Masonic Encyclopedia The Ashlar Company 1-800-357-6502
Search 1-800-357-6502 Masonic Regalia StoreRegalia Store AccountAccount BlogsBlogs EducationEducation EncyclopediaEncyclopedia EtiquetteEtiquette Famous MasonsFamous Masons GracesGraces Grand LodgesGrand Lodges LibraryLibrary Lost & FoundLost & Found MembershipMembership MythsMyths NewsNews PoemsPoems QuotesQuotes RitualsRituals SymbolsSymbols ToastsToasts TourTour Tracing BoardsTracing Boards TricentennialTricentennial WallpaperWallpaper Masonic Encyclopedia Search A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Ashlar Home > Encyclopedia

Comacine Masters

It has long been a theory of some writers, secular and Masonic, that there was a direct succession of the Operative Gilds from the Roman Colleges to those who merged into Speculative Freemasonry in 1717, and as investigation proceeded, the proofs became stronger and stronger until now it can no longer reasonably be doubted.

At first it was not attempted to prove the succession it was only inferred, but recently more careful investigators have come to view, whose results go far in establishing the direct succession from Roman Colleges to speculative Freemasonry.

The principal purpose of this article is to put a link in the chain of Operative Gilds and establish a continuous connection from the oldest Gild formation, that of the Roman Colleges, which see, through the Lombard period and Renaissance to the formation of Speculative Freemasonry by the English Gilds.

Before beginning the description of the Comacine Masters, which, from the controversial character of the subject, must of necessity be kindred to a discussion resting heavily on citations and quoted authorities who have worked in this special field, it will be necessary to draw a fair picture of the Roman possessions and civilization at this period.

When Rome had passed the zenith of her power and had begun to decline from internal and external causes, it is but natural to suppose that her neighboring enemies noticed this, and as they had long looked upon Italy with avaricious eyes, felt the time had arrived for them to attain what they had most desired. The year 476 A.D.,when the last of the nominal Caesars ceased to rule in the West, is usually taken by historians as marking the fall of the Roman Empire.

However true that may be, the falling began when Constantine established the seat of his empire at Constantinople, in 327, and drew much strength from Rome, thereby making it easier for the Vandals and Goths to renew their attacks. For five centuries horde after horde of barbarians flung themselves against the Roman frontiers, each striking deeper than the last, and being repelled with greater and greater difficulty, the Empire sinking beneath internal decay more than from her external enemies.

When the Western Empire ceased in the fifth century and Europe was plunged into what has been called The Dark Ages and all progress in letters and the arts of peace is supposed to have ceased, it is refreshing to quote what John Fiske said in Old and New Ways of Treating History, when speaking of that period: "In truth the dull ages which no Homer has sung or Tacitus described, have sometimes been critical ages for human progress. . . . This restriction of the views to literary ages has had much to do with the popular misconception of the 1,000 years that elapsed between the reign of Theodoric the Great and the Discovery of America.

For many reasons that period might be called the Middle Ages ; but the popular mind is apt to lump these ten centuries together, as if they were all alike, and apply to them the misleading epithet Dark Ages. A portion of the darkness is in the minds of those ,,who use the epithet. " Brother E. E. Cauthorne who wrote this article says he also wishes to take exception to their position and conclusions, for in the success of these exceptions lies the potency and possibility of the subject, the Comacine Masters, who lived and built at this period, having descended from branches of the Roman Colleges of Artificers who had come to Como as colonists or had fled to this free republic for safety during barbaric invasions, creating and developing what is called Lombard architecture, and forming a powerful gild which later not only influenced, but had a connection with the gilds of France and Germany at the Renaissance, thereby establishing a direct line of descent of Roman Colleges to the Operative Gilds that grew into speculative Freemasonry.

It can be understood how a tribe or a small section of people may, from various causes, recede in letters, science and civilization, but how the world could do so is difficult to, comprehend, yet the historians and literature attempted to confirm this in describing the "gloom when the sun of progress was in a total or partial eclipse from the fifth to the twelfth centuries,'' or, between the period of ancient Classic Art of Rome and that early rise of Art in the twelfth century, which led to the Renaissance. Leader Scott says that "this hiatus is supposed to be a time when Art was utterly dead and buried, its corpse in Byzantine dress lying embalmed in its tomb at Ravenna. But all death is nothing but the germ of new life. Art was not a corpse ; it was only a seed laid in Italian soil to germinate and it bore several plants before the great deflowering period of the Renaissance."

