The Templar origin of Freemasonry

Templar origin of Freemasonry - Templars and Freemasonry in Scotland

Publisher’s Note: Many of the writings of early Masonic historians took considerable liberties with the Templar origin of Freemasonry, a connection between Templarism and Freemasonry. As such, we present this information as a record of what was considered historic in the past. The reader should take some caution as to the authenticity.  

From The History of Freemasonry by Albert Mackey, 1898 

Clavel, in his Picturesque History of Freemasonry, gives it more in detail, almost in the words of Von Hund. See Freemasons’ Quarterly Review, London, 1843, p. 501, where the Templar Origin of Freemasonry Legend is given in full, as above.

After the execution of de Molay, Peter d’Aumont, the Provincial Grand Master of Auvergne, with two Commanders and five Knights, fled for safety and directed their course toward Scotland, concealing themselves during their journey under the disguise of Operative Masons. Having landed on the Scottish Island of Mull they there met the Grand Commander George Harris and several other brethren, with whom they resolved to continue the order. D’Aumont was elected Grand Master in a Chapter held on St. John’s Day, 1313. To protect themselves from all chance of discovery and persecution they adopted symbols taken from architecture and assumed the title of Freemasons. In 1361 the Grand Master of the Temple transferred the seat of the order to the old city of Aberdeen, and from that time it spread, under the guise of Freemasonry, through Italy, Germany, France, Portugal, Spain, and other places. It was on this Legend that the Baron Von Hund founded his Rite of Strict Observance, and with spurious documents in his possession, he attempted, but without success, to obtain the sanction of the Congress of Wilhelmsbad to his dogma that every Freemason was a Templar.

This doctrine, though making but slow progress in Germany, was more readily accepted in France, where already it had been promulgated by the Chapter of Clermont, into whose Templar system Von Hund had been initiated.

The Chevalier Ramsay was the real author of the doctrine of the Templar origin of Freemasonry, and to him we are really indebted (if the debt have any value) for the D’Aumont legend of the Templar origin of Freemasonry. The source whence it sprang is tolerably satisfactory evidence of its fictitious character. The inventive, genius of Ramsay, as exhibited in the fabrications of high degrees and Masonic legends, is well known. Nor, unfortunately for his reputation, can it be doubted that in the composition of his legends he cared but little for the support of history. If his genius, his learning, and his zeal had been consecrated, not to the formation of new Masonic systems, but to a profound investigation of the true origin of the Institution, viewed only from an authentic historical point, it is impossible to say what incalculable benefit would have been delved from his researches. The unproductive desert, which for three-fourths of a century spread over the continent, bearing no fruit except fanciful theories, absurd systems, and unnecessary degrees, would have been occupied in all probability by a race of Masonic scholars whose researches would have been directed to the creation of a genuine history, and much of the labors of our modern iconoclasts would have been spared.

The Masonic scholars of that long period, which began with Ramsay and has hardly yet wholly terminated, assumed for the most part rather the role of poets than of historians. They did not remember the wise saying of Cervantes that the poet may say or sing, not as things have been, but as they ought to have been, while the historian must write of them as they really were, and not as he thinks they ought to have been. And hence we have a mass of traditional rubbish, in which there is a great deal of falsehood with very little truth.

Of this rubbish is the Legend of Peter d’Aumont and his resuscitation of the Order of Knights Templars in Scotland. Without a particle of historical evidence for its support, it has nevertheless exerted a powerful influence on the Masonic organization of even the present day. We find its effects looming out in the most important rites and giving a Templar form to many of the high degrees. And it cannot be doubted that the incorporation of Templarism into the modern Masonic system is mainly to be attributed to ideas suggested by this D’Aumont legend.

As there appears to be some difficulty in reconciling the supposed heretical opinions of the Templars with the strictly Christian faith of the Scottish Masons, to meet this objection a third legend was invented, in which it was stated that after the abolition of the Templars, the clerical part of the order – that is, the chaplains and priests – united in Scotland to revive it and to transplant it into Freemasonry. But as this legend has not met with many supporters and was never strongly urged, it is scarcely necessary to do more than thus briefly to allude to it.

