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Hall, Masonic

For a long time after the revival of Freemasonry in 1717, Masonic Lodges continued to meet, as they had done before that period, in taverns. Thus, the Grand Lodge of England was organized, and, to use the language of Anderson, "the Quarterly Communications were revived" by four Lodges, whose respective places of meeting were the Goose and Gridiron Ale-House, the Crown Ale-House, the Apple-Tree Tavern, and the Rummer and Grapes Tavern. For many years the Grand Lodge held its quarterly meetings sometimes at the AppleTree, but principally at the Devil Tavern, and kept the Grand Feast at the hall of one of the Livery Companies. The first Lodge in Paris was organized at a tavern kept in the Rue des Boucheries by one Hure, and the Lodges subsequently organized in France continued to meet, like those of England, in public houses. The custom was long followed in other countries of Europe. In the United States the practice ceased only at a comparatively recent period, and it is possible that in some obscure villages it has not yet been abandoned.

At as early a period as the beginning of the fourteenth century, the Gilds, or Livery Companies, of London, had their halls or places of meeting, and in which they stored their goods for sale. At first these were mean buildings, but gradually they rose into importance, and the Goldsmith's Hall, erected in the fifteenth century is said to have been an edifice of large dimensions and of imposing appearance. These halls, probably, as they were very common in the eighteenth century, were suggestive to the Freemasons of similar edifices for their own Fraternity; but undoubtedly the necessity, as the Association grew into importance, of a more respectable, more convenient, and more secure locality than was afforded by temporary resort to taverns and alehouses must have led to the erection of isolated edifices for their own special use. The first Masonic Hall of which we have any account is the one that was erected by the Lodge at Marseilles, in France, in the year 1765. Smith describes it very fully in his Use and Abuse of Freemasonry (page 165), and calls it "a very magnificent hall." In 1773, the Grand Lodge of England made preliminary arrangements for the construction of a hall, a considerable sum having been already subscribed for that purpose. On May 11 1775, the foundation-stone of the new edifice was laid in solemn form, according to a ceremonial which was then adopted, and which, with a few modifications, continues to be used at the present day on similar occasions. On the foundation-stone it was designated as Aula Latamorum meaning The Freemasons Hall. It was finished in less than twelve months, and was dedicated on May 23, 1776, to Masonry, Virtue, Universal Charity and Benevolence: a formula still adhered to without variation in the English and American lectures.

In the same year, the Lodge at Newcastle, stimulated by the enterprise of the London Freemasons, erected a hall; an example which was followed, two years afterward, by the Lodge of Sunderland. And after this the erection of isolated halls for Masonic purposes became common not only in England, Scotland, and Ireland, but all over the Continent, wherever the funds of a Lodge would permit of the expenditure.

In the United States, Lodges were held in taverns up to a comparatively recent period. It is not now considered reputable. It is impossible to tell at what precise period and in what locality the first Masonic Hall was erected in the United States. It is true that in a Boston paper of 1773 we find, according to Moore's Magazine (xv, page 162), an advertisement summoning the Freemasons to celebrate the festival of Saint John the Evangelist at "Freemasons Hall"; but, on examination, we learn that this was no other than a room in the Green Dragon Tavern. Other buildings, such as the Exchange Coffee-House, only partially used for Masonic purposes, were subsequently erected in Boston, and received by courtesy, but not by right, the name of Masonic Halls: but it was not until 1832 that the first independent hall was built in that city, which received the name of the Masonic Temple, a title which has since been very usually conferred on the halls in the larger cities. We may suppose that it was about this time, when a resuscitation of Masonic energy, which had been paralyzed by the anti-Masonic opposition, had commenced to develop itself, that the Lodges and Grand Lodges began to erect halls for their peculiar use. At present there is no dearth of these buildings for Masonic use of imposing grandeur and architectural beauty to be found scattered all over the land.

