Canterbury Uncovered

What is the Kent Museum of Freemasonry?

It’s been visited by the Antiques Road Trip, but have you paid it a visit yet?

Image: Visit Canterbury

The Kent Museum of Freemasonry sits on the edge of St. Peter’s Place, near the Westgate Towers. It’s an Arts Council accredited museum which boasts a rare collection of exhibits of national and international importance, with a vast collection of regalia and books covers all Masonic orders through the ages.

It’s completely free, it’s on our doorstep, and this year, the Freemason’s are celebrating 300 years since their first historic meeting. But, with an organisation so mysterious, we still had some questions to answer about the Freemasons…

What is a Freemason?

There are over 200,000 Freemasons belonging to more than 7,000 lodges throughout England and Wales. Worldwide, there are estimated to be around six million members. The Freemasons are an international organisation, often shrouded in mystery, with whispers of secret handshakes and conspiracy theories.

But, for many who join, it is a fraternal organisation that takes part in charitable giving, offering people the opportunity to network and connect with others.

The secret rituals associated with the Freemasons are all to do with teaching members the three tenets or “great principles” that the organisation or “craft” is based on.
These are brotherly love (tolerance, respect and kindness towards others), relief, or charity work (the masons are thought to be second only to the national lottery in the UK for giving money to charitable causes), and truth, which means maintaining high moral standards.

Can anybody join?

Yes, provided that you believe in a ‘Supreme Being’. All Freemasons are expected to have a religious belief, but Freemasonry does not seek to replace a Mason’s religion or provide a substitute for it. It deals ‘in a man’s relationship with his fellow man not in a man’s relationship with his God’.

Members can be recommended by existing members, or they can put themselves forward.

Why do people join the Freemasons?

In an interview with the BBC, Nigel Brown, Grand Secretary of the United Grand Lodge of England said that:

There are many different reasons why people join the Freemasons – one of the main reasons is camaraderie. Many friendships made through Freemasonry endure for life, and lodge dinners which follow our formal meetings offer members the opportunity to enjoy each others’ company in a more relaxed and informal environment.

Other reasons put forward during the research for The Future of Freemasonry report include a sense of belonging and structure – which are not always easy to find in today’s fragmented society – and a desire to help other people by getting involved in the local community.

Can women join the Freemasons?

Women can join, but men and women have their own separate ‘Grand Lodges’.

The Grand Lodge, or governing body, meets four times a year – the “quarterly communication” – on the second Wednesday in March, June, September and December. They then have an “annual investiture” and a “grand festival” – during which awards are presented to members.

Is the work of the Freemasons linked to the Cathedral?

While not directly linked, the Freemasons have taken a lot of our symbolism from stonemasonry. As with stonemasonry, Freemasonry is about moving from level to level as you gain further knowledge and experience, starting with being an apprentice.

The general consensus amongst Masonic scholars is that it is believed to have originated in England in the late 16th or early 17th centuries, descending directly or indirectly from the organisation of operative stonemasons who built the great cathedrals and castles of the Middle Ages.

Due to this shared history, there has been a historical cooperation between the masons and the cathedral, with Masonic connections in the two colourful windows in the Chapter House and the Martyrdom dating from 1896 and 1954. Masons have recently raised thousands of pounds for the cathedral and received a Cathedral service which marked 300 years since the first Grand Lodge was established.

Did you know…

Famous Freemasons include Edmund Burke, William Hogarth, Sir Walter Scott, Peter Sellers and Winston Churchill.

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