Those who produced these several plants which it bore before the great Cathedral Building period that followed the Renaissance, will furnish the subject of this article, and trust it will be as interesting and important to the Masonic student as it is new in the literature of Freemasonry. Most things will become more and more clear as we follow up the traces of the Comacine Gild from the chrysalis state, in which Roman Art hibernated during the dark winter of the usually called Dark Ages, as Scott says "through the grub state of the Lombard period to the glorious winged flight of the full Gothic of the Renaissance." Many historians, Masonic and profane, who wrote as long as a generation ago, are inclined to give the impression that there was but little or nothing that transpired during the so-called Dark Ages which was essential to the world's progress' at the time, or worthy of contemplation at present.

Had their views of the importance of historical matter prevailed, we would now know very little of what transpired from the Fall of the Western part of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance. We know that many cities in Italy were rebuilt after they had been sacked and partly destroyed by the Goths and Huns. Many cathedrals were built during this period, some of which work lasts till today, and is worthy workmanship. The historical architects have approached this period from another angle and the results of their efforts now make this article possible and open up a new and important field for Masonic students.

Toward the end of the fifth century a new wave of barbaric invasions swept over the West. North and East Gaul-all not previously held by the Visigoths fell into the hands of the Franks in 486 A. D. Theodoric and the Ostrogoths wrested Italy from Odoacer and established the Ostrogothic Kingdom in Italy, with its capital at Ravenna. This kingdom was established and governed on exceptionally enlightened lines.

Theodoric, often called The Great, was the most broad-minded and advanced of all the German conquerors.

He was a man of culture, yet some have said that he could not read. He had been educated from his eighth to his eighteenth year at Constantinople. His rule was, therefore, more like the revival of Roman ideas than a barbarous conquest.

Accordingly we need not be surprised to find him decorating his capital city, Ravenna, during the period of his occupation, 493-526, A.D., with a series of monuments which, although strongly tinctured with Byzantine fluence, yet constitute, perhaps, the finest examples .we possess of the early Christian style.

Theodoric was an Aryan and opposed to the Bishop of Rome.

This fact and his education at Constantinople are sufficient to explain the strong Byzantine elements so noticeable even in those monuments at Ravenna, which antedate the Byzantine conquest. Charles A. Cummings in his History of architecture in Italy says: "One of the earliest acts of Theodoric after his accession to the throne was the appointment of an architect to have charge of all the public buildings-including the aqueducts and the city walls- of Ravenna and Rome, putting at his disposal for this purpose, yearly, twelve hundred pounds of gold, two hundred and fifty thousand bricks, and the income of the Lucrine Haven. A remarkable letter from Theodoric to this official on his appointment is preserved by Cassiodorus, who was the minister of the Empire. 'These excellent buildings,' he says, 'are my delight. They are the noble image of the power of the Empire, and bear witness to its grandeur and glory. The palace of the sovereign is shown to ambassadors as a monument worthy of their admiration, and seems to declare to them his greatness. It is then a great pleasure for an enlightened prince to inhabit a palace where all the perfections of art are united, and to find there relaxation from the burden of public affairs. . . . I give you notice that your intelligence and talents have determined me to confide to your hands the care of my palace. It is my wish that you preserve in its original splendor all which is ancient, and that whatever you add to it may be comfortable to it in style. It is not a work of small importance which I place in your hands, since it will be your duty to fulfill by your art the lively desire which I feel to illustrate my reign by many new edifices; so that whether the matter in hand be the rebuilding of a city, the construction of new castles, or the building of a Pretorium, it will be for you to translate my projects into accomplished realities. And this is a service highly honorable and worthy of any man's ambition:-to leave to future ages the monuments which shall be the admiration of new generations of men. It will be your duty to direct the mason, the sculptor, the painter, the worker in stone, in bronze, in plaster, in mosaic. What they know not, you will teach them. The difficulties which they find in their work, you will solve for them.

But behold what various knowledge you must possess, thus to instruct artificers of so many sorts. But ... you can direct their work to a good and satisfactory end, their success will be your eulogy, and will form the most abundant and flattering reward you could desire.'" From this it may be seen that an architect of those days was a complete Master of the art of building.

He was required to be able to construct a building from foundation to roof and also to be able to decorate it with sculpture and painting, mosaics and bronzes. This broad education prevailed in all the schools or Lodges up to 1335, when the painters seceded, which was followed by other branches separating themselves into distinct gilds. It is a well-known fact that when the barbarians were sacking and carrying away the riches of many Italian cities and particularly of Rome, people fled to more secure places for the better protection of their lives and property. Of the various places to which they fled only one interests us in this article. Como was a free republic and many fled there for the protection it afforded. Rome had previously colonized many thousands in Como before the Christian Era (see Como). The first we hear of the Comacines was that they were living on an island called Isola Comacina in Lake Como, that most beautiful of lakes. They were so well fortified that it was years before the island was captured and then only by treachery. Their fortifications and buildings were similar to those built by the Colleges of Artificers at Rome, which gave rise to the belief that they were the direct descendants from these Roman builders, who had built for the Roman Empire for several centuries.

