The history of Freemasonry is shrouded in mystery and intrigue. One of the earliest documents pertaining to the Masonic craft is the Cooke Manuscript dated about 1410, edited by Matthew Cooke, hence the manuscript’s name, a transcription of which was published in 1861. The Quatuor Coronati Lodge (2076) reprinted it in facsimile form in Volume II of its Antigrapha in 1890 which included a commentary by George William Speth who thought it to be a version of an older document written by a Mason. Part of Speth’s interpretation reads:
‘During the time that the children of Israel dwelt in Egypt they learned the craft of Masonry. And after they were driven out of Egypt they came into the Promised Land, which is now called Jerusalem, and they occupied that land and the charges were observed there. And [at] the making of Solomon’s Temple which king David began, King David loved masons well, and gave them [wages] nearly as they are now. And at the making of the Temple in Solomon’s time, as stated in the Bible in the third book of Kings and the fifth chapter, Solomon held four score thousand masons at work. And the son of the king of Tyre was his master mason. And in other chronicles and in old books of masonry, it is said that Solomon confirmed the charges that David his father had given to masons. And Solomon himself taught them their usages differing but slightly from the customs now in use.’
This Cooke Manuscript contains the earliest detailed description, paraphrased above, of the link between King Solomon’s Temple and operative Masonry. The text goes on to describe how the ‘science’ of Masonry was brought from the Holy Land across Europe until it was eventually established in England. It was compiled, if not actually copied, from materials already in the hands of Masons and although some of the details of this ‘traditional’ history may not be absolutely correct, there seems little doubt that our Masonic ancestors believed them. They actually venerated the documents in which this ‘history’ was enshrined.
The organisation of the ‘operative’ Masonic Craft stemmed from the more exacting and highly trained knowledge required during the twelfth century with the building of churches, abbeys and cathedrals under the influence and support of the monastic orders and Town Guilds. As independent craftsmen they were free from the trade restrictions forced on other local Guilds and because of their skill it is not surprising that they wished to guard their secrets and privileges; this ensured their admission into any ‘Lodge’ where they might be sent.
In Chester, at the Abbey of St Werburgh and the Collegiate Church of St John, the operative Masons’ Lodge was probably a permanent institution and although outsiders would be strictly barred, the clerics in charge of the Masons would no doubt be admitted on a non-operative basis. When one considers that some of the narrative in the Cooke Manuscript would appear to be derived from the Polychronium of Ranulf Higden (a fourteenth century monk at St Werburgh’s) then this assumption seems most likely. In view of this, Cheshire and Chester in particular may be regarded as the ‘seed-bed’ of speculative Freemasonry in England.
As well as the Cooke Manuscript there are a number of extant versions of Old Charges which were summarized by George F. Fort in 1877. The following compilation by Fort is taken from a number of different variations:
‘King David began the temple, called Templum Domini, now designated as the Temple of Jerusalem. This monarch constituted himself a patron of the Masons, and by every means in his power endeavoured to show how highly he prized them. Although he adhered to the charges of Euclid, the Masons received from him enlarged powers for the internal government of the craft, and an increase of wages. Upon the accession of Solomon to the Israelitish [sic] throne, he pushed forward with vigour the projects of his father, and hastened the completion of the temple. This king collected from various countries of the world a larger class of skilled workmen, who numbered fourscore thousand hewers of stone. Among other changes made by Solomon, he selected three thousand of the most expert operatives, and placed them as governors or superintendents of the work. All these were classed under the general term of Masons. At this time Solomon received many flattering indications of the friendly spirit of neighbouring rulers, and among others, Hiram, King of Tyre, who offered him the resources of the Tyrian kingdom. By this means the king of Israel was enabled to procure such timber as was essential in the construction of the temple. A son of Hiram, Aynon by name, was appointed master mason of this great work, and was especially distinguished for his geometric knowledge. He was chief master of all the masons engaged in the erection of the Jewish temple, and was a proficient master of engraving and carving, and all manner of masonry required for the sacred edifice. Solomon, according to old books of the craft, confirmed the ancient charges, and sanctioned the customs which had prevailed during his father’s reign, which the chronicles affirm to be but little different from those then practised. In this manner the worthy science of masonry was introduced into the country of Jerusalem, and then propagated throughout many kingdoms.’
None would deny that there is at least a tenuous connection between the Freemasonry of today and the building of King Solomon’s Temple as there have been many documents written in the past six hundred years since the Cooke Manuscript of 1410, in which a line of descent has been eagerly traced. Historians who have researched the development of Masonry over the centuries maintain that King Solomon’s Temple takes its place simply as the traditional background of the Craft. With the passage of time it has gradually acquired an allegorical and spiritual significance so that today it is considered to be an integral part of Speculative Freemasonry. It could be said that Freemasonry uses the metaphors of operative stonemasons’ tools and implements, against the allegorical backdrop of the building of King Solomon's Temple, to convey what has been described by both Masons and critics alike as ‘a system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols’.
