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Carson C. Smith, F.S.A. Scot




There’s mony a badge that’s unco braw;
Wi’ ribbon, lace and tape on;
Let kings an’ princes wear them a’,
Gie me the Master’s Apron! 


There’s many a badge uncommonly handsome;
With ribbon, lace and tape on;
Let kings and prices wear them all,
Give me the Master’s Apron!

                                                                                                            The Master’s Apron   
Robert Burns (1786)

Robert Burns (1759-1796) was initiated as an Entered Apprentice at Lodge St. David in Tarbolton on July 4, 1781 at the age of 23. He was passed to Fellow Craft, and raised a Master Mason on October 1, 1781. In his poetry, Burns upheld the Masonic ideals of Liberty, Equality and Religious Toleration. He is celebrated as the Poet Laureate of Freemasonry.

What is Freemasonry?

Freemasonry has been defined as “a system of morality, veiled in allegory.” Simply stated, it is a society of men who symbolically apply the tools of “operative” masonry, to the “speculative” science of character building. It is often said that the goal of Freemasonry is “to take good men and make them better.”  Freemasonry is the oldest, largest, most respected and, at the same time, the most dreaded Fraternity in the World.

It is respected for its ideals of Liberty, Equality and Religious Toleration. But it is hated equally by both Religious Fundamentalists, and Anti-religionists; by Anti-religionists, because no Atheist can be made a Mason, and by Religious Fundamentalists, because in a just and lawfully constituted lodge of Freemasons, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and all who acknowledge the Great Architect of the Universe, sit as Brothers.         

The history of Freemasonry can be divided into three (3) distinct categories or periods; the Ancient or Legendary, the Medieval or “operative” and the Modern or “speculative.” The first refers to the building of the Temple of King Solomon, the second to the tools of medieval stonemasons, and the third to the spiritual application of mechanical principles.

As the members of the ancient guilds were initiated into their craft, so to are Freemasons initiated into the degrees of their Craft. When stonemasons set about the task of building a castle or a cathedral, they erected temporary shelters called lodges. Likewise Freemasons conduct their meetings in a building called a lodge. And, like “operative” stonemasons, Freemasons wear as the uniform of their craft, a ceremonial apron which, in the case of Freemasonry, is made of white lambskin, or an imitation thereof.

The ancient stonemasons guilds received entered apprentices, who were trained to become fellows of the craft, to one day be elevated to the status of a master mason. Likewise, after submitting a petition to a just and lawfully constituted lodge of Freemasons, a candidate becomes an Entered Apprentice, is passed to Fellow Craft, and raised a Master Mason.   

Freemasonry is not a secret society. Freemasons openly identify themselves as Masons, and proudly wear the square and compass, which has become one of the most recognized insignia in the World. Our buildings are clearly marked. We are listed in the phone book. We sponsor public fundraising efforts to support Masonic Homes, Shriners Hospitals, and a variety of programs to benefit the disadvantaged.

Freemasonry is a society that has secrets. But our rituals, hailing signs, penal signs, pass words and grips, are revealed to our members at each degree of their initiation into greater Masonic Light. And, as they progress, candidates are presented the working tools of the “operative” mason, the square, the compass, the 24 inch gage, the common gavel, the level, the plumb and the trowel, and they are taught their spiritual application for the “speculative” mason.

Many aspects of Masonic Ritual have worked their way into our common language; we work toward making a “square deal,” conducting our business “on the level,” we seek to “subdue our passions,” when we share a confidence, we guard against “eavesdroppers,” when we are deceived, we claim that we have been “hoodwinked,” if someone is excluded from membership in a group, he is “blackballed,” and when we are subjected to a severe line of questioning, we complain that we are being given “the third degree.”

In any bookstore, you can purchase one of a number of books about the history of Freemasonry including A Dictionary of Freemasonry and Duncan’s Ritual. Truth be told, with the arrival of the Internet, Masonic ritual books and Masonic handbooks can be ordered online, and the purchaser is never asked to prove whether or not he is a Mason. Opponents of Freemasonry have gone so far as to have actually posted, word for word, the rituals of Freemasonry, complete with the secret words and pass words, and with illustrations of the grips and pass grips, on several websites.

So what do the Scots have to do with Freemasonry, and what does Freemasonry have to do with the Scots?