In offering the form of building as best evidence of the descent of the Comacines from the Roman Colleges, it is appreciated how recorded literature, which is usually the word and opinions of one person, can be biased, changed and often wrong. But all who have studied a people in their social, political or religious aspects, know how permanent these things are and how subject to slow changes.

Their forms of dress, songs, folklore and language undergo changes but slowly, climate, unsuccessful wars and amalgamation proving the most disastrous. But probably none of these change so slowly as forms of building, unless the latter be subjected to a marked change of climate from migration. Architecture is one of the noblest and most useful of arts and one of the first to attract the attention of barbarous people when evolution into higher civilization, and is at all times an accurate measure of a people's standing in civilization.

A law we learn from biology in the morphology of animals is, that nature never makes a new organ when she can modify an old one so as to perform the required functions. New styles of architecture do not spring from human intellect as creations. Cattaneo says: "Monuments left by a people are truer than documents, which often prove fallacious and mislead and prove no profit for those who blindly follow them.

The story of a people or a nation, if not known by writings, might be guessed through its monuments and works of art."

The Lombards, who had come from northern Germany and settled in northern Italy in 568 A.D., at once began to develop along many lines which made Lombardy known all over Europe---the result of which influence Europe feels today. They developed along lines which in our everyday parlance may be called business. They were not primarily architects or builders and they employed the Comacines for this kind of work and it was the Comacines who developed what is known today as Lombard architecture, covering a period that we may roughly put as from the seventh century to the Renaissance.

The first to draw attention to the name Magistri Comacini was the erudite Muratori, that searcher out of ancient manuscripts, who unearthed from the archives an edict, dated November 22, 643 A.D., signed by Rotharis, in which are included two clauses treating of the Magistri Comacini and their colleagues The two clauses, Nos. 143 and 144, out of the 386 inscribed in cribbed Latin, says Leader Scott, are, when anglicized, m the following intent:

Art. 143. Of the Magister Comacinus. If the Comacine Master with his colleagues shall have contracted to restore or build a house of any person whatsoever, the contract for payment being made, and it chances that someone shall die by the fall of the said house, or any material or stone from it, the owner of said house shall not be cited by the Master Comacinus or his Brethren to compensate them for homicide or injury; because having for their own gain contracted for the payment of the building, they just sustain the risk and injuries thereof. Art. 144. of the engaging and hiring of Magistri. If any person has engaged or hired one or more of the Comacine Masters to design a work, or to daily assist his workmen in building a palace or a house, and it shall happen by reason of the house some Comacine shall be killed, the owner of the house is not considered responsible; but if a pole or stone shall injure some extraneous person, the Master builder shall not bear the blame, but the person who hired him shall make compensation.

Charles A. Cummings says: "The code of Luitprand, eighty years later, contains further provisions regulating the practice of Comacini, which had now become much more Ilumerous and important. Fixed rates of payment were established for their services, varying according to the kind of building on which they were engaged; definite prices being allowed for walls of various thicknesses, for arches and vaults, for chimneys, plastering and joiners' work. The difficulty which these early builders found in the construction of vaults is indicated by the allowance of a charge per superficial foot, from fifteen to eighteen times as great as in the case of a wall. The price of provisions and wine furnished to the workmen is also determined and is counted as part of their pay." Scott maintains that "these laws prove that in the seventh century the Magistri Comacini were a compact and powerful gild, capable of asserting their rights, and that the gild was properly organized, having degrees of different ranks; that the higher orders were entitled Magistri, and could 'design' or 'undertake' a work; that is, act as architects ; and that the colligate or colleagues worked under, or with, them. In fact, a powerful organization altogether so powerful and so solid that it spoke of a very ancient foundation. Was it a surviving branch of a Roman Collegium? Or a decadent group of Byzantine artists stranded in Italy?"

Professor Merzario says: "In this darkness which extended all over Italy, only one small lamp remained alight, making a bright spark in the vast Italian metropolis. It was from the Magistri Comacini. Their respective names are unknown, their individual work unspecialized, but the breath of their spirit might be felt all through those centuries and their names collectively is legion. We may safely say that of all the works of art between 800 and 1000 A.D., the greater and better part are due to that brotherhood-always faithful and often secret-of the Magistri Comacini. The authority and judgment of learned men .justify the assertion."

