In 1898, English Masons conferred the first known Master Mason degree
to be held in 'Solomon's Quarry' (Zedekiah’s Cave)
below the Temple Mount in Jerusalem
by Christopher Hodapp
This coming Saturday, September 10th, 2022, Eden Lodge No. 477 in Greenfield, Indiana will perform its annual Master Mason degree in a stone quarry east of Indianapolis, and there will be a hog roast beforehand. Contact the lodge for more information.
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Because of Freemasonry's stonemason-guild beginnings, the symbolism of cutting, dressing and assembling perfect stones from a rock quarry to build a sacred temple is the central theme that runs throughout Masonic ritual. The rough ashlar stone symbolizes our own rough character, and our desire to smooth and perfect that ashlar and be worthy to become a 'living stone' to as part of a 'House not made with hands, eternal in the Heavens.' And because we use the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem as that ideal symbol, Masons have had an interest in occasionally enacting the ritual in an actual quarry to mix a little more realism with the symbolism.
After Napoleon's failed mission of stomping around in Egypt in the early 1800s, the administration of Palestine and the Holy Land was taken over by the Ottoman Turks. But it's not like that part of the world has ever had a stable history. After World War I and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the League of Nations appointed England to superintend the "Mandate for Palestine and Transjordan" and transition the region to create a Jewish homeland and hopefully keep the peace. But the English had already been poking around the Holy Land and Jerusalem for quite some time.
In the late 1860s, England's Sir Charles Warren was hired by the Palestine Exploration Fund to make surveys of the ancient biblically-related sites in and around Jerusalem. They were especially interested in the Old City and the Temple Mount – onetime location of King Solomon's Temple – and Warren conducted excavations that revealed a long-buried cave deep within the complex. The subterranean entrance, known as Zedekiah's Cave, led to an ancient stone quarry underneath the Temple complex, and it was quickly dubbed by Biblical archeologists as 'Solomon's Quarry,' the source of the stones used to construct the sacred Temple three thousand years ago.
Warren would become best known in modern times as the chief of London's Metropolitan Police between 1886-88, specifically because of his role in the investigation of the infamous Jack the Ripper murders. But he was also an enthusiastic Freemason, and he developed a keen interest in the physical sites connected with Masonic ritual.
Warren was initiated into UGLE's Royal Lodge of Friendship No. 278 in Gibraltar in 1859. He would serve as the District Grand Master of the District Grand Lodge of the Eastern Archipelago from 1891 to 1895. And he served as Grand Deacon in 1887 for the United Grand Lodge of England. Perhaps most important was that in 1884 he was elected as the founding Master of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076.
In addition to his papers presented to that lodge and printed in its transactions, he penned two important books on the subject of his biblical archeology work in and around the Temple complex: The Temple or the Tomb in 1880, and The Survey of Western Palestine-Jerusalem in 1884.
Meanwhile in America, Kentucky Freemason and founder of the Order of the Eastern Star, Rob Morris, had made a famous Masonic pilgrimage to the Holy Land himself to see the Temple Mount, 'Solomon's Quarry' and many other sites connected with our ritual, and wrote a book of his travels in 1875 that inspired members of the fraternity all over the world. Between Warren's and Morris' books, articles and speeches, Victorian-era Masons became more and more fascinated with the history and remains of the historical sites referred to in the Hiram legend and subsequent 'higher degrees' of the York and Scottish Rites.
Enthusiastic English Masons who had enough money to get there themselves organized the first degree conferral inside of Solomon's Quarry in 1898.
A popular Holy Land souvenir for decades was a Masonic gavel set made from stone cut from the Solomon's Quarry site, with a handle and wooden carrying case made from olive wood. But Masons who couldn't make the trip to the Middle East themselves found substitutes closer to home — performing 'quarry degrees' outdoors in a still functioning operative stonemason's rock quarry.
You don't hear all that very often these days about quarry degrees. They're not totally unheard of anymore, but they're nowhere near as popular as they were during the early and mid-20th century. The combination of shrinking memberships, the fraternity's lack of enthusiasm as a whole, and legal liability all seem to have conspired together to make these ceremonies in such incredibly symbolic surroundings much rarer today.