Much as the Legend of D’Aumont has exerted an influence in mingling together the elements of Templarism and Freemasonry, as we see at the present day in Britain and in America, and in the high degrees formed on the continent of Europe, the dogma of Ramsay, that every Freemason is a Templar, has been utterly repudiated, and the authenticity of the Legend has been rejected by nearly all of the best Masonic scholars.

Dr. Burnes, who was a believer in the legitimacy of the French Order of the Temple, as being directly derived from de Molay through Larmenius, and who, therefore, subscribed unhesitatingly to the authenticity of the “Charter of Transmission,” does not hesitate to call Von Hund “an adventurer” and his legend of D’Aumont “a plausible tale.”

Of that part of the Legend which relates to the transfer of the chief seat of the Templars to Aberdeen in Scotland, he says that “the imposture was soon detected, and it was even discovered that he had himself enticed and initiated the ill-fated Pretender into his fabulous order of chivalry. The delusions on this subject had taken such a hold in Germany, that they were not altogether dispelled until a deputation had actually visited Aberdeen and found amongst the worthy and astonished brethren there no trace either of very ancient Templars or of Freemasonry.” (5)

In this last assertion, however, Burnes is in error, for it is alleged that the Lodge of Aberdeen was instituted in 1541, though, as its more ancient minutes have been, as it is said, destroyed by fire, its present records go no further back than 1670. Bro. Lyon concurs with Burnes in the statement that the Aberdeenians were much surprised when first told that their Lodge was an ancient center of the High Degrees. (6)

William Frederick Wilke, a German writer of great ability, has attacked the credibility of this Scottish Legend with a closeness of reasoning and a vigor of arguments that leave but little room for reply. (7) As he gives the Legend in a slightly different form, it may be interesting to quote it, as well as his course of argument.

“The Legend relates,” he says, “that after the suppression of the order the head of the Templar clergy, Peter of Boulogne, fled from prison and took refuge with the Commander Hugh, Wildgrave of Salm, and thence escaped to Scotland with Sylvester von Grumbach. Thither the Grand Commander Harris and Marshal D’Aumont had likewise betaken themselves, and these three preserved the secrets of the Order of Templars and transferred them to the Fraternity of Freemasons.” In commenting on this statement Wilke says it is true that Peter of Boulogne fled from prison, but whither he went never has been known. The Wildgrave of Salm never was in prison. But the legendist has entangled himself in saying that Peter left the Wildgrave Hugh and went to Scotland with Sylvester von Grumbach, for Hugh and Sylvester are one and the same person. His title was Count Sylvester Wildgrave, and Grumbach was the designation of his Templar Commandery. Hugh of Salm, also Wildgrave and Commander of Grumbach, never took refuge in Scotland, and after the abolition of the order was made Prebendary of the Cathedral of Mayence.

Wilke thinks that the continuation of the Templar order was attributed to Scotland because the higher degrees of Freemasonry, having reference in a political sense to the Pretender, Edward Stuart, were called Scotch. Scotland is, therefore, the cradle of the higher degrees of Masonry. But here I am inclined to differ from him and am disposed rather to refer the explanation to the circumstance that Ramsay, who was the inventor of the legend and the first fabricator of the high degrees, was a native of Scotland and was born in the neighborhood of Kilwinning. To these degrees he gave the name of Scottish Masonry, in a spirit of nationality, and hence Scotland was supposed to be their birthplace. This is not, however, material to the present argument. Wilke says that Harris and D’Aumont are not mentioned in the real history of the Templars and therefore, if they were Knights, they could not have had any prominence in the order, and neither would have been likely to have been chosen by the fugitive Knights as their Grand Master.

He concludes by saying that of course some of the fugitive Templars found their way to Scotland, and it may be believed that some of the brethren were admitted into the building fraternities, but that is no reason why either the Lodges of builders or the Knights of St. John should be considered as a continuation of the Templar order, because they both received Templar fugitives, and the less so as the building guilds were not, like the Templars, composed of chivalrous and free thinking worldlings, but of pious workmen who cherished the pure doctrines of religion.