Quaternal de Quincy, in his Dictionary of Architecture, under the heading Comacines, remarks that "to these men who were both designers and executors, architects, sculptors and mosaicists, may be attributed the Renaissance of art and its propagation in the southern countries, where it marched with Christianity.

Certain it is that we owe to them that the heritage of antique ages was not entirely lost, and it is only by their tradition and imitation that the art of building was kept alive, producing works which we still admire and which become surprising when we think of the utter ignorance of all science in those Dark Ages."

Hope, in his well-balanced style, draws quite a picture of the gilds at this period which, upon the whole, is fairly accurate. He says: "When Rome, the Eternal City, was first abandoned for Milan, Ravenna and other cities in the more fertile North, which became seats of new courts and the capitals of new kingdoms, we find in northern Italy a rude and barbarous nation-the Lombards-in the space of two short centuries, producing in trade, in legislation, in finance, in industry of every description, new developments so great, that from them, and from the regions to which they attach their names, has issued the whole of that ingenious and complex system of bills of exchange, banks, insurance, double sentry bookkeeping, commercial and marine laws and public loans, since adopted all over Europe---all over Europe retaining, in their peculiar appellations the trace and landmarks of their origin-and all over Europe affording to capital and commerce an case of captivity and a security unknown before.

"To keep pace with this progress, kings, lesser lords and the municipalities that by degrees arose, were induced, at one time from motives of public policy, at others, of private advantage, to encourage artificers of different professions. Thus of their own accord, they granted licenses to form associations possessed of the exclusive privilege of exercising their peculiar trades, and making them an object of profit; of requiring that youths anxious to be associated with their body, and ultimately to be endowed with the mastery of the profession, should submit to a fixed and often severe course of study, under the name of apprenticeship, for their master's profit, and in addition should frequently be compelled to pay a considerable premium; and of preventing any individual not thus admitted into their body, from establishing a competition against them. These associations were called Corporations or Gilds.

"These Bodies in order to enjoy exclusive exercise of their profession, and that its profits should be secure to them, not only by law, but by the inability of others to violate it, by degrees made their business, or craft, as they called it, a profound mystery from the world at large, and only suffered their own apprentices to be initiated in its higher branches and improvements, most gradually; and in every place where a variety of paths of industry and art were struck out, these crafts, these corporations, these masterships and these mysteries became so universally prevalent, that not only the arts of a wholly mechanical nature, but even those of the most exalted and intellectual nature---those which in ancient times had been considered the exclusive privilege of freemen and citizens, and those dignified with the name liberal-were submitted to all those narrow rules of corporations and connected with all the servile offices of apprenticeship.'' While Hope and writers of his time recognized that some well-organized body of workers had dominated the building trades at the Lombard period of history, they never attempted to trace their genealogy. Later historical critics of architecture have given some attention to origin and succession of these building crafts. One of the latest Italian students, Rivoiri, has devoted a separate chapter to the Comacine Masters.

As his extensive work on Lombard Architecture, Its Origin, Development and Derivatives may be accessible to but few, we shall give a generous quotation from him for the importance of his sound conclusions:

"The origin of the Comacine Masters in the diocese of Como is explained quite naturally, according to De Dartein, Merzario, and others, by the custom, which has always existed among the craftsmen and workmen of that region, of leaving their native places in order to betake themselves in gangs wherever building works are about to be or have been begun, urged thereto by their barren mountain soil, pecuniary gain, their innate ability and enterprising character. Another explanation is to be found in the presence on the shores of the lakes of Como, Lugano and the Maggiore, of numerous stones, marble and timber yards which furnished building material for the cities of the plains. These yards gave scope for the practice of the crafts of carver, carpenter, builder, etc. ; and these, in their turn, by constant practice and continuous progress, ultimately developed architects and sculptors.