The Knights Templar

During the first millennium of the Christian era, many of the devout made pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Palestine was under Arab control from 637 AD. The Islamic world considered Jesus of Nazareth a prophet, but second to Mohammed, and permitted Christian pilgrims free access to all of their holy sites. The Christian residents of Palestine established small hospitals in order to provide for the pilgrims needs. In 1046 the merchants of Amalfi, Italy established the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem. The hospital was staffed by brothers who served under no particular religious order.      

In 1076 the Ottoman Turks invaded Palestine and proceeded to persecute the Christian community and defile all Christian shrines. A pilgrim who was known as Peter the Hermit, returned to Western Europe, and began to preach a crusade to free the Holy Lands from the Turks. He led a mob to toward Jerusalem, but remnants of this “Peoples Crusade” were annihilated by the Turks at Nicaea.

Pope Urban II (1042-1098) assembled a Council at Clermont, France in 1095 to organize a “Holy War.” The “First Crusade” set out for Palestine the following year under the leadership several nobles. After capturing Nicaea and Antioch, they marched through the deserts and mountains of northern Palestine. A Christian army of 20,000 arrived at the gates of Jerusalem on June 7, 1099. The city was surrendered on July 15, 1099.  

Nearly twenty years later, in 1118, nine Christian knights formed a fighting unit to patrol the roads of Palestine, and escort pilgrims on their journey. Their leader was a Burgundian knight by the name of Hugh de Payens (? -1136), and they called themselves “The Poor Fellow Soldiers of Christ.” Baldwin II, the Christian king of Jerusalem, assigned them quarters on the Temple Mount, near the Dome of the Rock, at the former site of Herod’s Temple.

The knights expanded their title to “The Poor Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon,” which was later shortened to “The Knights of the Temple” and eventually, “The Knights Templar.” Later study of the Temple Mount reveals that the Templars embarked upon an ambitious excavation project under the site of Herod’s Temple. What they may or may not have found there is the subject of much speculation.

By 1165 the Knights Templar were firmly established in Jerusalem, and throughout Europe. When a nobleman joined their ranks, he surrendered his castle and properties to the Templars, who used revenues that were generated to purchase armour, weapons, horses and ships that were used to carry pilgrims, troops and commercial cargoes across the Mediterranean from France to Italy, Palestine, Spain and beyond. From the highly fortified harbour of La Rochelle, it is alleged they were able to conduct trade with the British Isles, Greenland and the North Americas. The Templar Fleet exceeded that of any state at that time. For the purposes of defence, the Templar fleet included a number of highly manoeuvrable war galleys fitted with rams.

The Knights Templar are credited with the development of modern banking. A pilgrim could, at the beginning of his journey, deposit his money with the Templars. He would receive a letter of credit, with markings known only to the Templars, against which he could draw what he needed, as he proceeded to and from the Holy Lands, without fear of having all of his money stolen along the way.

King Philip IV (1268-1314), known as Philip la Bel, or Philip the Fair, of France, was envious of the popularity and wealth of The Knights Templar. France was bankrupt, Philip was a weak and unpopular king, he was deeply in debt to the Templars, and he sought to secure the wealth of the Templars for himself. In 1307 King Philip IV persuaded Pope Clement V that the Templars were practicing blasphemous rituals, preaching heresy and engaging in homosexuality. 

Pope Clement V (1260-1314) condemned the Templars as heretics and on Friday the 13th of 1307 King Philip IV of France ordered simultaneous raids on all Templar priories in France. Hundreds of Knights were captured, including The Grand Master, Jacques de Molay (1244-1314). But word of the raids was received in advance, and hundreds more Templars fled from France, or melted into the general population, and the Templar fleet disappeared.

The captured Templars were tortured in order to extract confessions that would fit the charges levelled against them. In 1310 fifty-four Templars were burned at the stake in order to force confessions from the remaining Templars in French custody. Jacques de Molay was burned at the stake in 1314. As the flames rose about him, de Molay pronounced a curse upon King Philip IV and Pope Clement V. Both died within the year. Neither the King, nor the Pope, captured the Templar treasury or the Templar fleet. But thereafter, Vatican shipping came under the attack of privateers, flying the Templar maritime flag, a black banner with a skull and crossed bones.

Robert the Bruce of Scotland

One year prior to the meeting between King Philip IV and Pope Clement V, where they plotted the destruction of the Templars, Robert the Bruce (1274-1329), grandson of Robert Bruce, who had contended with John Balliol for the crown of Scotland in 1292, murdered his rival, John Comyn, in a church in Dumfries on February 10, 1306. The Pope who ordered the destruction of the Templars excommunicated Robert the Bruce.