In the United States, as well as in Britain, the construction of Masonic Halls is governed by no specific rules, and is too often left to the judgment and taste of the architect, and hence if that person be not an experienced Freemason, the building is often erected without due reference to the ritual requirements of the Order. But in these particulars, says Brother Oliver, the Freemasons of the Continent are governed by a Ritual of Building, and he quotes, as a specimen of the Helvetian ceremonies in reference to the laying of the foundation-stone of a Masonic Hall, the following directions:

A Mason, assisted by two others, if there be a dearth of workmen, or distress, or war, or peril, or threats of danger, may begin the work of building a Lodge; but it is better to have seven known and sworn workmen. The Lodge is, as we know, due east and west; but its chief window or its chief door must look to the east. On a day allowed and a place appointed, the whole company of builders set out after high noon to lay the first stone.

Far more practical are the directions of Doctor Oliver himself for the construction of a Masonic Hall, given in his Book of the Lodge (chapter iii), which are here condensed. A Masonic Hall should be isolated, and if possible surrounded with lofty walls, so as to be included in a court, and apart from any other buildings, to preclude the possibility of being overlooked by cowans or eavesdroppers. As, however, such a situation in large towns can seldom be obtained. the Lodge should be formed in an upper story; and if there be any contiguous buildings, the windows should be either in the roof, or very high from the floor.. These windows ought to be all on one side the south, if practicable and furnished with proper ventilation, that the Brethren be not incommoded, when pursuing their accustomed avocations, by the heat of the Lodge. The room, to preserve a just proportion, must, of course, be lofty. It should be furnished with a pitched roof, open within, and relieved with an ornamental frame work of oak, or painted so as to represent that species of timber. It should be supported on corbels running along the cornice, on which should be engraven Masonic ornaments. The dimensions of the room, in length and breadth, will depend in a great measure on the situation of the Lodge, or the space which is assigned for its position; and this will often be extremely circumscribed in a large and populous place, where building land is scarce and dear, or the fund inadequate to any extensive operations. But in all eases a due proportion should be observed in the several members of the fabric wherever it is practicable, that no unsightly appearance may offend the eye, by disturbing that general harmony of parts which constitutes the beauty and excellence of every architectural production.

The principal entrance to the Lodge room ought to face the east, because the east is a place of light both physical and moral; and therefore the Brethren have access to the Lodge by that entrance, as a symbol of mental illumination. The approaches to the Lodge must be angular, for a straight entrance is un-masonic and cannot be tolerated. The advance from the external avenue to the east ought to consist of three lines and two angles. The first line passes through a small room or closet for the accommodation of visitors. At the extremity of this apartment there ought to be another angular passage leading to the Tiler's room adjacent to the Lodge: and from thence, by another right angle, you are admitted into the presence of the Brethren with your face to the Light.

In every convenient place the architect should contrive secret cryptae or closets. Then are of indispensable utility; but in practice are not sufficiently attended to in this country. On the Continent they are numerous and are dignified with the name of chapels. Two of these apartments have already been mentioned a room for visitors and the Tiler's room; added to which there ought to be a vestry, where the ornaments. furniture jewels, and other regalia are deposited. This is called the treasury, or Tiler's conclave because these things are under has especial charge, and a communication is usually made to this apartment from the Tiler's room. There ought to be also a chapel for preparations, hung with black and having only one small light. placed high up near the ceiling; a chapel for the dead furnished with a table on which are a lamp and emblems of mortality; the Master's conclave, where the records, the Warrants, the Minutes, and every written document are kept. To this room the Worshipful Master retires when the Lodge is called from labor to refreshment and at other times when his presence in the Lodge is not essential; and here he examines the visitors, for which purpose a communication is formed between his conclave and the visitors chapel. It is furnished with blue. And here he transacts the Lodge business with his Secretary. The Ark of the Covenant is also deposited in thus apartment. None of these closets should exceed twelve feet square, and may be of smaller dimensions, according to circumstances.In the middle of the hall there should he a movable trapdoor in the floor, seven feet long and three or four feet broad, opening into a small crypt, about three feet in depth, the use of which is known to none but perfect Freemasons, who have passed through all the symbolical Degrees. All of these particulars may not be equally necessary to the construction of a Masonic Hall; but a close attendance to their general spirit and direction, or to similar regulations, should be impressed on every Lodge that undertakes the construction of a building exclusively for Masonic purposes; and such a building only is entitled to be called a Masonic Hall

