IT is to be feared that some enthusiastic writers on Free Masonry give the order an antiquity that is more or less imaginative. One specially ardent author makes the patriarchs and other noted Biblical characters Free Masons, and insists that several of the Saviour’s disciples were members of the order. Free Masonry, none the less, is the oldest existing organization of a charitable nature in the history of mankind. During the Middle Ages the Mason brotherhoods were organized corporations, resembling in a general way the other guilds, with rules of their own, and recruited from a body of apprentices who had served a period of probation. The time referred to was a church-building age, and men skilled in the hewing and setting of stones were in demand and held in high esteem. When a great church or cathedral was to be built, skilful masons gathered.from distant quarters to assist those of the neighborhood in the work. A master was chosen, who superintended the whole, and every tenth man was a warden with authority over the rest. It followed, therefore, that a mason, after serving his apprenticeship, could not settle down, like other craftsmen, among his neighbors, but was obliged to travel in order to find employment. It was advisable that all members of the fraternity should possess the means of making themselves known to one another and thus avoid the necessity of proving their skill as craftsmen. In order to do so, and to enable a mason to claim the hospitality of his brother masons, a system of symbols was devised, in which every mason was initiated and which he was pledged to keep secret. The term “Free,” as applied to the craft, arose from the fact that its members were exempted by several papal bulls from the laws which governed ordinary laborers, as well as from the various burdens imposed upon the working classes in England and on the Continent.
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