Freemasonry: The Naked Truth

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Freemasonry in St Davids

Becoming a Freemason in St Davids

Becoming a Freemason: The Matthew Cooke Manuscript is the second oldest of the Old Charges or Gothic Constitutions of Freemasonry, and the oldest known set of charges to be written in prose. It contains some repetition, but compared to the Regius there is also much new material, much of which is repeated in later constitutions. After an opening thanksgiving prayer, the text enumerates the Seven Liberal Arts, giving precedence to geometry, which it equates with Masonry. There follows the tale of the children of Lamech, expanded from the Book of Genesis. Jabal discovered geometry, and became Cain's Master Mason. Jubal discovered music, Tubal Cain discovered metallurgy and the art of the smith, while Lamech's daughter Naamah invented weaving. Discovering that the earth would be destroyed either by fire or by flood, they inscribed all their knowledge on two pillars of stone, one that would be impervious to fire, and one that would not sink. Generations after the flood both pillars were discovered, one by Pythagoras, the other by the philosopher Hermes. The seven sciences were then passed down through Nimrod, the architect of the Tower of Babel, to Abraham, who taught them to the Egyptians, including Euclid, who in turn taught Masonry to the children of the nobility as an instructive discipline. The craft is then taught to the children of Israel, and from the Temple of Solomon finds its way to France, and thence to Saint Alban's England. Athelstan now became one of a line of kings actively supporting Masonry. His youngest son, unnamed here, is introduced for the first time as leader and mentor of masons. There follow nine articles and nine points, and the document finishes in a similar manner to the Regius.

Unlike the majority of the old constitutions, which are written on rolls, the Cooke manuscript is written on sheets of vellum, four and three-eighth inches high and three and three eighth inches broad (112mm x 86mm) bound into a book, still retaining its original oak covers. The manuscript was published by R. Spencer, London, in 1861 when it was edited by Mr. Matthew Cooke — hence the name. In the British Museum's catalogue it is listed as "Additional M.S. 23,198", and is now dated to 1450 or thereabouts, although errors in Cooke's transcription caused it originally to be dated to after 1482. In line 140, And in policronico a cronycle p'yned, Cooke translated the last word as "printed", causing Hughan to give the earliest date as Caxton's Polychronicon of 1482. Later retranslation as "proved" justified the earlier dating. Obvious scribal errors indicate that the document is a copy, and repetition of part of the stories of Euclid and Athelstan seems to indicate two sources. Speth postulated, in 1890, that these sources were much older than the manuscript, a view that remained unchallenged for over a century.

Recent analysis of the Middle English of the document date it to the same period as the writing, around 1450, implying that the source or sources from which it was copied were almost contemporary with the Cooke, and contemporary with, or only slightly later than the Regius poem. It was probably composed in the West Midlands, near to the origin of the Regius in Shropshire. The historian Andrew Prescott sees both the Regius and Cooke manuscripts as part of the struggle of mediaeval masons to determine their own pay, particularly after the statute of 1425 banning assemblies of masons. Masons sought to show that their assemblies had royal approval, and added the detail that the King's son had become a mason himself. At line 603 we find For of specculatyfe he was a master and he lovyd well Masonry and masons. And he bicome a mason hym selfe.

James Anderson had access to the Cooke manuscript when he produced his 1723 Constitutions. He quotes the final sixty lines in a footnote to his description of the York assembly. The Woodford manuscript, which is a copy of the Cooke, has a note explaining that it was made in 1728 by the Grand Secretary of the Premier Grand Lodge of England, William Reid, for William Cowper, Clerk of the Parliaments, who had also been Grand Secretary.

Rival Grand Lodges: Third degree ceremony, Paris, 1745, retinted in 1812 to resemble a Moderns Lodge in London

On 17 July 1751, representatives of six Lodges gathered at the Turk's Head Tavern, in Greek Street, Soho, London. Five were unaffiliated lodges of mainly Irish membership, and the sixth appears to have been formed shortly beforehand for the business of the evening. On that night, they established the "Most Ancient and Honourable Society of Free and Accepted Masons according to the Old Constitutions", now commonly known as the Grand Lodge of the Antients. The first Grand Secretary, John Morgan, obtained a position in the Navy, and resigned after seven months. His successor, Laurence Dermott, presided as Grand Secretary for almost twenty years, being deputy Grand Master on three occasions after that, and exercised considerable influence until his death in 1791.