"And here we may naturally feel surprise at the appearance, amid the darkness of the early centuries of the Middle Ages, of a corporation of craftsmen who, though of Roman origin, none the less enjoyed Lombard citizenship and the rights belonging to it; while the Roman or Italian subjects of Lombard rule were, if not slaves, nothing better than 'aldi,' that is to say, midway between freedmen and serfs, manumitted on the condition of performing the manual tasks assigned them by the manumitter, A corporation, too, which had a legal monopoly of public and private building work within the territories occupied by the Lombards, as the code of Rotharis proves, and can claim the honor of filling up the gap which for so long was believed, especially by non-Italian writers, to exist between the incorporated artisans of the Roman epoch, supposed to have vanished with the fall of the Empire, and the gilds of craftsmen which sprang up so luxuriantly in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

Such surprise, however, may easily be allayed if we consider that in reality the fraternity of craftsmen, in Italy at least, by no means came to an end with the barbarian invasions, and particularly that of the Lombards, who actually preserved those Roman institutions which best fulfilled their aim of keeping the conquered people in subjection. Accordingly, they would have maintained the corporation of artisans in order to make the exaction of tribute easier, and at the same time to be able to keep a hold over the individuals composing them. "Hence we have good grounds for inferring that the corporation of 'Comacini,' who apparently were neither more nor less than the successors of the Master Masons who in the days of the Empire had directed the operations of the collegia specially devoted to building, survived the barbarian invasions which were so disastrous to Italy in the centuries preceding , the accession of Rotharis to the Lombard throne.

This view is confirmed by the undoubted fact that from this time onwards the 'Comacini' formed a very important Gild, as is shown by the need which he felt of making regulations for it in his laws. This Gild cannot have sprung into existence full grown, and, as it were, by magic, just when the Code of Rotharis made its appearance in 643 A. D. It must have already been in existence and have attained some degree of importance well before Alboin's descent on Italy in 568 A.D. Troya, in fact, remarks that when the Lombards of the time of Autharis in 583-590 A.D., and of Agilulf and Theodelinda from 590--625 A.D., wanted to erect buildings, they must have made use of it ; and that everything leads one to think that before the promulgation of the Code of Rotharis, some of the members, those of the highest capacity and reputation had already been enfranchised by 'impans' or express grace of the King. However that may be, the mention of the associations of Comacini in the reign of Rotharis and Luitprand is one of the earliest in the barbarian world, and earlier than that of any Gild of architects or builders belonging to the Middle Ages. . . . Whatever may have been the organization of the Comacine or Lombard Gilds, and however these may have been affected by outward events, they did not cease to exist in consequence of the fall of the Lombard kingdom. With the first breath of municipal freedom, and with the rise of the new brotherhoods of artisans, they, too, perhaps, may have reformed themselves like the latter, who were nothing but the continuation of the 'collegium' of Roman times preserving its existence through the barbarian ages, and transformed little by little into the mediaeval corporation. The members may have found themselves constrained to enter into a more perfect unity of thought and sentiment, to bind themselves into a more compact body, and thus put themselves in a condition to maintain their ancient supremacy in carrying out the most important building works in Italy. But we cannot say anything more.

And even putting aside all tradition, the monuments themselves are there to confirm what we have said.

"Finally, toward the end of the eleventh century, the Comacine brotherhoods began to relax their bonds of union, to make room gradually for personality, and for artistic and scientific individuality, till at length they vanish at the close of the fifteenth century, with the disappearance of the Lombardic style which they had created, and the rise of the architecture of the Renaissance." Leader Scott has reasonably inferred: "

1. That the architects of the same Gild worked at Rome and in Ravenna in the early centuries after Christ.

2. That though the architects were Roman, the decorations up to the fourth century were chiefly Byzantine, or had imbibed that style, as their paintings show.

3. That in the time when Rome lay in a heap of ruins under the barbarians, the Collegium, or a Collegium, I know not which, fled to independent Como, and there, in after centuries they were employed by the Lombards, and ended in again becoming a powerful Gild."

There was the greatest similarity in form of the cathedrals of this period and when changes were introduced they became general thereby creating a unity of purpose and an interchange of ideas, which spoke the existence of some kind of Gild or fraternity with a perfected organization. That the Comacines received ideas which somewhat influenced their building art is probably true, particularly their decorations.

On the latter question Muller in his Archaeology der Kunst says: "From constantinople as a center of mechanical skill, a knowledge of art radiated to distant countries, and corporations of builders of Grecian birth were permitted to exercise a judicial government among themselves, according to the laws of the country to which they owed allegiance."

This was the age when more symbolism was made use of than at any other period, the reason being that the Christian religion having so lately supplanted Paganism, and as most converts could not read, the Bible was spread over the front of the cathedrals in the form of sculptured saints, animals, and symbolic figures. Hope says: "Pictures can always be read by all people and when symbolic uses are made and once explained will be ever after understood."

The Eastern branch of the Church at Constantinople prohibited imagery and other forms of adornment of their churches, and like disputants, when one denies, the other affirms, the Western branch of Rome espoused the carving of images and beautiful sculpture.

