Operative Masonry The Non-Operative or Accepted and Speculative Mason
The Grand Lodge of England Growth Beyond England
The Landmarks




Operative Masonry

One of the oldest Masonic documents is the Regius Manuscript written about 1390 AD. At this time all masons were operatives, that is, they were workers engaged in constructing important buildings in stone. There were many kinds of masons such as hewers, layers, and setters, but evidence indicates that those who were called freemasons were builders of a superior type.

It was these freemasons who, under the control of a Master Mason, supervised and erected the great cathedrals and other marvelous structures in the Gothic style of architecture throughout Europe and Britain in the Middle Ages. The operative masons not only cut and dressed the stones in the quarries, but constructed the walls, set the pillars and arches, laid the floors, and carved the decorations. They were also responsible for the beautiful artwork, and the creation of the sculptures. The freemasons were the artists of their age, and were organizers of labour on a grand scale. Many of their great Gothic works survive to this day.

The hierarchy of the trades or crafts was very strict. In mediaeval times, masonry was one of the highest skilled trades available. Its training took many years to complete, and its skills were jealously guarded by its members. To join this exclusive band, a boy, sound in body, keen of mind, and of good reputation, was accepted at an age between ten and fifteen years and apprenticed to a skilled mason for a period of seven to ten years.

The mason taught the apprentice both the theory and practice of the craft. After the boy had served a probationary period, and shown evidence of his fitness, his name was entered into the books of the Lodge, after which he was generally called an Entered Apprentice. He thus received a thorough grounding in moral duties, in the practice of charity, and in his duties toward his master and his fellow employees.

At the end of his apprenticeship, the youth was required to submit to an exacting test of his proficiency, including his work skills and his responsibilities. His conduct was reported upon, and he was finally set to prove his skills by producing a special example, sometimes called a master's piece.

Having successfully passed these tests, he then stood as an equal in duties, rights and privileges with the other masons, and was called a Fellow of the Craft. To all intents, he had now mastered the theories, practices, strict rules of conduct, and the secrets and tools of his trade.

When a number of Freemasons worked together on one of the great buildings of the Middle Ages they organized themselves into a Lodge to enable them to properly control and organize the work to be accomplished. This lodge was governed by an expert mason, called the Master Mason. On larger structures, he would be assisted by others, called Wardens.

The lodge would have its equivalent of a secretary to keep the books, and a treasurer to keep and disburse the lodge funds. It also had a charity chest, containing monies contributed by the masons to dispense relief to members in sickness, accident or distress, and to assist widows and orphans of deceased members suffering difficult times. The lodge meets regularly, to record apprentices in its books and to admit fellows. Both of these acts were done in a ceremonial fashion, called initiation.

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The Non-Operative or Accepted and Speculative Mason

The operative period of the Masonic fraternity flourished from the 11th to the 15th centuries. The 16th century saw the rise of the Reformation in Europe, and the Gothic style of architecture became less prevalent. Social conditions and laws altered considerably. These factors, coupled with the Great Plague, and the Great Fire of London, and the introduction of the use of bricks instead of stone, brought about a decline in operative masonry. This decline was so great, that by the late 17th century, freemasons became so few, that only a small number of lodges remained. During this period, referred to by Masonic historians as the Transition Period, a number of important citizens commenced to take an active interest in the ancient customs of the craft, and, although not operative masons, were admitted into lodges. Because of these circumstances, they were called accepted masons. At first, the number of accepted Masons was small. By the early part of the 18th century, however, they outnumbered the operatives, and exerted a great deal of influence on the expansion of Freemasonry, and on its principles of fellowship, and charitable pursuits.

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The Grand Lodge of England

On St. John the Baptist's Day, 24th June 1717, four old Lodges in London and Westminster met, and organized a governing body, called a Grand Lodge. This Grand Lodge gradually took control of all the Lodges meeting in England.

The word speculative now became linked with the word accepted; speculative meaning masonry in a symbolic sense. The two original grades of masonry were organized into three degrees:

the Entered Apprentice;
the Fellow Craft; and
the Master Mason.

In 1723, the Grand Lodge approved a Constitution, and was soon chartering Lodges, not only in England, but in the expanding colonies, and other overseas countries.

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Growth Beyond England

By the middle of the 18th century, Grand Lodges had been formed in Ireland, Scotland, and on the continents of Europe and America. American Lodges originally fell under the British Grand Lodge as Colonies, but after the Revolution of 1776 and the United States of America were formed, the individual Lodges created a Grand Lodge under each state and new charters were issued.

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The Landmarks

In early times, prior to the development of modern surveying techniques, and the recording of the position, shape and size, of land areas, it was very difficult to establish the permanent boundaries of a farm, estate, or other piece of land. Almost the only known way was to fix upon some prominent feature, such as a hill, a stream, a rock, or even a tree, and draw a line from it to some other feature, and thus establish the limits beyond which a man's property could not, or should not, go. Later, more or less permanent stone markers, with identifying marks cut into them, were set up. Their self-explanatory name was landmarks.

Throughout history, we see evidence that the destruction or removal of landmarks, was considered a serious offense, as without them, there was no means of measuring the encroachment by one person on the property of another.

In the craft of Freemasonry there are certain principles, practices, traditions, usage's and laws, which are considered to be significant to the essential identity and nature of Freemasonry. These things, which are spoken of as the Ancient Landmarks of Freemasonry, cannot be changed by any Freemason, Lodge, or even a Grand Lodge.

It is not intended to make an exhaustive list of the things that constitute the Ancient Landmarks. However, the following are some examples of the things Freemasons see them to be, - the things which make Freemasonry different from other organizations.

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