord who pays them, and to correct any mistake made by some brothers against the science of Geometry that is also called Masonry.

When the children of Israel came back to the Promised Land, King David decided to build the Temple of Jerusalem. He, of course, employed the masons who had learned their trade in Babylon. He paid them well and gave them the same charges as Euclyde had done before, and he was quite pleased with their work. After King David’s death his son, King Solomon, went on with the construction of the Temple. He soon had many thousand of Masons working for him, some of them he called Masters on the base of their qualifications. He recruited them in different countries; he also asked King Iram (Hiram?) of Tyre for some timbers. Iram’s son, Aymon (now known as Hiram Abif), a Master of Geometry and a Master Mason came to direct the construction of Solomon’s Temple.

After the Temple was erected the masons went to work in different countries where they taught the science they had learned in Jerusalem. Maumus Grecus went to France where he became the teacher of Charles Martell, a member of the Aristocracy, and a future King of France. Charles Martel created some schools were people learned the building trade before they were employed in constructing many kinds of buildings.

During that period the King of England was a Pagan and St Alban, a knight, was its Governor. He was especially in charge of building protection walls around the main towns. For this he employed many thousand of Masons whom he treated and paid well and, as a result, they worked to his satisfaction. They also received a charter from the King and a Council was created to defend their interests. After St.Alban’s death, England was often at war and the building trade and the trade organisations were destroyed until the time of King Athelstone when peace was restored again. He started a program of construction of Abbeys, towers, etc. His son, Edwin, was a Master in Geometry and he was made a Mason. He obtained for them a Charter and a Commission, as well as the authorisation to assemble every year to discuss the problems of their trade. Edwin organised personally an assembly in York. He asked the assembly to give him any information they had on the old Charges. He received many documents that he assembled in one book that related, among other things, how the science was founded. This book had to be read by all the future candidate masons. Since that time masons have received their charges in this way. Other assemblies followed that changed the rules to adapt them at the changing times, but the trade organisation remained basically unchanged.

Most Masons have accepted the Legend of the Craft for a long time as a true story, and even now it has a strong influence on most Brethren and on the ritual. It has also been used to explain the origin and the growth of the Craft in the absence of any other historical evidence. It is difficult to believe that the history of the Craft is anything like it is described in the legend. However, it is the base of many truths, and it helps to understand many historical events.

It is not known when the legend originated, and when it was accepted by the Craft as a description of its history. Its earliest written version is believed to be from the end of the fourteenth century, but earlier versions could have existed. It is generally believed that all the Old Records, with the exception of the Halliwell MS., derive from an original text that has not yet been discovered. If we compare, for instance, the Sloane MS. No. 3,848 published in 1646 and the Harleian MS. No 2,054 published in 1650, we must admit that the second is a copy of the first, or that both are based on the same old document yet to be found. Both documents use the same language, show the same ideas, and are arranged in the same way (the small differences can be attributed to the copyists). All the other old manuscripts, up to the Papworth of 1714, show the same similarities even if their language is more modern.

For centuries the Operative Masons have accepted as truthful story of the rise and progress of Masonry this Legend of the Craft, with all its absurdities and obvious errors, and many Speculative Masons of this day have still the same opinion. This gives it an importance and value that can not be ignored since, despite everything, it contains the base of historical truth. It is a historical myth that has its foundations in historical truth, to which fiction and symbols has been added to make it better.