Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The Masonic Temple

Arrangements and a certain amount of blagging were required to gain entry to today's venue of choice - the wonderfully ornate, if slightly creepy, masonic temple in the depths of the Andaz Hotel.

A bit about the temple...

This Greek Masonic temple with Grade II listed marbles was built in 1912 by Charles Barry junior (son of Charles Barry, the architect of the Houses of Parliament) and cost £50,000 at the time, which is the equivalent of £4 million today. There are 12 types of Italian marble inside the temple, and the grandiose throne-like chairs are heavy mahogany. Remarkably, the temple was discovered by new owners during a 1990s refurbishment behind a faux wall, the previous owners never having been aware of its existence! Many believe Jack the Ripper was a Mason and, if so, would have attended this temple, being closest to his hunting ground. The Masons helped fund the temple's construction. Concealed by heavy, studded doors and accessed via a winding staircase and a spacious mahogany-panelled anteroom, the Grecian-style temple is perhaps the area’s best-kept secret. The century-old room was considered one of the grandest Masonic temples of its time, as its marble columns and splendid zodiac ceiling testify. The impressive space is still used by the Masons today and also for hotel events, occsional concerts and, also, by film crews.  The temple was first chaired by the Grand Master Duke of Connaught (cousin to Queen Elizabeth).

As you enter the temple, you feel like you have stepped into a jewel box - it's exquisite. And you are transported back in time to another world.  Although it felt like we'd been led down to the basement, we were actually at street level.  The fact there were no windows lent itself to this feeling and also intensified the aura of secrecy and seclusion.  We stood in the centre of the black and white chequered marble floor, in this silent space, all the empty chairs facing towards us, wondering what strange mysteries may have unfurled here.  A strong sense of history and ceremony hung in the air, heightened by the splendour of the natural materials - all that lovely wood and marble, the four thrones of varying size and importance, the symbols that become apparent when you inspect the room more closely, the wonderful blue-domed ceiling with it's gold zodiac signs, original art deco lighting that was dimly illuminating the temple, and huge candles all around.  We were captivated...and a little spooked.

"Avdi Vida Tace" - the Latin inscription above the main throne (in the picture below), which translates as, "Hear, See, Be Silent".

 
Some history of the hotel...

In 1874, when the Great Eastern Railway Company opened Liverpool Street station, work on the hotel began immediately, and the original building came to fruition several years later in 1884.  In 1901 an extension was added in response to the demand for extra rooms. The craftsmanship and materials used were of the highest quality. Over the decades, with train travel suffering as people switched to airplanes and automobiles, the Great Eastern's popularity waned and it fell into disrepair. The hotel eventually closed in 1996. In spring 2000, the hotel reopened its doors to reveal a breathtaking Victorian restoration. Many of the features you see today are from both the original building and the extension, now listed by English Heritage. The hotel has 267 bedrooms with five restaurants, four bars and 14 event spaces. Though this is a large hotel, no two bedrooms are the same, reflecting the diversity of its heritage and structure. At the start of 2006, the property once more changed ownership and Hyatt Hotels & Resorts now operates the hotel under the Andaz brand.


More on the Masons...

Freemasonry is a fraternal organisaiton that arose from obscure origins in the late 16th to early 17th century. Freemasonry now exists in various forms all over the world, with a membership estimated at around six million, including approximately 150,000 under the jurisdictions of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, over a quarter of a million under the jurisdiction of the United Grand Lodge of England, and just under two million in the United States.  With six million around the world in total, they are a minority, albeit one associated with the levers of power. The first US President, George Washington, and another leading American revolutionary, Benjamin Franklin, were Masons. Today a significant proportion of the Royal Household are members, and the Duke of Kent is Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England. 

The origins and early development of Freemasonry are a matter of some debate and conjecture. A poem known as the "Regius Manuscript" has been dated to approximately 1390 and is the oldest known Masonic text.  Also known as the Halliwell Manuscript, it consists of 64 written pages in poetic form. The poem begins by evoking Euclid and his invention of geometry in ancient Egypt, and then the spreading of the art of geometry in "divers lands." This is followed by fifteen points for the master concerning both moral behaviour (do not harbour thieves, do not take bribes, attend church regularly etc) and the operation of work on a building site (do not make your masons labour at night, teach apprentices properly, do not take on jobs that you cannot do etc). There are then fifteen points for craftsmen which follow a similar pattern. 

The general consensus on the age of the document dates its writing to between the late 14th century and the middle of the 15th century, and from internal evidence its author appears to have been a West of England clergyman. The manuscript was recorded in various personal inventories as it changed hands until it came into possession of the Royal Library, which was donated to the British Museum in 1757 by King George II to form the nucleus of the present British Library. 

Masons conduct their meetings using a ritualised format. There is no single Masonic ritual, and each jurisdiction is free to set (or not set) its own ritual. 

Dogged by a "secret society" image, the Freemasons have launched a rebranding exercise and the United Grand Lodge of England recently published its first independent report, "The Future of Freemasonry", researched by the Social Issues Research Centre, aiming to start an "open and transparent" discussion ahead of the group's tercentenary in 2017.  However, there remains a sense that Freemasons are "weird", not helped by initiations that include rolling up one's trousers, being blindfolded with a rope around one's neck, and having a knife pointed at one's bare breast.


Two of the principal symbolic tools always found in a Lodge are the square and compasses. Some Lodges and rituals explain these tools as lessons in conduct: for example, that Masons should "square their actions by the square of virtue" and to learn to "circumscribe their desires and keep their passions within due bounds toward all mankind." However, as Freemasonry is non-dogmatic, there is no general interpretation for these tools or any Masonic emblem that is used by Freemasonry as a whole.

Candidates for regular Freemasonry are required to declare a belief in a Supreme Being. However, the candidate is not asked to expand on, or explain, his interpretation of Supreme Being. The discussion of politics and religion is forbidden within a Masonic Lodge, in part so a Mason will not be placed in the situation of having to justify his personal interpretation.

In the ritual, the Supreme Being is referred to as the Great Architect of the Universe, which alludes to the use of architectural symbolism within Freemasonry.


Freemasons use signs (gestures), grips or tokens (handshakes), and words to gain admission to meetings and identify legitimate visitors.

The fraternity is widely involved in charity and community service activities. In contemporary times, money is collected only from the membership, and is devoted to charitable purposes.

Only men can be made Masons. Most Grand Lodges do not admit women because they believe it would violate the ancient Landmarks. While a few women, such as Elizabeth Aldworth, were initiated into British speculative lodges prior to 1723, officially regular Freemasonry remains exclusive to men.

From the horse's mouth...Here is an official link to the Mason's United Grand Lodge of England, which explains what a Freemason is, how to become one and, among other things, a Masonic Shop...for those wishing to purchase some Masonic souvenirs, such as an Emulation Pocket Ritual book (maybe you have to be a Mason to understand what that is), a 7mm Forget me not pin (the Forget me not Necklace & Earrings set is also available for your non-Masonic lady friend), or perhaps some White Masonic Sport Socks with Blue Square and Compasses (one size 6-11, 80% cotton) - all apparently popular items.


Above and below is the beautiful stained glass domed ceiling we sat beneath, sipping our False Berry and Madagascan Reserve cocktails in the elegant hotel bar, post-temple. A just reward for our efforts, we thought, and very nice too! And with a spring in our step, we skipped back to work on time today, after having been dazzled by another slice of the more unusual side of London's intriguing history and some truly magnificent architecture.




 
 

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