Dermott's immediate impact was in replacing the regulations that Morgan had written with those of his own lodge in Dublin. In 1756 he published the Antient's own book of constitutions, entitled the "Ahiman Rezon", for which no meaning is known. Modeled on Spratt's Irish Constitutions, the regulations are comprehensive and well written, and are followed by an extended section devoted to songs. At the beginning, instead of Anderson's history, is an extended introduction attacking the original Grand Lodge, now calling itself the Grand Lodge of England, but saddled by Dermott with "the Moderns" in contrast to the "Ancient" usages of the new Grand Lodge. This name remains in use to the present day. His main weapon was satire. He started with an account of how he attempted to write a history which would better the others by describing Masonry before Adam, but towards the end of the first volume, he fell asleep. He dreamed of a conversation with Ahimon, one of four sojourners from Jerusalem, about the futility of masonic histories, after which an ancient in a shining breastplate perused his first volume and pronounced, "Thou hast div'd deep into the water, and hast brought up a potsherd". He was woken by his neighbour's puppy eating his manuscript. Dermott then proceeded to a reasoned explanation of why a new Mason should not join a "Moderns" lodge, since their amended passwords would not be recognised by any of the other Grand Lodges which at that time existed. There follows a humorous account of their "unconstitutional fopperies", including Dermott's belief that their greatest masonic symbols were the knife and fork.

Under Dermott's influence, penmanship, and oratory, the new Grand Lodge grew to be a serious challenge to the original. The Antient's lodges were warranted from 1752, a practice not taken up by the Moderns for another two decades. As the unaffiliated lodges increasingly saw the sense of belonging to a larger organisation, they usually found that the Antients practice was closer to their own, although it was known for lodges to change allegiance from the Antients to the Moderns. The fact that the practices eventually adopted by the United Grand Lodge largely reflect those of the Antients is attributable to Dermott's industry.

While the emergence of the Antients simply consolidated a division in English Freemasonry, a schism occurred within the Moderns in 1777/78. While this only involved one lodge, it was the oldest and most prestigious in the constitution, and its Master the Moderns' most respected author and historian. William Preston was already in dispute with the Grand Secretary over the royalties to the new Book of Constitutions he had just written. Some members of his Lodge of Antiquity (formerly the Goose and Gridiron, or the Old Lodge of St Paul's), having attended church as masons, walked back to the lodge in their regalia. Three brethren saw fit to report this to the Moderns Grand Lodge as an unauthorised masonic parade. Preston, the Master of Antiquity, sided with the accused, arguing that since the lodge was one of the original four, it had only subscribed to the original constitutions, and did not require any other authority to hold a parade. For this, he was promptly expelled. Antiquity responded by expelling the three who had complained. At least half of the lodge seceded to the Grand Lodge of All England at York, quoting Article 39 of Payne's regulations, that the Landmarks of the order must be preserved in any new regulations of Grand Lodge (alluding to their own rights and privileges). Antiquity became, for the period of separation, "the Grand Lodge of All England South of the River Trent", warranting at least two lodges in its own right. The dispute was not resolved until May 1789, when Preston and his brethren were received back into the Moderns with much feasting and fanfare.

A similar situation arose in Scotland. Seniority was assigned according to the dating of lodge minutes, and due to a fire, Kilwinning records started at 1642, somewhat later than the Lodge of St Mary's Chapel in Edinburgh. Offended by being recognised as only the second lodge in the constitution, Lodge Mother Kilwinning withdrew from the Grand Lodge of Scotland in 1743, and did not rejoin until 1807. During this period, Kilwinning functioned as yet another Grand Lodge, chartering about 70 lodges in Scotland and abroad. While the two Grand Lodges ignored each other at an official level, there does not appear to have been any real animosity, with no bar on masons visiting lodges in the competing jurisdiction. One Kilwinning member became Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Scotland. The Lodge at Melrose, claiming an antiquity at least as great as Kilwinning, simply ignored the Grand Lodge of Scotland, again chartering daughter lodges, with the Master being addressed as "Grand Master". They finally joined the national body on 25 February 1891 as The Lodge Of Melrose St John No 1 bis.

