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Universities, and Freemasons

The universities had their rise in Salerno, Prague, Warsaw, Paris, Cologne, Dublin, Oxford, Cambridge, etc., at about the same time as the earliest development of Gothic architecture. Their history has a certain interest for Freemasons because up to a point their history ran parallel with the history of Masons; also because the Medieval Masons had a sincere and long-acting interest in them. The oldest versions of the Old Charges (or Old Constitutions or Old MSS.) strike a modern reader as quaint; but their writers had no intention of being quaint, nor were they quaint men; the only language they had to use, middle or late English, was as yet a half-formed language, and it is the language which tempts us to believe that the writers were simple-minded, or quaint, or only half literate.

If when these Old Charges are transliterated into modern English the full content of meaning possessed by them at the time of their writing is elaborated, it will show that the Freemasons were much concerned with the universities, because the universities were synonymous in their eyes with the Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the Masons claimed to be above all lovers and practicers of them. The legend about the two pillars, about liernaes, Whaymus Grecus, Euclid, and Pythagoras have that point. Moreover, the buildings of the Universities, some of which were famous structures, were erected by Freemasons, and a number of Freemasons lived and worked for many years in or near Oxford and Cambridge.

There was also, at some points, and as said above, a parallel in development. Each university was incorporated; had its charter; its offices and courts; had installation ceremonies. They began as gilds. In Northern Europe the Masters were in a gild, and they admitted scholars, who often were called apprentices. In southern Europe the scholars formed gilds, and these gilds chose and employed the Masters. One or two of the Medieval ceremonies still employed by Oxford at times of conferring Degrees, etc., are of an especial interest to students of the Masonic Ritual.

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