Review of Freemasonry

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Henning A. Klövekorn

by Bro. Henning A. Klövekorn
Chapter 5.7 of the book "The 99° of Freemasonry: Turning the Solomon Key"
Reproduced by Author's written permission. Henning A. Klövekorn© - All rights Reserved.

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With the spread of Christianity throughout Germany and the requirement for Roman bishops to raise cathedrals, the Masonic colleges in Germany thrived. Generally designated as Steinmetzen or stonecutters, these Masonic fraternities raised churches and cathedrals throughout continental Europe. The society of stonecutters had within it a variety of grades and occupations. These included Steinmaurer or stone layers, Steinhauer or stone hewers, as well as Steinmetzen, a word derived from Stein or stone and Metzen, a derivative of the word Metzel or chisellers, a more detailed and skilful art than the hewers. The construction of Bauhütten or lodges situated next to the churches being constructed served as design, work and sleeping quarters.


One of the earliest records of Masonic lodges is found in the German city of Hirschau (now Hirsau) in the current state of Baden-Württenberg. Masonic lodges instituted in the city of Hirschau in the late 11th century worked under the Benedictine order of Germany and were the first to establish the Gothic style of architecture.


As early as 1149 the first German Zünfte or stonemason unions developed in Magdeburg, Würzburg, Speyer and Straβburg. In 1250 the first grand lodge of Freemasons was formed in the city of Cologne (Köln),[i] Germany. The grand lodge was formed as part of the immense undertaking to erect the cathedral of Cologne.



The first Masonic congress occurred in the city of Straβburg, Germany in the year 1275. It was formed by Grand Master Erwin von Steinbach. This was also the earliest recorded use of the symbol of Freemasons, the square and compasses. Whilst Straβburg was considered the premier grand lodge of the day, other Great Masonic lodges had already been formed in Wien, Bern and the above mentioned Köln (Cologne); these were called Oberhütten or great lodges. Several Masonic congresses were held in the city of Straβburg, including the years 1498 and 1563. At this time the first recorded Arms of the Masons of Germany were recorded depicting four compasses positioned around a pagan sun symbol and arranged in the shape of a swastika or pagan / Aryan sun-wheel. The Masonic Arms of Germany also displayed the name of St John the Evangelist, the patron Saint of German Masons.


The Oberhütte of Cologne, and its grand master, was considered the head of the Masonic lodges of all upper Germany. The grand master of Straβburg, in those days a German city, was head of Masonic lodges throughout lower Germany, Franconia, Bavaria, Hesse and the main areas of France.


The grand lodges of Masons in Germany received support from the Church and the Monarchy. Emperor Maximilian reviewed the Masonic congress of 1275 at Straβburg and proclaimed his protection over the craft. Between 1276 and 1281 Rudolf I of Habsburg, a German king, became a member of the Bauhütte or Lodge of St Stephan. King Rudolf was one of the first non-operative, otherwise called free or speculative members of a Masonic lodge.


The statutes of Masons in Europe were revised in 1459 by the Ratisbonne (Regensburg) Assembly, the headquarters of the German Diet, the preliminary revisions of which had occurred in Straβburg seven years earlier[ii]. The revisions described the requirement to test foreign brothers prior to their acceptance in lodges via an established (seemingly international or European) method of greeting.


The first grand assembly of Masons in Europe occurred in the year 1535, in the city of Cologne in Germany. Here the bishop of Cologne, Hermann V, assembled 19 Masonic lodges to establish the Charter of Cologne written in Latin.  The first grand lodges of Masons were present, which was customary for the time, and included the grand lodge of Cologne, Straβburg, Vienna, Magdeburg and Zurich. The mother grand lodge of Cologne, with its grand master was considered the premier grand lodge of Europe.


After the invention of the printing press, the Masons (Steinmetzen) of Germany assembled in Ratisbonne in 1464 and printed the first Rules and Statues of the Fraternity of Stone Cutters of Straβburg Ordnung der Steinmetzen. These regulations were approved and sanctioned by succeeding Emperors such as Charles V and Ferdinand.


The German friar Martin Luther, and his protest against the injustices and hypocrisies of the Catholic Church in 1517, gave rise to Protestantism. This liberalised some of the Masonic lodges of the time. The Straβburg Cathedral became Lutheran in 1525 and many others followed.


In 1563 the Ordinances and Articles of the Fraternity of Stonemasons were renewed at the Chief Lodge at Straβburg on St Michael’s Day. These regulations demonstrate three important links to modern Masonry. Firstly, apprentices were termed ‘free’ on completion of service to their Master, which undoubtedly is the origin of the word ‘Freemason’. Secondly, the fraternal nature of the lodge was depicted in a range of regulations such as services to the sick, or the practise of teaching a brother without cost, such as under Article 14.Thirdly, the Freemasons used a secret handshake as means of identification.