This caused the Eastern sculptors to come to Italy, where they were welcomed by the Roman branch of the Church. That policy of the Roman branch was carried throughout the cathedral building period that followed in Europe for several centuries and to this day is a dominant element with them, for they still believe that properly to spread their religion, noble architecture, fine sculpturing and painting, and inspiring music are prime requisites. We Speculative Freemasons should give full credit to the Roman Catholic Church for employing and fostering our Operative Brethren through many centuries and making possible Speculative Freemasonry of today, even though the Church is now our avowed enemy.

Combining some arguments that have been reasonably put forward for the maintenance of this theory, and adding others, it may be pointed out that the identical form of Lodges in different cities is a strong argument that the same ruling Body governed them all. An argument equally strong is the ubiquity of the members. We find the same men employed in one Lodge after another, as work required. Not only were these changes or migrations from one cathedral to another accomplished in Italy, but we have many examples of Masters and special workmen going into France, Germany, and other countries. Unfortunately no documents exist of the early Lombard times, but the archives of the Opera, which in most cities have been faithfully kept since the thirteenth century, would, if thoroughly examined, prove to be valuable stores from which to draw a history of the Masonic Gild. They have only begun to examine carefully these records, and when completed we may reasonably expect to learn much concerning this period. Leader Scott has examined several and gives continuous lists of Masters of the School or Lodge in different cities. In Sienese School, a list of sixty- seven Masters in continuous succession from 1259-1423; at Florence Lodge, seventy-eight Masters from 1258-- 1418; at Milan Lodge; seventy-nine Masters from 1387 - 647. She, for Leader Scott was a woman, whose real name was Mrs. Luey Baxter, gives headings of laws for these Lodges, and it may be interesting to glance over the headings of statutes of these Masonic Gilds, which will throw light on all the organizations. The Sienese Gild is a typical one. There are forty-one chapters, but the headings of only twelve will be selected:

C. 1. One who curses God or the Saints. A fine of 25 lira. C. 2. One who opposes the Signora of city. A fine of 25 lira. C. 5. How to treat underlings (sottoposti or apprentices). C. 11. That no one take work from another Master. C. 13. How the feast of the Four Holy Martyrs is to be kept. Feast of the Dead, November Two half-pound candles and offering ; grand fte of the Gild in June. C.16. The camerlingo shall hand all receipts to Grand Master. C.19. One who is sworn to another Gild cannot be either Grand Master or camerlingo. C.22. How members are to be buried. C.23. How to insure against risks. C.24. No argument or business discussion to be held in public streets. C.30. That no Master shall undertake a second work till the first has been paid. C.34. On those who lie against others.

These statutes are very fair and well composed and must certainly have been made from long experience in the Gild. The genealogy of the styles of architecture has baffled many. Leader Scott believes this to be the line of descent: First, the Comacines continued Roman traditions, as the Romans continued Etruscan ones; next, they orientalized their style by their connection with the East through Aquileia, and the influx of the Greek exiles into the Gild. Later came a different influence through the Saracens into the South, and the Italian-Gothic was born. In the old times (sixth to the tenth centuries) before the painters and sculptors, and after them the metal workers, split off and formed companies of their own, every kind of decoration was practiced by the Masters, as the letter of Theodoric plainly shows. A church was not complete unless it was adorned in its whole height and breadth with sculpture on the outside, mosaics or paintings on the inside, and in its completeness formed the peoples' Bible and dogma of religious belief, and this from the very early times of Constantine and his Byzantine mosaicists, and of Queen Theolinda and her fresco-painters, up to the revival of mosaics by the Cosmati and the fresco-painting in the Tuscan schools, but never were these arts entirely lost.

For the first, we have the identity of form and ornamentation in their works and the similarity of nomenelature and organization between the Roman Collegio and the Lombard Gild of Magistri. Besides this, the well-known fact that the free republic of como was used as a refuge by Romans who fled from barbaric invasions makes a strong argument. For the second, we may plead again the same identity of form and organization and a like similarity of ornamentation and nomenclature. Just as King Luitprand's architects were called Magistri, and the Grand Master the Gadtaldo, so we have the great architectural Gilds in Venice, in the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries, using the very same titles and having the very same laws. Again the hereditary descent is marked by the patron saints of the Lombard and Tuscan Lodges, being the Four Martyr Brethren from a Roman Collegio (see four Crowned Martyrs). All these and other indications are surely as strong as documental proof, and are practically the summary of the conclusions of Leader Scott and are not overdrawn, being amply home out by facts already known.