On June 24, 1314, (The Feast of St. John), an English army under King Edward II, that had arrived to relieve Stirling Castle, was defeated by Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn. Legend has it that knights, who appeared on horseback, in the flowing cassocks of the Templars, aided the Bruce in the defeat of the English cavalry. Edward II only narrowly escaped with his life and, to this day, the Battle of Bannockburn stands as the most single important military victory in all of Scottish history. 

The Battle of Bannockburn occurred only seven years after the disappearance of the Templars and the Templar fleet. Like the Templars, Robert the Bruce was under Papal proscription. Like the Templars, Robert the Bruce had been excommunicated. It has been said that, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and there is no reason why the Bruce would not have welcomed the support of Warrior Knights who, like himself, were at odds with the Roman Church.

It is now believed that part of the Templar fleet sailed northward along the west coast of England, through the North Channel which separates Scotland from Ireland, avoiding Ireland, (which was firmly under the control of the Roman Church), to arrive north of Glasgow in Argyll, in the vicinity of the town of Oban. This is supported by the fact that Templar graves, marked with slabs of stone, and bearing the outline of a Templar sword, are found in Argyll. Similar graves are found in the vicinity of Rosslyn, south of the city of Edinburgh.

The Sinclairs of Rosslyn

It is impossible to tell the story of Freemasonry, without telling the story of Clan Sinclair.

Prince Henry St. Clair, Earl of Orkney, offered refuge to the Templars upon his land in Scotland. In 1398, one hundred years before Columbus arrived in the New World, Henry St. Clair sailed to what is known today as Nova Scotia. His arrival was recorded in the tribal history of the Mi’kmaq Indians.

Further evidence of his expedition to the New World is found in Rosslyn Chapel, which is, in actuality, a Templar shrine. In addition to the Pre-Christian Green Man, scenes from the Old and New Testaments, and decorative elements of the Knights Templar, there are representations of maize and aloe, which would have been unknown prior to Henry St. Clair’s arrival in the New World.

In 1440 William St. Clair, grandson of Prince Henry St. Clair, began the construction of Rosslyn Chapel on the floor plan of the Third Temple, built in Jerusalem by Herod, and destroyed in the First Century by the Romans, where it stood upon the Temple Mount, which was later controlled by the Knights Templar. According to History of Clan Sinclair, masons working on the project were given “The Mason Word” by William St. Clair, in order to preserve the secrets of the Templars that Rosslyn was built to house.

As was suggested earlier, what may, or may not, have been housed at Rosslyn Chapel is the subject of much speculation. It has been theorized that everything from the Ark of the Covenant, to the Holy Grail, to a Secret Testament of Jesus, to the Genealogy of the Descendants of Jesus and Mary are hidden beneath the floor of Rosslyn Chapel.

What is certain is that on the lower frame of the window in the southwest corner of Rosslyn Chapel, there is a carving of the Masonic First Degree. The image is that of a man kneeling between two pillars. He is blindfolded and has a noose around his neck. His feet are in an unnatural position. In his left hand he holds a Bible. The end of the noose is held by a man who is wearing the mantle of the Knights Templar.

This image serves to raise the question, “Which came first, Freemasonry or the Knights Templar?” In 1738, three hundred years following the construction of Rosslyn, Pope Clement XII (1652-1740) who, ironically, shared his name with Pope Clement V, who had condemned the Knights Templar 400 years earlier, condemned Freemasonry on the grounds that it was descended from the Knights Templar.

The previous year, in 1737, a prominent Freemason, Andrew Ramsay (1686-1743), who was known throughout his adult life as Chevaliers Ramsay, and who served as the Scottish tutor of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, delivered an address, which has come to be known as Ramsay’s Oration. He declared that Freemasonry had originated among “Crusader Knights” who had formed themselves into “lodges of St. John.” Furthermore, Ramsay stated that Scotland had been absolutely instrumental in preserving Freemasonry from the Crusades to the present. Although Ramsay took pains to avoid using the word “Templar,” it appears that Pope Clement XII had made the connection.

Karl Gotthelf (1722-1776), the Baron von Hund und Altengrotkau, went so far as to declare, “Every Mason is a Templar.” Baron von Hund claimed that exiled Scottish nobles in Paris had initiated him into a Templar Masonic Order in 1742. He further claimed, that he had been authorized to reform Freemasonry, by restoring it to its Templar roots, but that he had lost contact with his superiors, following the failure of the Jacobite Uprising of 1745. 