Which brings me to Indiana, home of some of the greatest limestone deposits and quarries anywhere in the United States. Indiana celebrated its 150th Masonic anniversary, its Jubilee Year, between 1967-68. On August 19th, 1967, the nine original founding lodges of the Grand Lodge of Indiana F&AM, or their direct successors assembled under a full moon and reunited in a stone quarry near Salem, Indiana to jointly confer a Master Mason degree. Then Grand Secretary Dwight L. Smith had deemed the evening to be "Freemasonry's Link With Antiquity," and it was perhaps the event dearest to his heart because of the historic symbolism.
Dwight was not just a Grand Secretary, he was a force of Nature. He began planning the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Grand Lodge of Indiana a full decade before it kicked off. Dwight was a trained journalist. He became editor of his local newspaper in Salem, Indiana in 1934, at the age of just 25, and he had grown up living and breathing Indiana history. He brought that same zeal for Indiana and its founders into Freemasonry when he became a very active young member, also at 25. He would soon take on editing the Indiana Freemason magazine, a position he held more than 40 years. He took an ordinary monthly Masonic newsletter and transformed it into an internationally acclaimed, informative Masonic magazine that was subscribed to by even more readers outside of the state than in it. Every issue contained thought-provoking Masonic education and historical articles, at Dwight's insistence. He demanded it. At the time, it was considered one of the very best and most informative Masonic magazines anywhere in the world.
Dwight was determined to get Indiana’s Masons sufficiently enthusiastic by 1967, and many of the traditions he and his committee started have continued every single year ever since. In my new book Heritage Endures, I devote a big section up front describing the monumental celebration Dwight Smith and the Grand Lodge pulled off for those twelve months between the Mays of 1967-68. Dwight had 250 Indiana Masons working as part of his enormous Sesquicentennial Commission in every corner of the state, and what they did was truly monumental,arranging major events for every month. Sure, Indiana had 175,000 or so members around those years, as opposed to our 50,000 today, so we had a lot more warm bodies then, and more money perhaps. But consider something else.
We had far more enthusiasm about ourselves as Masons, too. It was an age when we believed just about anything was possible, so we thought and expected the very best of ourselves.
Things don't happen in a vacuum. The world was in enormous turmoil at that precise time in history. A contentious presidential election. The expansion of the military draft and the Vietnam War. The still powerful Soviet Union behind the Iron Curtain, with constant threat of nuclear confrontation. The mysterious nation of Communist China had just exploded their first hydrogen bomb. The Six-Day Arab-Israeli War that we are living with the ramifications of today. Nightly news coverage of race riots, and war dead no one had seen unfold in their living rooms in living color before. The U.S. space program had just lost its first human casualties in the race to the Moon – three astronauts, including Indiana Freemason Gus Grissom perished in the Apollo 1 fire. A breakdown in traditions and morals. Social and racial strife. A sudden national loss of religious faith and the 'God is Dead' movement. Technological changes happening so fast that people were unnerved by the ways their own lives were affected.
It all sounds so remarkably like the world we are living in right now, doesn't it?
Indiana's Sesquicentennial Masonic celebration was deliberately designed by Dwight Smith to show the world that Freemasonry was the inverse opposite of all of that chaos and turmoil. If society was a wreck, Masonry was a rock. The very day after China exploded their H-Bomb, Indiana Freemasonry was on television all over the state, telling its story instead.
Dwight’s plan all along was to use the 150th anniversary to plant seeds all over Indiana, and the quarry degree in Salem on that August 1967 evening was just one of them.
Site of operative quarry Masonic degree at Salem, Indiana in 1967
Of the original nine founding lodges in Indiana, only Vincennes No. 1 and Brookville’s Harmony No. 11 remained that had enjoyed an uninterrupted existence since January 13, 1818. Three more, Madison’s Union Lodge 2, Lawrenceburg Lodge 4, and Rising Sun Lodge 6, had ceased for a time, but new lodges had been permitted to form again with their same historic names and numbers. The remaining four had dissolved, but were succeeded by new lodges with new numbers: Melchizidek Lodge at Salem was replaced by Salem Lodge 21; Corydon’s Pisgah Lodge 5 was succeeded by Pisgah Lodge 32; Vevay Lodge 7 by Switzerland Lodge 122; and Charlestown’s Blazing Star Lodge 3 by Blazing Star No. 226. The Masonic Heritage Program for the 150th Jubilee Year branded this event as one of the most significant of the entire twelve-month celebration, as it was the only time these historic lodges had ever met together for such a purpose.
