The Origin of the Term ‘Freemason’

Have you ever stopped to wonder where the term ‘Freemason’ actually comes from? Many of us are led to believe that the term can be used interchangeably with ‘brick-mason,’ owing to the adoption of many of the Crafts rites and teachings from the practices of the stonemasons of the Middle Ages. 

However, this is not accurate. 

There are several theories about the origin of the term, but they’re not all widely accepted. For instance, one train of thought posits that ‘Freemason’ is a clumsy translation from the French term for ‘brother mason.’ While certainly relevant, the theory proposed by George F. Fort is given little credence in this day and age. 

Rather, it’s now most commonly agreed that the term was first used in the middle of the sixteenth century. It appears in Charters granted by the King of England as early as 1604. It is now agreed that the term was used to describe the finest craftsmen of the gothic cathedrals. 

It was directly used to distinguish these craftsmen from ordinary brick masons, as their work required them to carve and sculpt from ‘free stone.’ Free stone was a limestone that could be cut in a variety of directions, and would be worked on by master craftsmen at the site of the cathedral. 

The term ‘freemason’ was reserved for the carving artisans responsible for adding the fine finishes to the cathedral. As such, they were easily distinguished and referred to in this way. 

It’s little surprise, then, that when the Anderson Constitutions were formed, the author elected to go with the term ‘Freemason.’ These were the most skilled and artistic of the craftsmen on a construction site during the Middle Ages, and the term grew to distinguish them as the most highly respected members of an ancient and honourable society.

While little consideration is given to the name today, it’s certainly interesting that it evolved from the artistic flair of the master craftsmen, and it’s in keeping with the way in which brothers regard the Craft in the present day.


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