It is from three Books of the Bible that we derive the only known source of information about King Solomon’s Temple, namely: I Kings, Chapters 6-10; II Chronicles, Chapters 3-9; and Ezekiel, Chapters 40-44.
The Temple was built on the site prepared for it by David, the ‘threshing-floor’ of the Jebusite Ornan, on Mount Moriah in the 10th century BC. The area enclosed by the outer walls covered about 25 acres of ground and after Solomon’s Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC, Zerubbabel’s was built on its site. Later, Herod erected his Temple on the same site but enlarged the boundaries; on its destruction Hadrian built the Temple of Jupiter there. Eventually, Justinian built his church on the same spot. Today the site is occupied by the Great Mosque of Omar (the Dome of the Rock). It is thought that the ‘threshing floor’ (Sakhrah) is the actual summit of the Holy Mount Moriah and was the platform of living rock on which stood the great stone altar at which King Solomon led the dedication of God’s House.
The Holy Place (40 cubits long, 20 cubits wide and 30 cubits high) was floored with cypress, panelled with cedar and overlaid with gold. Its inner apartment was the Oracle or Holy of Holies – a cubical building with a side of 20 cubits. It too was made of cypress and cedar and overlaid with gold. The wall which separated the two portions was, in ‘Ezekiel’s Temple’, 2 cubits thick; it was probably the same thickness in Solomon’s Temple. In the Oracle were the sacred Ark and the 2 Cherubim, each 10 feet high, made of olive wood overlaid with gold; the Altar of Incense, the Table of Shewbread and the Seven-branched Candlestick.
The Pillars, made by Hiram of Tyre, were 18 cubits high with a chapiter 5 cubits high, so that they were in total 23 cubits (34½ feet) high. They were hollow, the thickness of the brass being ‘four fingers’. Lily work adorned the chapiters and a brass network of small palms was interwoven around them to which were hung 300 pomegranates in two rows. The pillars were hollow and it is thought that they may have been used for the storage of documents.
From the time of the Crusades until the nineteenth-century Palestine was not well known to the western world; since 1517 it had been under Turkish rule. This inaccessibility to the Holy Land began to change due to the pioneering efforts of a small group of explorers and archaeologists who gained entry to certain sites and thus made expeditions possible. One such explorer was the medically trained American, Dr James Turner Barclay, who was born in 1807 to an influential Virginian family. In February 1851 he was sent, together with his wife and three children, to Jerusalem by the American Christian Missionary Society. Barclay had heard rumours of a cavern under the north wall of Jerusalem and tried to locate an entrance to it. He and his two sons began to conduct searches at night in order to avoid detection by Muslims who would have opposed such exploits. One night, in 1854, Barclay’s dog ran off and began barking at something on the ground near to the Damascus Gate – it was thought that the dog was digging for bones but on closer inspection Barclay realised that it was the opening to a quarry that had been sealed up for several hundred years. He had discovered Solomon’s Quarries, referred to by Israelis as Zedekiah’s Grotto in honour of the last King of Judah. The area has been identified by J.J. Simons as the Royal Caverns mentioned by Josephus and he has estimated that 350,000 cubic metres of stone were quarried there. Years later, Barclay’s son, Dr R.G. Barclay, related discovering the quarries:
‘On scrambling through and descending the inner side of the wall, we found our way apparently obstructed by an immense amount of soft dirt, which had been thrown in, the more effectually to close up the entrance; but, after examining awhile, discovered that it had settled down in some places sufficiently to allow us to crawl over it on hand and knee; which having accomplished, we found ourselves enveloped in thick darkness, that might be felt, but not penetrated by all our lights, so vast is the hall … There is a constant and in many places very rapid descent from the entrance to the termination, the distance between which two points, in a nearly direct line, is seven hundred and fifty feet; and the cave is upwards of three thousand feet in circumference, supported by great numbers of rude natural pillars.
At the southern extremity there is a very deep and precipitous pit, in which we received a very salutary warning of caution from the dead – a human skeleton! Supposed to be of a person who, not being sufficiently supplied with lights, was precipitated headlong, and broke his neck, or rather his skull, I would judge, from the fracture I noticed on picking it up! There is also near this pit a basin excavated in the solid rock, about five feet in diameter and two and a half feet deep, into which the percolating water trickles; but it was in vain we tried to quench our thirst with water of such bitter taste. A little, however, was bottled for analysis. Water was everywhere dropping from the lofty ceiling, which had formed numerous small stalactites and stalagmites – some of them very resplendent and beautiful, but too fragile to be collected and preserved …
Indeed, the manner in which the beautiful white solid limestone rock was everywhere carved by the mason’s rough chisel into regular pillars, proved that this extensive cavern, though in part natural, was formerly used as the grand quarry of Jerusalem.