Older writers recognized the presence of a compact gild in the work, but did not connect them with the builders of the Renaissance. More recent writers, such as Rivoira, Porter, and others declare the connection. This connection is probably without the field of historical architects, whose work is the study of the product of the workmen, and not the workmen themselves, while our interest is centered on the workmen and their relations to those who follow them in connected sequence, and not on the product of their work, further than to show and prove relationships of the building crafts.

There are many most interesting and important things pertaining to the Conacines that must be omitted in a cyclopedia article. Their rich, varied, and curious symbolism, which even Ruskin failed to understand, would furnish matter for a fair-sized volume.

While it is recognized that history should always be written from as nearly original sources as is possible it has not been realized in this instance, as Brother Cauthome had to rely solely on those who have made their investigations at first-hand, and while some liberties have been taken, no violence has been done to their conclusions.

The reader will find a rich field in the following bibliography: The Cathedral Builders, The Story of a Great Masonic Guild, by Leader Scott. The Comacines, Their Predecessors and their Successors, by W. Ravencroft. Lombard Architecture, Its Origin, Development and Derivatives, by G. T. Rivoira. A History of Architecture in Italy, from the Time of Constantine to the Dawn of the Renaissance, by Charles A. Cummings. Medieval Architecture, by A. K. Porter.

Architecture in Italy from the Sixth to the Eleventh Century, Historical and Critical Researches, by Raflaele Cattaneo. Historical Essay on Architecture, by Thomas Hope. These are English works or have been translated into English. From them an extensive bibliography embracing other languages will be found.

*

COMACINE THEORY, THE

The article on Comacine Masters beginning on page 221 sets forth fairly and adequately the arguments in favor of the theory that the Magistri Comacimi were a school, or Compactly organized Brotherhood of Master Masons with a center and training school on Lake Como ; that this Comacine Brotherhood was the founder of Freemasonry, and that an unbroken continuity exists between it and the English Lodges out of which modern speculative Freemasonry arose. Mrs. Webster, writing under the name of Leader Scott, constructed this theory and published it in her Cathedral Builders, a work earnestly and competently written, supported by a wide knowledge of the literature; printed, bound, and illustrated magnificently.

Bro. Joseph Fort Newton epitomized the argument of her book in one chapter of his The Builders, and gave it a wide circulation because his book, "the Blue Lodge classic," had a large reading among American Masons. Bro. W. R. Rafenscroft followed this with two small books in which he restated or rehearsed Leader Scott's arguments with an audience of English Masons in mind (though he published much of his material in The Builder, Journal of the National Masonic Research Society). With this presentation, so rapidly successful, and accompanied as it was by innumerable speeches in Lodge Rooms and articles in the Masonic press throughout English-speaking Freemasonry, the Comacine Theory ceased to be a tentative and exploratory hypothesis constructed by one woman, and became a subject or discussion by the whole Fraternity.

One of the extraordinary features of this Masonry wide presentation and of the almost enthusiastic popularizing of it was the failure of both the proponents of the argument and of the popularizers of it to see that they were asking the Fraternity to abandon wholly, and at one stroke, the great structure of Masonic history which had been built up slowly and laboriously from 1870 to 1920 by some two hundred or so of the most learned scholars the Craft had or possibly ever can have. Beginning in the 1860's and 1870's Gould, Findel, Fort, Hughan, Crawley, Speth, Sadler, Lane, Lyon, the Rylands, E. H. Dring, etc., etc., had patiently pieced together evidences to show that Speculative Freemasonry had begun in England, that it was initiated by four or five Lodges in London out of some hundreds of Time Immemorial Lodges in England, Scotland and Ireland which had been at work during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century ; and that these in turn were the descendants of Lodges of Operative Freemasons of which the history was very old, dating at least from the Twelfth Century.

They knew that Operative Freemasonry in general, as the art of architecture, was flourishing during those years throughout Europe, but they could find no traces on the Continent of that particular and almost singular special development among Operative Freemasons which gave rise to modern Speculative Freemasonry, general Operative Freemasonry had been as much European as British, but speculative Freemasonry from its first small beginnings was English; and it was from England that it went across to the Continent in the 1720's. If Leader Scott's argument had been sound, if Speculative Freemasonry had originated not in England (as each copy of the Old Charges clearly showed) but had been founded and propagated by a school of Operative Masons at Lake Como in Italy, then Gould's History, Mackey's History, the Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, and the body of English and American scholarship had made a vast, fatal, wholesale mistake, and the whole work would have to be done over again de novo.

l. There is nothing in the cathedrals, and other structures designed, constructed, and ornamented by the Medieval English Freemasons nor anything in the MSS., traditions, customs, rites, or symbols, or in the records of the oldest Lodges, which anywhere mentions the Comacine Masters, or looks backward toward Italy; nor were the truths, ideas, symbols which were perpetuated by the Time Immemorial Lodges such as could have originated in Medieval northern Italy; they bear on them everywhere the stamp of England.