Before the meeting convened, dinner was served to nearly a thousand guests at the local school in Salem. Following the meal, 1,800 Freemasons from Indiana, Kentucky, Florida, California, Canada, and other jurisdictions all marched down Quarry Street and descended deep into the stone pit a mile away for the degree. It took forty-five appointed Tylers stationed around the perimeter of the area just to guard against any approaching cowans and eavesdroppers. A brief period of rainfall caused some panic, as the Masons fled for cover before the opening gavel could be struck. But the rain quickly stopped—Dwight simply wouldn’t permit it. The bleachers installed for the occasion were dried, and by nightfall the full moon peeked over the rim of the high, sheer pit walls from a clear sky. It fell to the officers of Dwight Smith’s own lodge, Salem No. 21, to open the lodge under the star decked canopy in this “low dell,” and the Sublime Degree was conferred by a cast made up of members of all nine of the historic lodges assembled.
The Grand Secretary had been determined this night would be central to the celebration from almost the first discussions of the Sesquicentennial Commission back in 1960. He even had specially ‘illuminated’ scrolls created by hand as a tribute for each of the nine lodges by artist and calligrapher Arthur G. Duvall, Past Master of Evansville’s Lessing Lodge 464. The individualized certificates duly noted the names of each lodge’s own “Pioneer Freemasons” who had taken part in the formation of the Grand Lodge in January 1818—23 in all. As the meeting was opened, Smith read an introduction to the crowd, giving the historical background of the occasion. In noting that only two of the founding nine lodges had actually survived intact for a century and a half to witness the Jubilee year, he remarked,
“In a very real sense this assembly is like unto human life: those who lay the foundations seldom live to place the capstone. One generation puts down the working tools: another generation takes them up and carries on.”The quarry degree was just one single event that year. With erecting almost thirty permanent bronze historical markers all over the state, television programming, countless local and statewide occasions and gatherings, plays, endless press releases, Dwight's new book Goodly Heritage, and all the rest of the “bread and circuses” he and his committee cooked up, what he wanted to do was pass along the IDEA of Freemasonry, to members young and old, and to curious onlookers who might see a spark of light and knock at the door of a lodge someday. That passion was contagious.
Today we have Indiana’s own Dwight L. Smith Lodge of Research U.D. in his memory, but there seems to be a feeling among those who knew him personally that he would never have approved of such a thing at all, let alone one named after him. Dwight felt that it was the role ofeveryMason and every lodge everywhere to do research, and to study the history and heritage and symbolism and philosophy of the fraternity, not cloistered away in a single lodge that meets twice a year. You shouldn’t need an excuse to think and work and achieve.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery was a famous world aviator and journalist, and reputed by many to have been a French Freemason. He was the author of The Little Prince, if any of you took French classes and had to read it. He once wrote:
“If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood, and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather, teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” And that’s what Dwight and his committee and the Grand Lodge were really doing — inspiring their brethren 'to long for the endless immensity of the sea' that is Freemasonry. Dwight didn’t do it alone, he had lots of help. But he saw it all, it was his vision years before. And he dragged all of Indiana's Masons along with him on that voyage. He expected better, and he got it in return from his equally enthusiastic brethren.
It's long past time that we started demanding better of ourselves once again, and living up to the same expectations that Dwight had for himself and for this fraternity, and to once again teach others 'to long for that endless immensity of the sea' that is Freemasonry. Nobody is going to do it for us and there’s nobody else to blame now. And guilt is a lousy motivator anyway.
Men don’t join a club called Freemasonry. They join to BECOME Freemasons. They join because of the IDEA of what becoming a Freemason is to them. I certainly did. I suspect you did too. I hope so, anyway. Everybody fixates on the mantra that we need more new members all the time. Well, we've got far bigger troubles than just plumping up our numbers. We can get all the new members we want, if that's all we want. But those new members will never stay, and keep coming back, and they will never come to truly love Freemasonry as an idea until our own existing members truly love it first. Until we all rekindle the passion we all had for the fraternity on the night of our Entered Apprentice degrees.
We have no business obligating another new Mason until then.
And until every single one of us longs for that endless immensity of the sea that is Freemasonry.
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With that in mind, if you are in or near Indiana this coming Saturday, you will have an opportunity to experience what those 1,800 Masons did in 1967 in Salem, or those English brethren did in Jerusalem in 1898 — to imagine Hiram walking among the stones in the quarry, surrounded by the workmen all hard at work.
On September 10th, 2022, Eden Lodge No. 477 in Greenfield, Indiana will perform its annual Master Mason degree in a stone quarry east of Indianapolis, and there will be a hog roast beforehand. Contact the lodge for more information.