Masonic History Part 7
As some of you may recall, in last issue (http://hubpages.com/hub/Masonic-History-Part-6) I left you reading keenly about the involvement of the Church in the early origins of Freemasonry throughout the middle ages, when suddenly, without any notice, you were left dangling at the proverbial cliff-hanger. At the time, the Church had literally taken over Freemasonry, swallowed it whole, while it reaped both the aesthetic and financial benefits of being virtually the only architectural and construction company in Europe. What is most astounding, is how Freemasonry was still able to preserve the ancient traditions and rites from pre-Christian cultures while literally under the thumb of the Papacy. It is very unlikely that Rome would have approved of the rites, especially those that emphasised the brotherhood of man under the guidance of a universal architect whom cared not for race, creed, colour or culture; the very antithesis to the Church of the middle ages that had absolutely no tolerance for those that walked a different path. How were they able to do this? How were they able to survive? Let me show you how this paradoxical co-existence might have been achieved.
The Church and Freemasonry
With Winfrid the English monk firmly in charge of the Roman Catholic Building Society, he extended his labours throughout all of Christian Europe. One might think of this as the first multinational conglomerate. In appreciation for his services, Winfrid became better known as Saint Boniface. In order to meet the building demand on his company, Winfrid was forced to start hiring lay people for the construction work rather than relying on his workforce entirely comprised of skilled monks. And as in most companies, Winfrid experienced what occurs when you train employees with special skills and they are not bound to you by a lifetime employment agreement. Some of these labourers of better than average intelligence, became closely associated with monks in possession of the secret arts of building and masonry. How they managed to squirrel some of these secrets from the monks I'll leave to your imagination. Eventually the monks would impart their secrets and learning to these lay workers. Slowly, over time, this esoteric knowledge of the arts and sciences was beyond the controlling scope of the monks and in possession of lay people that were part of the outside world. Once in possession of this knowledge, like all good employees, these lay people began to question why they should work exclusively for the Church and began to set up their own fraternities, associations and organisations. Not too different from today when you impart your company secrets to employees and even though you have CDAs in place they become your competitions based on knowledge they've taken from you. See, history does repeat itself.
The first to break away was the stone mason association in Germany, and this was followed shortly by independent associations in other European countries. In time, they had grown in scale and reputation that they were hired for construction projects, sometimes employed by the Church, itself. In time, their ability to work to schedule, set fees, and with guarantees meant that the monk building associations became completely superseded. By the time the 12th century rolled along, this private construction firms had taken all the business and devoted themselves to the higher principles of the art as the architects and designers, while hiring other labourers to be the carpenters and stone masons. Within the midst of the uneducated peasantry now existed a class of labourers that were more formally educated, delving into the esoteric arts of building and becoming wealthy through their own endeavours. They were engaged as an exclusive association, building monumental buildings and religious edifices.
But with fame and esteem comes jealousy and envy. What were once the privileged franchises of the Church were now belonging to a not-so-religious order that was more involved in commerce and politics. After all, when engaging in the construction of municipal buildings, the alliance forged between leaders, politicians and royalty and the gild masters becomes quite strong and binding.
How masterful were these freemasons of the 12th and 13th century? One merely has to examine the Gothic architecture of the time, much of it still standing in European countries and recognize that they had built constructs so far beyond the intellectual powers of the times that they still make an astounding impression today.
But this is where the problem begins. When monuments of mankind begin to draw the attention of the people, more so than the religious deity they were designed for, and when gilds begin to become as powerful and influential as the Papacy, and when kings and politicians enjoin fraternal brotherhoods as speculative masons, then by the powers that be, they cannot be viewed as anything but a threat. To those that have read the DaVinci Code and recognise the connection to Freemasonry and the Knights Templar, and the fact that historians have concluded that the Knights Templar exercised an influence over the architects of the time as seen by the introduction of Gnostic and Ophite symbols throughout Europe, the same symbols such as lions, serpents, gorgons, so often associated with Knights Templar churches, then it becomes quite clear that a storm was brewing and the resultant conflict was merely a matter of time. Does this automatically infer that the Knights Templar were part of the Freemasonry movement, as suggested by Dan Brown and the Nicholas Cage movie, National Treasure? Without saying yes or no at this time, and ignoring the fact that the Knights Templar exist as a higher order of Freemasonry, let’s examine this possibility with an open mind and a clean slate in a later hub.