The anxiety of certain theorists to connect Templarism with Freemasonry, has led to the invention of other fables, in which the Hiramic Legend of the Master’s degree is replaced by others referring to events said to have occurred in the history of the knightly order. The most ingenious of these is the following:

Some time before the destruction of the Order of Templars, a certain sub-prior of Montfaucon, named Carolus de Monte Carmel was murdered by three traitors. From the events that accompanied and followed this murder, it is said that an important part of the ritual of Freemasonry has been derived. The assassins of the sub-prior of Montfaucon concealed his body in a grave, and in order to designate the spot, planted a young thorn-tree upon it. The Templars, in searching for the body, had their attention drawn to the spot by the tree, and in that way they discovered his remains. The legend goes on to recite the disinterring of the body and its removal to another grave, in striking similarity with the same events narrated in the Legend of Hiram.

Templar Origin of Freemason – James de Molay Theory

Another theory connects the martyrdom of James de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Templars, with the legend of the third degree, and supposes that in that legend, as now preserved in the Masonic ritual, Hiram has been made to replace de Molay, that the fact of the Templar fusion into Masonry might be concealed. Thus the events, which in the genuine Masonic Legend are referred to Hiram Abif are, in the Templar Legend, made applicable to de Molay; the three assassins are said to be Pope Clement V., Philip the Fair, King of France, and a Templar named Naffodei, who betrayed the order. They have even attempted to explain the mystical search for the body by the invention of a fable that on the night after de Molay had been burnt at the stake, certain knights diligently sought for his remains amongst the ashes, but could find only some bones to which the flesh, though scorched, still adhered, but which it left immediately upon their being handled; and in this way they explain the origin of the substitute word, according to the mistranslation too generally accepted.

Nothing could more clearly show the absurdity of the legend than this adoption of a popular interpretation of the meaning of this word, made by someone utterly ignorant of the Hebrew language. The word, as is now well known to all scholars, has a totally different signification.

But it is scarcely necessary to look to so unessential a part of the narrative for proof that the whole legend of the connection of Templarism with Freemasonry is irreconcilable with the facts of history.

The Legend of Bruce and Bannockburn has already been disposed of. The Templar origin of Freemasonry has no historical foundation.

The other legend, that makes D’Aumont and his companions founders of the Masonic Order in Scotland by amalgamating the knights with the fraternity of builders, is equally devoid of an historical basis. But, besides, there is a feature of improbability if not of impossibility about it. The Knights Templars were an aristocratic order composed of highborn gentlemen who had embraced the soldier’s life as their vocation, and who were governed by the customs of chivalry. In those days there was a much wider line of demarcation drawn between the various casts of society than exists at the present day. The “belted knight” was at the top of the social scale, the mechanic at the bottom.

It is therefore almost impossible to believe that because their order had been suppressed, these proud soldiers of the Cross, whose military life had unfitted them for any other pursuit except that of arms, would have thrown aside their swords and their spurs and assumed the trowel; with the use of this implement and all the mysteries of the builder’s craft they were wholly unacquainted. To have become Operative Masons, they must have at once abandoned all the prejudices of social life in which they had been educated.

That a Knight Templar would have gone into some religious house as a retreat from the world whose usage of his Order had disgusted him, or taken refuge in some other chivalric order, might reasonably happen, as was actually the case. But that these knights would have willingly transformed themselves into Stonemasons and daily workmen is a supposition too absurd to extort belief even from the most credulous.

We may then say that those legendists who have sought by their own invented traditions to trace the origin of Freemasonry to Templarism, or to establish any close connection between the two institutions, have failed in their object. They have attempted to write a history, but they have scarcely succeeded in composing a plausible romance.

Notes on Templar origin of Freemasonry

(5) Burnes, “Sketch of the History of the Knights Templars,” p. 71.

(6) “History of the Lodge of Edinburgh,” p. 420.

(7) In his “Geschichte des Tempelherren’s Orders.” I have not been able to obtain the work, but I have availed myself of an excellent analysis of it in “Findel’s History of Freemasonry,” Lyon’s Translation.

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Templar Origin of Freemasonry