Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry


Year of Light ⬩ York

Year of Light

According to the more usual Masonic, meaning the Craft computation, official documents of the present moment are issued Anno Lucis 5920, the implicit of which may be understood, according to pleasure, as signifying that those years have elapsed since the Great Architect of the Universe uttered the Fiat Lux, or alternatively that the Light of Masonry was first manifested at the creation of the world. There is, however, an alternative method occasionally followed by Masons, and according to this the present year is 5924. I have felt on my own part that the year of the Lord Christ is more important than either to the present undertaking, and it is this which appears on the titles of my present work. There was a time, I believe, in England when the Supreme Order of the Royal Arch followed the Annus Inventionis by adding 530 years to the Christian era. It referred to the putative date of a certain symbolical discovery, and the current year would be written down as Annus 2450. But the practice is now confined to America. Some of the High Grades have also their curious impertinences of this kind, but I shall mention only that of the Knights Templar, who were founded in 1118 A.D.: their present representatives subtract these figures and would fix the present year as Annus Ordinis 802. What is more to the purpose for Masons is to remember their own Year of Light, which is that of their initiation, and to see that it shines before them in all their paths, looking to the perfect day.


We shall never know what Desaguliers may have seen and heard in Scotland, when he went up to Edinburgh and attended that memorable meeting at Mary’s Chapel. He had something to shew, as it would seem, on his own part, and there is a feeling among Masonic scholars that he brought something away. The question remains among us as merely food for wonder. York is another field of speculation, in which imagination may behold many shapes of vision. Again we may never know what was precisely done in certain crypts below the cathedral, nor what undeclared things may have been stored there in the hiddenness. York is an oracle which will not respond readily to the questions of official Masonry: there is a rumour abroad among us that it does not love the South. The rumours indeed are many, and there is even a still small voice which whispers a word in passing about the undiscoverable York Rite still perpetuated in secret and almost ghostly meetings beyond the common ken. However all this may be, it has to be confessed on my own part that next to Mother Kilwinning there is no talismanic name to compare with that of the Old York Lodge, and though it is eminently a kind of faith which is a somewhat shadowy “substance of things hoped for,” I believe that in the hallowed sanctuary, once at least in time, there were roots of many things which at this day are extant and active among us in developed forms, we knowing not whence they come. Supposing that there were any element or vestige of the Hiramic Legend prior to 1717, I should turn to York as its local habitation.

York and the Netherlands.—I have been permitted to inspect a summary of the three Craft Degrees, as worked in South Africa under the Netherlands Constitution, the same at this day as it was in the year 1772, when the Lodge in question was founded, and described always as “the Old York working.” There is no evidence before me to support the claim, and I know the historical difficulties regarding York and the Netherlands, that there is no trace of York having warranted anything beyond the seas, and so forth. But I have not lived among Rituals through all my literary life without having acquired certain canons of criticism by which to distinguish among them, and in this summary I know that I am brought not only into the presence of significant developments but of roots that look old, and it may be that a quest followed in the Netherlands, apart from Charters and Warrants, would bear fruit in its season. We have every reason to acknowledge that in Masonry things travelled more often by secret paths than those that are called open, that Rites were carried far and wide by the zeal of unaccredited messengers, as well as by those who held authentic titles.

Archives of the Old Lodge.—The interest of York is not centred therefore only in its Rolls of Constitutions, not even in No. 4, the “Hee or Shee Roll,” or in No. 7, being a record of Lodge activities between March 19, 1712, and May 4, 1730. It is not exhausted, moreover, if we add to these documents the old Rules of the Grand Lodge, even though No. 13 sets apart an hour at each meeting “to talk Masonry” and No. 15 ordains that “no more persons shall be admitted as Brothers of this Society that shall keep a Public House.” We remember the Culdees who were the clergy of the Cathedral, not only in the first half of the tenth century, but earlier and also later. We remember the mystery which enshrouds them and Collier’s suggestion that they may have been “a theosophic sect connected with Lodges of Initiation.” We remember also that a Lodge of Masons was governed by its Warden at York in 1470; that in 1415 a Master Mason was assigned to the Cathedral by letters patent from the King; that York, in the words of Gould, “was long regarded as the earliest centre of the building art.” So far back as 1705, we hear of Lodge Presidents and Deputy Presidents who were baronets and county magnates. We remember Dr. Francis Drake and his speech on St. John’s Day in the winter, 1726, when he claimed for the York assembly the title of Grand Lodge of all England, and—in fine—the admission of Anderson in 1738, that it was under its own Grand Master. It has been said in error that the York assembly rose up after long suspension to put this claim forward. As a fact, after a certain period of Grand Lodge activity, it fell asleep later and did not wake till 1761. Its records of renewed life continue to 1792, during which period it was working the Grades of Royal Arch and Knight Templar, over and above the Craft. After 1792 it is thought to have “lingered on” till the beginning of the nineteenth century. The present York Lodge was warranted in 1777, under the name of Union, its actual title being adopted only in 1870. As regards the York Rite it looms large in legend and has had many things passing under its name. Hughan once said that no one knows what it was, but in other opinions it was the three Craft Grades, that of Master containing materials now incorporated into the Royal Arch. On the antiquity of the Rite as such I do not know that any authorised person has ventured to speculate. If we accept he hypothesis tentatively, under all necessary reserves, it seems to follow that we may look to York for the root matter, both of the Third Degree and the Holy Order. But there is no evidence before us. The South African summary to which I have adverted is specially important respecting the Third Degree, but it reflects nothing from the Royal Arch.