I reproduce this text accompanied by photos from the Masonic Forum No. 41, that trip to Scotland being very dear to my soul.
I had the pleasure and the privilege of attending the Communication of the GL of Scotland on June 10th, 2010. I am the first Romanian mason thus honored after Rekindling the Lights. My friend and brother, Trevor Stewart (Prestonian Lecturer of UGLE and PM of Quatuor Coronati Lodge in London), introduced me to the Grand Master, the MW Bro Charles Iain Robert Wolrige Gordon of Esslemont. The headquarters of the GL of Scotland was familiar to me since 2007, being the venue for the International Conference on History of Freemasonry.
Right after the end of the Communication, I took part in the ceremony where Trevor was installed as WM, which took place at Mary’s Chapel nr. 1, dating back to 1599. Provincial Grand Masters attended the installation, as well as high rank officers of Scottish Freemasonry, led by Sir Archibald D. Orr Ewing, Immediate PGM of the GL of Scotland.
The following day, we visited the headquarters of the Royal Order of Scotland, housed in a wonder building, St. John’s Chapel – the oldest Masonic Temple in the world. (CLAUDIU IONESCU)
The Chapel of St. John
The Chapel of St. John is believed to be the oldest Masonic Lodge Room in the world, having been built specifically for that purpose in the year 1735.
The Lodge premises are situated on St. John Street in the City of Edinburgh. The street which runs off the Canongate (part of the Royal Mile) was occupied during the 18th and 19th centuries by persons of distinction, nobles, judges and eminent gentlemen. The street takes its name after St. John’s Cross in the Canongate where King Charles 1, on his ceremonial entry into Edinburgh in 1633, knighted the Lord Provost.
The Canongate was a Burgh of Regality and maintained its rights as a Burgh till the middle of the 19th century when it merged with the City of Edinburgh. As the main avenue from the Palace of Holyroodhouse through the ancient City to the Castle, the Canongate and the High Street have borne on their pavements all that has become historically interesting for the past 600-700 years.
There is no doubt whatever that many excellent Masons were employed in the building of the Abbey of Holyrood, founded by King David 1 in 1128. When, by Royal Warrant, skilled craftsmen were brought from far and near to assist in the work, many would have experienced the truest tenets of the Craft within the Burgh.
Whilst there is some evidence that the Canongate Masons dated their corporate privileges from the 12th century, it was not until 1677 that they identified themselves with the general body of Freemasons in Scotland. In that year they accepted a Warrant from Lodge Kilwinning in Ayrshire which was at that time exercising the functions of a chartering Lodge.
The Lodge premises, known throughout the world as The Chapel of St. John were consecrated on 18th December, 1736 in the presence of the Most Worshipful Grand Master Mason, Bro. William St. Clair of Roslin, an initiate of Lodge Canongate Kilwinning, No. 2.
The Masonic Temple
The Masonic Temple where Brethren have met in peace and harmony for hundreds of years is substantially as it was in its earliest days. If proof of such a statement were required one need only compare that most frequently exhibited engraving of Stewart Watson’s “Inauguration of Robert Burns as Poet Laureate in Canongate Lodge” with the scene in the East of the Lodge today.
Dominating the East of the Temple, the Master’s Chair dates from the early 18th century. The magnificent canopy or awning which is such a striking feature of Watson’s work, the pillars on either side of the Chair and the ancient gavels are all items which immediately attract the attention and admiration of visitors to the Temple.
Turning to the West of the Lodge Room, one experiences the great beauty and deep symbolism of a mural which was given to the Lodge by the Royal Order of Scotland as a memorial to Brother Dr. Alexander F. Buchan, a long-serving Grand Secretary of the Royal Order of Scotland and a P.M. of Lodge Canongate Kilwinning, No.2.
On the North wall hangs a full-length portrait of William St. Clair of Roslin, the first Grand Master Mason of Scotland, clothed as a Freemason, and holding a Charter in his hand.
On either side are portraits of Baillie Jack and his wife who granted the land on which the Chapel was built in 1735.
Opposite the portrait of William St. Clair of Roslin is a fine old organ which also attracts attention. The organ was the work of Snetzlear of London, the outstanding organ-builder of the time, who had the distinction of producing an organ to the order of George Frederick Handel.
As visitors to the Temple survey the vista and that generous tapestry of history, they cannot help but be impressed by what appear at first sight to be alcoves in the North and South walls containing statues of four of the most outstanding men of letters, namely Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron and William Shakespeare. On closer examination, they are found to be mural paintings cleverly executed by an artistic craftsman around the year 1883.
Tribute must be paid to the members of Lodge Canongate Kilwinning, No. 2 who, throughout almost 300 years have preserved the Chapel of St. John for posterity. No expenditure is therefore necessary in the Temple.
Surely no-one can leave the Temple without having experienced the tranquillity and serenity of that very special place. The muted ambience of a place of great antiquity must also make a lasting impression on every-one, Mason and non-Mason alike, who enters its hallowed portals.
Here is the oldest Masonic Temple in the world.
(Text from The Royal Order of Scotland Headquarter’s Appeal Project; Photo credits: Claudiu Ionescu)