St Davids or St David's is a city and a community (named St Davids and the Cathedral Close) with a cathedral in Pembrokeshire, Wales, lying on the River Alun. It is the resting place of Saint David, Wales's patron saint, and named after him. St Davids is the United Kingdom's smallest city in population (just over 1,600 in 2011) and urban area (the smallest city by local authority boundary area being the City of London). St Davids was given city status in the 12th century. This does not derive automatically from criteria, but in England and Wales it was traditionally given to cathedral towns under a practice laid down in the early 1540s, when Henry VIII founded dioceses. City status was withdrawn in 1886. It was restored in 1994 at the request of Queen Elizabeth II.

Tradition states that David was born to Saint Non at what is now St Non's, just to the south of the city, in about AD 500. It is said that he was baptised at Porthclais, now the city's port, and was brought up by his mother at Llanon. St David may also have been educated at Ty Gwyn, Whitesands, by St Paulinus.

In the 6th century, David founded a monastery and church at Glyn Rhosyn (Rose Vale) on the banks of the River Alun. The area was originally known in the Welsh language as Mynyw and to the Romans as Meneva or Menevia. The monastic brotherhood that David founded was very strict — besides praying and celebrating masses, they cultivated the land and carried out many crafts, including beekeeping, in order to feed themselves and the many pilgrims and travellers who needed lodgings. They also fed and clothed the poor and needy. The community council area sits at the southern end of the Irish Sea on a peninsula, between Cardigan Bay, St George's Channel and St Brides Bay. It covers not just the mainland area, but also several islands off the coast, of which Ramsey Island is the largest and the only one inhabited, separated by the Ramsey Sound. The most westerly mainland point of Wales is at Pen Dal-aderyn. To the north lie Whitesands Bay and St Davids Head, which are locally notable landscape features. The community includes the former chapelries at St Justinian and Gwrhyd. The mainland contains much area used for farming, but contains very small scattered residences and several campsites.

St Davids Lifeboat Station, at St Justinian, has saved an estimated 360 people since the first lifeboat was located there in 1869; four lifeboatmen have died while saving others. The Irish Sea includes a large number of offshore rocks and islands and is notorious for strong tides. The entire coastline around St Davids forms part of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. Saint Non's Well overlooks the Pembrokeshire Coast Path and St Brides Bay. St David's Airfield, although named after the city when opened in 1943, is in the neighbouring community of Solva. The highest point is Carn Llidi at 181 metres (594 ft).

The settlement that grew up around the monastery was called Tyddewi meaning "David's house". In 519 the archbishopric of Caerleon in the county of Monmouth was transferred to Mynyw, which was renamed "St Davids" in honour of the archbishop and saint by whom the transfer was accomplished. The original cathedral built on the site was often plundered by the Vikings and was finally burnt and destroyed in 1087. The present cathedral was built by the Normans and contained many relics, including the remains of St David. It was visited by many pilgrims, many of whom were nobles and kings, including William the Conqueror in 1077, Henry II in 1171, and Edward I and Queen Eleanor in 1284. Pope Calixtus II decreed that two pilgrimages to St Davids were equivalent to one to Rome ("Roma semel quantum dat bis Menevia tantum"). This allowed a vast income to be raised from visiting pilgrims in the Middle Ages. Pilgrimages later fell out of favour due to practices such as the selling of indulgences, and the income from them faded away. By the 19th century, the city of St Davids was isolated and neglected, as described in the Penny Cyclopaedia:

Area      17.93 sq mi (46.4 km2) (community)

0.23 sq mi (0.60 km2)

(urban area)

Population         1,600 [1]

• Density            89/sq mi (34/km2)

OS grid reference           SM755255


St Davids and the Cathedral Close

Principal area   


Ceremonial county        


Country               Wales

Sovereign state               United Kingdom

Post town           HAVERFORDWEST

Postcode district             SA62

Dialling code      01437

Police    Dyfed-Powys

Fire        Mid and West Wales

Ambulance        Welsh

UK Parliament 

Preseli Pembrokeshire

Senedd Cymru – Welsh Parliament       

Preseli Pembrokeshire

List of places UKWalesPembrokeshire

51.882°N 5.269°W