The division in the American Rite of the Degrees among various Bodies imposes the necessity, or at least the convenience, when erecting a Masonic Hall in the United States, of appropriating some of the rooms to the uses of Ancient Craft Lodges, some to Royal Arch Chapters, some to Royal and Select Councils, and some to Commanderies of Knights Templars. It is neither proper nor convenient that a Chapter should be held in a Lodge; and it is equally expedient that the Asylum of a Commandery should be kept separate from both. All of these rooms should be oblong in form, lofty in height, with an elevated dais or platform in the East, and two doors in the West, the one in the Northwest corner leading into the preparation room, and the other communicating with the Tiler's apartment. But in other respects they differ. First, as to the color of the decorations. In a Lodge room the predominating color should be blue, in a Chapter red, and in a Council and Commandery black. In a Lodge-room the dais should be elevated on three steps, and provided with a pedestal for the Master, while on each side are seats for the Past Masters, and dignitaries who may visit the Lodge. The pedestal of the Senior Warden in the West should be elevated on two steps, and that of the Junior Warden in the South on one. A similar arrangement, either permanent or temporary, should be provided in the Chapter room for working the intermediate Degrees; but the Eastern dais should be supplied with three pedestals instead of one, for the reception of the Grand Council. The tabernacle also forms an essential part of the Chapter room. This is sometimes erected in the center of the room, although the consistency of the symbolism would require that the whole room, during the working of the Royal Arch Degree, shoddy be deemed a tabernacle, and then the veils would, with propriety, extend from the ceiling to the floor, and from one side of the room to the other. There are some other arrangements required in the construction of a Chapter room, of which it is unnecessary to speak.

Councils of Royal and Select Masters are usually held in Chapter rooms, with an entire disregard of the historical teachings of the Degrees. In a properly constructed Council chamber which, of course, would be in a distinct apartment, there should be no veils, but nine curtains of a stone color; and these, except the last, starting from one side of the room, should stop short of the other, so as to form a narrow passage between the wall and the extremities of the curtains, reaching from the door to the ninth curtain, which alone should reach across the entire extent of the room. These are used only in the Select Degree, and can be removed when the Royal Master is to be conferred. Unlike a Lodge and Chapter, in a Council there is no dais or raised platform; but three tables, of a triangular form, are placed upon the level of the floor in the East. It is, however, very seldom that the funds of a Council will permit of the indulgence in a separate room, and those Bodies are content to work, although at a disadvantage, in a Chapter room. It is impossible, with any convenience, to work a Commandery in a Lodge, or even a Chapter room. The officers and their stations are so different, that what is suitable for one is unsuitable for the other. The dais, which has but one station in a Lodge and three in a Chapter, requires four in a Comrnandery, the Prelate taking his proper place on the right of the Generalissimo. But there are other more important differences. The principal apartment should be capable of a division by a curtain, which should separate the Asylum proper from the rest of the room, as the mystical veil in the ancient Church shut off the prospect of the altar, during the Eucharistic sacrifice, from the view of the catechumens. There are several other rooms required in the Templar ritual which are not used by a Lodge, a Chapter, or a Council, and which makes it necessary that the apartments of a Commandery should be distinct. A banquet-room in close proximity to the Asylum is essential; and convenience requires that there should be an armory for the deposit of the arms and costume of the Knights. But it is unnecessary to speak of reflection rooms, and other places well known to those who are familiar with the ceremonies, and which cannot be dispensed with.

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