Two articles from the regulations indicating these points are:


No Master shall teach a Fellow anything for Money.

XIV. And no craftsman or master shall take money from a fellow for showing or teaching him anything touching masonry. In like manner, no warden or fellow shall show or instruct any one for money in carving as aforesaid. Should, however, one wish to instruct or teach another, he may well do it, one piece for the other, or for fellowship sake, or to serve their master thereby.


LIV. In the first place, every apprentice when he has served his time, and is declared free, shall promise the craft, on his truth and honour, in lieu of oath, under pain of losing his right to practise masonry, that he will disclose or communicate the mason’s greeting and grip to no one, except to him to whom he may justly communicate it; and also that he will write nothing thereof.”[iii]


The Straβburg ordinances stipulated that entry into the fraternity was by free will and clearly indicated the three grades of Entered Apprentice, Fellow and Master in the German Masonic fraternity. They required the taking of an oath and for masons to meet in chapters called ‘Kappitel’. The ordinances instruct masons not to teach Masonry to non-masons.


That German or Teutonic Masonic lodges and grand lodges existed prior to the formation of the grand lodge of England in 1717 is clear. As is their use of secret handshakes, the use of the term ‘free’ and their acceptance of non-operatives. The use of allegory and layered symbolism, which makes the Masonic fraternal system unique, was also evident in German lodges of the time as displayed in the stone carvings and architectural styles of the churches and abbeys they built.


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The 99° of Freemasonry supports the theory that the seed of modern Freemasonry, was not linked to Knights Templar or English Freemasonry, but originated with the Masonic Institutions of Germany, who in turn, had received their Masonic knowledge from earlier Masonic organisations. This claim is supported via 7 main points of evidence.

1. That the Regius Manuscript, the Oldest (reputable) surviving Masonic text in Britain, makes reference to the four crowned martyrs, which are unequivocally linked to the legend of Masons under the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, a Masonic tradition originating in Germany not Britain.

2. The existence and earliest recorded use of the square and compasses (the fraternal sign of Freemasonry) on the arms of German Masonic Bodies.

3. The existence of highly organised Masonic institutions (Steinmetzen) in Germany in the 13th century, such as the Grand Lodge (Oberhütte) of Straßburg and Köln (Cologne), and several subordinate Masonic lodges, which not only worked in stone but also included allegorical Masonic teachings within their guilds.

4. The election of a Grand Master of Masons in the 13th century and the establishment of grades of apprentices, fellows and master masons in Germany in the 12th century and earlier.

5. The establishment of printed Statues and Rules of the Masonic Order in Germany before the establishment of written Masonic statues in Britain.

6. The inclusion of non-operative (or speculative) members, such as King Rudolf I into Masonic Lodges in Germany in the 13th century.

7. The first large-scale recorded requirement for Masonic lodges to utilise a secret method of greeting and 'grip'.

The 99° of Freemasonry also analyses the use of the square and compasses, as allegorical moral symbols of masonry, in works of art within German culture of this period, further evidence of Masonic philosophy within German culture and continental Europe in this period.


Whilst many Freemasons have been ‘conditioned’ to accept that the origins of Masonry stem from England or Scotland, as the great modern day Masonic organisations are deeply interconnected within this geographical area, the 99° of Freemasonry sheds new light on Masonic history and urges, if not inspires readers to look to the continent of Europe as the great seed of Masonry.

[i] Rebold, Emmanuel & Fletcher, Brennan J (Ed), A General History of Freemasonry in Europe – based upon the ancient documents relating to, and the monuments erected by this fraternity, from its foundation in the year 715 BC to the Present Time, Cincinnati, published by Geo. B Fessenden 1867, reprint by Kessinger Publishing USA.

[ii] Naudon, Paul, The Secret History of Freemasonry – Its Origins and Connection to the Knights Templar. USA. Translated by Jon Graham. Inner Traditions, Rochester, Vermont,  Copyright 1991 by Editions Dervey, English Translation copyright 2005 by Inner Traditions International. Originally published in French under the title ‘ Les origins de la Franc-Maconnerie Le sacre et le metier, Paris. ISBN 1-59477-028-X, page 6. page 174.

[iii] Gould, Robert Freke, The History of Freemasonry, Its Antiquities, Symbols, Constitutions Customs etc. Volume 1 T.C. & E. C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh, page 122.

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