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Bridge Builders

In the article which begins on page 151 it is stated that the Gild of Bridge Builders was a religious fraternity. Since that article written (it was based on the then most reliable authorities) what may be called the archeology of bridge building has put that ancient craft in a new light. Just as some bishop or abbot was given credit for almost every cathedral, large church, or abbey, and even though the prelate might not have been born when the construction was begun, so did the same chroniclers make out that almost every other concerted public activity, association, etc., had been either an action by the Church or else one directed by it.

Even a local gild of six or seven blacksmiths in a French town of the year1200 A.D. may appear in the monkish chronicles as having been a Holy Brotherhood of the Church of St. Paul Dedicated to St. Dominic, etc., the whole of it sounding as if black smithing had been a holy rite. Everything in the Twelfth Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Centuries was, as it were, asserted with the appearance of religion-it was then as it is now with the Mexican language in which "good-bye" becomes "God go with you," and a man asks for a match "in the name of God," and a mother names a son Jesus and a Daughter Holy Annunciation. There were fraternities of Bridge Builders in the Middle Ages ; they had their Patron Saints; they went by religious names; but bridge building per se was no more religious than it is now. A bridge was build at need, and often at the expense of the taxpayers in a town; its construction might be entrusted to a special gild formed for the purpose; it might be paid for by gifts or by tolls; but the Masons who built it usually were ordinary Masons. Its was only when great bridges were built, like London Bridge (which was a row of buildings erected across the Thames) or when one was ornamented with carving or with Sculpture, or involved difficult problems of engineering, that Freemasons were called in; but it is doubtful if in many instances they formed fraternities qua bridge builders, after the fashion of the separate associations of castle builders, military architects, tilers, etc.

It is of interest that the first great Modern bridge (at least it is so claimed by historians of it) was to a peculiar extent almost an event in the history of Speculative Freemasonry. The engineer and constructor of the famous Wearmouth Bridge in England (pages are given to it in a number of histories of engineering) was Bro. Rowland Burdon. He was made a Mason in Phoenix Lodge, no. 94, Sunderland ; he joined Palatine Lodge in 1791; in 1793 was elected Master, and served several years. The foundation of the Bridge was laid with Masonic ceremonies by the Provincial Grand Lodge, September 24, 1793; its completion was also celebrated by ceremonies by the Provincial Grand Lodge on August 9, 1796 (during Washington's second term, it may be said to help Americans to place the date).

(It happens that the builders of the Brooklyn Bridge were Masons, as may be found in an article in the New York Masonic Outlook. See History of Phoenix Lodge; see also other bridge items in History of Britannia Lodge, page 104.)

NOTE. Apropos of the typical Medieval custom of clothing everything with a religious guise it is interesting to observe that ordinary business documents such as deeds, bills of sales, contracts, or legal documents, or a physician's prescription, or a parchment roll of kitchen recipes might be decorated with religious emblems and begin-like the Old Charges-with a religious invocation.

Bishops often were educated and trained in cathedral schools at a prince's or king's expense expressly to hold positions in what is now the civil service. Even the since-canonized Thomas Beeket served for years in that capacity, and was made a bishop for political reasons! Thousands of tonsured clerics were trained to work in offices, government bureaus, etc., as clerks, bookkeepers, etc., and never performed religious services in their lives. It is not out of any desire to disparage religion, or to discredit the church, but solely in obedience to the facts as found, that historians are agreed that the Ages of Faith were not more faithful than other ages, and that the men were in their spirit, thought, and conduct no more religious, or pious, in the Thirteenth Century than they are now. The fact is important for Masonic history, because a reader of it may gain the impression that because so many Medieval Freemasons worked on churches, cathedrals, abbeys, priories, monasteries, chapels, etc., they were in some peculiar sense a religious fraternity. They were men in religion, but no more so than other men; ran their own affairs ; excluded priests from control over their Lodges ; and had no religious rites, practices, or doctrines peculiar to themselves.

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