There are many intricate meandering passages leading to immense halls, as white as the driven snow, and supported by colossal pillars of irregular shape – some of them placed there by the hand of nature, to support the roof of the various grottos, others evidently left by the stone quarrier [sic] in quarrying the rock to prevent the intumbling [sic] of the city. Such reverberations I never heard before!’
After the cave was discovered it was briefly used as a quarry. It was, however, as a result of an idea by the famous archaeologist and Freemason Sir Charles Warren, G.C.M.G., K.C.B., occasionally used to hold Masonic Rituals and Festivals, with the permission of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire. Ironically, Warren, who was Past District Grand Master of the Eastern Archipelago, became an Honorary Member of the Lodge of King Solomon’s Temple (3464) in 1911.
Everything led to the assumption that these were the quarries from which the stone was hewn to build King Solomon’s Temple – the whiteness of the stone, its nearness to the Temple area, its suitability for building purposes, being soft when first quarried but hardening on exposure, the great chamber (referred to as Freemasons Hall) deep in stone chippings where vast quantities of stone had been cut into shape – alluding to the statement referred to in I Kings vi., v. 7 that Solomon’s builders and Hiram’s builders hewed great stones for the house which Solomon built for the Lord:
'And the house, when it was in building, was built of stone made ready before it was brought thither: so that there was neither hammer nor axe, nor any tool of iron heard in the house, when it was in building.’
Some writers claim that the Temple itself was built of stones and timber cut and fitted before being brought to the building site. The foundations, the containing walls and the other buildings in the Temple area would have required an enormous quantity of stone; it seems likely that most of this would come from the nearest quarry. The stone itself is a crystalline limestone known as ‘Mizzihelu’ which when dressed reveals traces of seashells and fossils. It takes an excellent polish and the general effect could well have inspired Josephus to describe the Holy Temple as ‘glistening in the sun like a mound of snow’. The ‘threshing floor’ (Sakhrah) is composed of the same calcareous rock as that in the Quarries.
Stones still remain in the walls and foundations of the existing outer wall of the Temple (the Wailing Wall) of the same type and formation as the limestone found in King Solomon’s Quarries. As these quarries extend under a considerable portion of the Old City of Jerusalem, the statement that no sound of iron instrument could be heard would be literally correct, as the depth and thickness of the mass of rock would preclude the slightest sound reaching the Temple area. The Temple itself could well have been built with the same stone as they appear to have been patterned, ‘sawed with saws’ as described in I Kings vii., v. 9 – the patterns being geometrical figures, chevrons, etc. – no living creatures being carved.
Freemasons were beginning to realize the significance of these quarries in relation to the symbolism and allegory portrayed in their rituals. On 7 December 1904 a letter was sent to Sir Edward Letchworth, the Grand Secretary, by a Bro. Joseph Hill of Derby:
‘Dear Sir & Brother,
On Cruise 101 of the Steam Yacht Argonaut to the Holy Land and Egypt, were a number of Master Masons.
A list of the brothers is appended.
On November 27th 1904, 18 of the brethren assembled in King Solomon’s Quarries when it was unanimously resolved that “an expression of regret be forwarded to Grand Lodge that there was no Lodge in Jerusalem”.
This resolution was reported on 5th Dec. 1904 to the whole party of the brethren presided over by Canon Sanders P.G.C. when it was unanimously resolved that the above resolution be adopted, and forwarded to the Secretary of Grand Lodge.
I acted as Honorary Secretary of the meeting and have pleasure in accordingly sending the Resolution as directed.
I am Dear Sir and Brother,
Yours faithfully and fraternally,
The Hollies, Empress Road, Derby.’
Apparently, Hill also requested that a report of their resolution and of their ‘informal meeting’ be published in the Freemason magazine. Letchworth’s reply was obviously not what Hill was expecting as Hill implied in his reply that Letchworth had claimed that the conduct of the visiting brethren merited some kind of punishment. In response to this second letter Letchworth wrote:
‘I have to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 7th instant in which you state than on November 27th last it was unanimously resolved by certain Brethren assembled in King Solomon's Quarries at Jerusalem, that “an expression of regret be forwarded to Grand Lodge that there was no Lodge in Jerusalem”. It is probably within your knowledge that for some years a Lodge existed in Jerusalem working under a Warrant from the Grand Lodge of Canada. I have been informed that in consequence of irregularities which had taken place in connection with that Lodge its Warrant has been withdrawn. No application has been received by the Grand Lodge of England from brethren in Jerusalem for a Warrant for the establishment of a Lodge there, and I do not think it at all probable in view of what has occurred that an application for a Warrant would be attended with success.’