Around and behind early Medieval Freemasonry in England lay the European milieu, the long history of the Continent, and the traditions of Antiquity, of early Christianity, and the Bible; but the elements drawn from this enveloping background which appear in the first forms of Speculative Freemasonry were demonstrably never drawn at first hand, not even from the Bible, but were mediated to the Craft through the reports, and rumors, and traditions of such things as they had come to England. Moreover, the genius of Medieval Operative Freemasonry was that of the Gothic architecture ; whereas in Italy, and including Como, the Gothic was only half accepted, and was mixed with elements of alien styles imported from Greece and the Arabs (via Sicily).

2. Leader Scott defines the phrase Magistri Comacini as meaning Masters of Como; she then employs this word itself as a principal support of her argument, and takes it that wherever Magistri Comacini appears in the records it refers to the school at Como. Since the phrase appears first in the Fifth Century, and was in wide use in following centuries, and hence was in use many centuries before there was any architecture or architects at Lake Como, Magislri Comacini is not Masters of "Como" etymologically. In the Low Latin in use at the period of which Leader Scott writes co-macioncs, frequently used, meant brothers, or gilds, of Masons, and hence could be applied to Masons anywhere; and Rivoira so applies it in the work referred to by Bro. Cauthorne in his paragraphs at page 221 of this Encyclopedia. Thus the Masons at any Italian center, at Florence, Pisa, Genoa, Venice, Rome, often were called como magistri. Moreover, Leader Scott takes it, or so to a reader it appears, that a schola was a school; in the Low Latin just mentioned schola was a gild.

3. Although she did not appear to note it herself, Leader Scott constructs not one Comacine Theory but two:

a) She attempts to show that the "school at Como'' was the center from which the whole Lombardic style had originated and been directed This theory cannot be sustained on historical grounds. Moreover, it repeats a fallacy which characterizes European theories about Freemasonry of both its origin and its present organization: viz, that it had (and has) some one center of control, and that this alone explains why it maintained its unity (and still does) everywhere, and from age to age. Medieval Freemasonry (as now) never had a center but maintained its unity by its modes of recognition, the movement of workers from one place to another, the prevalence of a single architectural style, and-above other means-by its training of apprentices, each of whom received his knowledge of the art and his practices of the Fraternity from a Master Mason who in turn had received the same from his own inlender, and so on backwards. b) Leader Scott's second Comacine Theory was that modern Speculative Freemasonry originated in her hypothetical school at Como. Rivoira says that this theory was not original with her, but was picked up by her from an Italian book which had never carried weight with Italian scholars; he himself dismisses the theory as not worth detailed investigation.

NOTE. In private correspondence Bro. Lionel Vibert, and writing as Secretary of Quatuor Coronati Lodge, stated that he had dismissed the Comacine Theory after finding that Leader Scott had misused the name Magistri Comacini, a keystone in her arch ; Bro. Ravenscroft Wrote not long before his death that he wished he could recall his two brochures because he had "come to see that the Comacine Theory was without foundation."

In addition to books mentioned above see : Medieval Architecture, by Arthur Kingsley Porter: vol. I, page 134. The Calhedral Builders, by Leader Scott, was published by Sampson, Low, Marston & Co.; London ; 80 illustrations; 435 pages. Lombardic Architecture, by G. T. Rivoira; two volumes. The Gilds of Florence, by Edgcumbe Staley; Methuen & Co.; London; 1906 ; 622 pages. (He has an interesting note about the Masons at Lincoln, England, as having had a social and religious Fraternity in 1313.) Arl and The Re-formation, by G. G. Coulton; ch. X. Medieval Italy, by H. B. Cotterill; Geo. C. Harrap; 1915. The Renaissance of The Twelfth Century, by Charles Homer Haskins, Harvard University Press; 1928. Medieval Europe, by Lynn Thorndike; Geo. C. Harrap & Co.; London; 1920. A History of Freemasonry, by H. L. Haywood and James E. Craig.

Owned & Operated Exclusively by Members of the Masonic Family
Tradition, Integrity, Trust.
Support@TheAshlarCompany.com
© 2018 The Ashlar Company “I just wanted to let you know I received the ring this afternoon and it is perfect. I am very impressed with the quality - it is exactly what I was hoping for, and better. It was worth the long wait.” Brother Mark, Canada

You are currently visiting masonicencyclopedia.com