What is the history of Freemasonry?
The origins of Freemasonry are lost in the unrecorded history of the Middle Ages, and they are subject to speculation, unproven claims, and even conspiracy theories. However, we know that lodges of working or operative stonemasons existed from early times to support great building projects, like castles, fortresses, churches, and cathedrals. Many Masonic scholars believe that as these massive building projects became less frequent, lodges of working stonemasons began accepting men of good character, reputation, and rank as honorary members into their guilds. These accepted Masons found that the legends, skills, and knowledge of the building trades (especially their moral code, emphasis on merit, and application of geometry and the liberal arts and science to daily life) provided value and meaning to its members’ social and professional connections. Over several generations, the number of operative Masons declined and accepted Masons increased, until the lodge became an early version of the fraternal organization we know today. These independent lodges have been documented in England, Ireland, and Scotland.
Learn about the physical and symbolic meanings behind the operative Masonic working tools still used in Freemasonry today.
Four of the existing independent lodges in London, England, formally united or organized during the early 18th century. The Grand Lodge of London and Westminster, soon recognized as the Grand Lodge of England, was the first organized grand lodge in modern Freemasonry. Grand lodges in Scotland and Ireland soon followed. From these humble beginnings, Freemasonry rapidly spread to more countries in Europe and throughout the English colonies, including those that became the United States.