In reply Hill enquired why the Lodge had been struck off the Grand Lodge of Canada. This elicited a follow-up letter from Letchworth:
‘Adverting to your letter of the 17th instant to which I have been unable to reply before, I am not aware of the precise circumstances under which the Grand Lodge of Canada deemed it its duty to withdraw the Warrant of the Lodge at Jerusalem; but I have been given to understand that the Lodge had been guilty of grave Masonic irregularities. If the Brethren assembled on board the “Argonaut” desire to know why the Grand Lodge of Canada saw fit to take this course, I can only refer them to the Grand Secretary of that jurisdiction ... I confess it is not apparent to me what good object could be attained by publishing in the “Freemason” a resolution of so abstract a character as that agreed to by the Brethren assembled on board the “Argonaut”. As the matter in question in no way concerns this Grand Lodge, I trust I shall not be considered wanting in courtesy if I refrain from any personal interference on the matter.’
Unfortunately, no further information is recorded regarding whether or not the brethren chose to follow up their enquiry with the Grand Lodge of Canada or exactly of what ‘Masonic irregularities’ the Canadian Lodge was ‘guilty’. What it does indicate is that Masonic Meetings were taking place by a ‘one-time’ Warranted Lodge in King Solomon’s Quarries in the latter part of the nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century.
Apparently, one of the first recorded Masonic ceremonies in the Holy Land dates from 13 May 1868, when Dr Robert Morris, Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Kentucky (a lawyer and educator from Boston, Massachusetts, and the founder of the Order of the Eastern Star in the U.S.), directed a Secret Monitor Ceremony in King Solomon's Quarries, deep under the walls of the old city of Jerusalem. Morris worked unceasingly to erect the first regular Masonic Lodge in the Holy Land and in 1873 he finally succeeded in obtaining a charter from the Grand Lodge of Canada (Ontario) for the Royal Solomon Mother Lodge No. 293, working ‘at the city of Jerusalem or adjacent places’. This was the first regular Lodge in Israel. Most of its founding members were American settlers living in Jaffa, belonging to a Christian sect called the Church of the Messiah. The lodge had a difficult existence and after a few years stopped reporting to the Grand Lodge of Canada and it was finally erased from the Register in 1907.
An article in The Graphic (an illustrated British weekly newspaper founded in 1869) for 4 September 1909 stated that Thomas B. Wallace, the American Consul in Jerusalem, had reported to the US Government on the subterranean quarries and that ‘the Masons of Jerusalem are to take steps to establish a lodge there’ (these were Masons living and working in Jerusalem at the time – there was no recognised Lodge there). The article was accompanied by an illustration of the quarries indicating their position beneath the Old City and confirming the fact that Masonic Meetings were occasionally held there.
It was within this inheritance that, in 1909, W. Bro. A.J. Thompson F.R.G.S. (later to be known as Shelley-Thompson) visited the Holy Land including Jerusalem and Solomon’s Quarries. During his tour, Thompson met Freemasons living in Jerusalem and discussed the possibility of founding a lodge there and it was almost certainly these conversations which led to the article which appeared in The Graphic newspaper. According to The Freemason magazine for 5 February 1910 page 510:
‘The Hon Secretary [A.J. Thompson] last year made an extensive tour of Palestine, and found all the Freemasons in Jerusalem, under the United Grand Lodge of Jerusalem, [sic] eight in number, were anxious to have a Lodge formed, and restricted to Europeans. He also found that many gentlemen resident in Jerusalem, dignitaries of the Church and principals of the several Colleges, were anxious to be initiated. Owing to the small number of local Europeans they were unable to form a Lodge of themselves, and he promised on his return to England to see what could be done to plant a Lodge of Freemasons on this historic spot.’
The Committee appointed to found the Lodge was under the Chairmanship of W.H. Lever (later Lord Leverhulme) with Lieut-Col. H. Cornwall Legh (D.P.G.M.) as Deputy Chairman and A.E. Coveney as Vice-Chairman. Also on the Committee were R.F. Gould, and J.M. Hargreaves; A.J. Thompson was the Secretary.
Thompson had this vision of a lodge which embraced the ‘Masonic World’, the idea of a lodge capable of possessing members from all parts of the earth. The possibility of holding a lodge in Jerusalem, the city from where Freemasonry took its rise and spiritual home, must, he thought, appeal to all members of the Order. To fulfil this dream would be a monumental task but, if successful, it would do yeoman service for the concept of ‘Universal Freemasonry’ bringing likeminded men together from all corners of the globe, men who were personally unknown to each other.
The focus of his inspiration was the idea of gathering Freemasons together under one ‘Masonic Roof’ and that this ‘Roof’ would actually be the limestone ceiling of the King Solomon’s Quarries from whence the stones were hewn to build King Solomon’s Temple.