Scottish Freemasonry

What is certain is that Scottish Freemasonry predates English Freemasonry. Rosslyn Chapel was begun in 1440.  In 1483 the burgh of Aberdeen is recorded as having been involved in the resolution of a dispute between six “masons of the lodge,” not “stonemasons,” not “craftsmen,” but “masons of the lodge.” As Freemasonry began to spread, new lodges were established throughout Scotland, candidates were initiated, and given “The Mason Word.” The earliest surviving Lodge Minutes from Edinburgh date from 1599.

James the VI (1566-1625) of Scotland was made a Mason at the Lodge of Scoon and Perth in 1601. In 1602 the Lodges of Scotland affirmed William St. Clair of Rosslyn as the Hereditary Grand Master Mason of Scotland from Time Immemorial. It was not until 1603, when James VI of Scotland, became James I of Great Britain, that he took Freemasonry to England. In 1641, nearly forty years later, Sir Robert Moray (1608-1673) is recorded to have been the first man to have been made a Mason on English soil.

The Jacobites, The Scottish Rite, and the French Connection

The Earl of Mar (1675-1732) led an uprising for Prince James Stuart, “The Old Pretender,” in 1715. Jacobus being the Latin for James, his followers are referred to as Jacobites. Within a year, the Jacobite Uprising of 1715 was subdued, Prince James and the Earl of Mar escaped to France, and the Jacobite army simply disbanded and dissolved. The Masonic Lodges in England began to disclaim their Scottish roots.

In 1717 the Grand Lodge of London was formed and English Masons took pains to deny any Jacobite connections. The first National Grand Lodge was formed in Ireland in 1725 and in 1736 the Grand Lodge of Scotland was formed in order to counter London’s expansionism. It was also in 1736 that another William St. Clair of Rosslyn, who had inherited the title of Grand Master Mason of Scotland, relinquished his hereditary rights in favour of elected officers 

Prince Charles Edward Stuart (1720-1788), or “Bonnie Prince Charlie,” or “The Young Pretender,” raised his standard at Glenfinnan on August 19, 1745. The Jacobite army proceeded to take Perth, Edinburgh, Prestonpans and Carlisle, and reached into England as far south as Derby, only 150 miles from London. In the absence of a promised invasion from France, and with only limited support from English Jacobites, the Jacobite army withdrew north to Scotland. On April 16, 1746 Government forces under the command of the Duke Cumberland defeated the Jacobite army at the Battle of Culloden. Prince Charles Edward Stuart, and a number of his supporters, escaped to France.

In Paris in 1758, “The Grand Council of Emperors of the East and West” organized a “Rite of Perfection,” consisting of 25 degrees, the highest being “The Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret.” Jacobite expatriates took an active part in creating the Rite, and many saw in its symbolism the return of the Stuart kings to the throne of Great Britain.

“The Grand Council of Emperors of the East and West” granted a patent to Etienne Morin in 1761, permitting him to bring this Rite to the New World. Morin spread the Rite to the West Indies and North America from his base in the city of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. In 1783 Isaac de Costa, one of the deputies commissioned to establish the Rite in other countries, formed what were called “Scottish Rite” bodies in South Carolina, which later became the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction. With the formation of the Supreme Council in continental America, 8 more degrees, the so-called “Continental High Degrees,” were added to the original 25 degrees, to make the 33 degrees of the modern Scottish Rite.

The Scottish Rite Creed of Freemasonry is as follows:

“Human progress is our cause, liberty of thought our supreme wish, freedom of conscience our mission, and the guarantee of equal rights to all people everywhere our ultimate goal.”

The Least You Need To Know

Scotland is where the Templar Knights found refuge following their excommunication.
Scotland is where the Templar graves are found.
Scotland is where the Sinclairs built a shrine on the floor plan of Herod’s Temple.
Scotland is where the first images of New World flora such as corn and aloe are found.
Scotland is where the practices of “speculative” Masonry are first recorded.
Scotland is where the future King James I of Great Britain was made a Mason.
Scotland is where the Jacobites began to formulate what was to become the Scottish Rite.
Scotland is where the Poet Laureate of Masonry, Robert Burns, was born. 

This Article is the copyright of Brother Carson C. Smith, FSA Scot, from whom permission was granted to the Webmaster to reproduce it in the Lodge 76 web site, for which our grateful thanks are given.

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