THE YORK RITE
The York Rite takes its name from the Ancient English city of York, around whose minster, or cathedral, cluster many Masonic traditions. Here, these traditions tell us, Athelstan, who reigned more than a thousand years ago and who was the first king of all England, granted the first charter to the Masonic guilds. Here, in 1705, a Grand Lodge was formed, to whose constitution the Grand Lodge in London later appealed as the true source of authentic Freemasonry. Though early disappearing from the Masonic scene, this Grand Lodge left an indelible impression upon the institution, and its name - York - will survive as long as Freemasonry continues.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE YORK RITE
From the day the Charter of York came into existence, the light of Freemasonry may have occasionally been dimmed. But it has never been extinguished.
LEGEND OF YORK
“This craft came into England, as I tell you, in the time of good king Athelstan’s reign; he made then both hall, and also bower and lofty temples of great honor, to take his recreation in both day and night, and to worship his God with all his might. This good lord loved this craft full well, and purposed to strengthen it in every part on account of various defects that he discovered in the craft. He sent about into all the land, after all the masons of the craft, to come straight to him, to amend all these defects by good counsel, if it might so happen. He then permitted an assembly to be made of divers lords in their ranks, dukes, earls, and barons, also knights, squires and many more, and the great burgesses of that city, they were all there in their degree, these were there, each one in every way to make laws for the state of these masons. There they sought by their wisdom how they might govern it; there they found out fifteen articles, and there they made fifteen points.”
- Regius Manuscript, circa 1390
The York Legend, its esoteric secrets and its Constitution have been the predominant factor in Freemasonry from the year 926 A.D. down through the years when the first Speculative Grand Lodge was formed in London in 1717 and when it expanded across the continent of Europe and to the four corners of the earth. But the basis of the York Masonic Constitutions is the historic Charter of York, which was based upon the ancient documents, laws and privileges of the Greek and Roman Colleges of Builders and Construction.
The year 926 A.D. marks the beginning of the Order, working under an authoritative Charter. The Charter of York was drawn up long before the first English Parliament was held by Henry II in 1160 This document was adopted at the general assembly of the Craft held in ancient York under the patronage of King Athelstan, the first Saxon monarch to assume the title "King of England." King Athelstan prepared and submitted all documents and deeds, which had been saved from the fires of the Roman invaders. These were discussed and accepted by representatives of the Lodges and were fashioned into the Charter in 926 A.D.
As we peer further back into the dim recesses of time, we see that the northern city of York has a long record of historical significance. At the time of the Roman invasion in 55 B.C., York was one of the headquarters for the most powerful of British tribes, the Brigantes.
That same year, the Fraternity of College of Builders -- under the command of Julius Caesar --constructed a walled camp complete with temples, moats and bridges. York, already connected with the surrounding area by stone roads built in 312 B.C., later became the capital of Northumbria and was the site of that initial English Parliament mentioned earlier.
But going further back into the past, we find that Numa Pompilius organized and founded the colleges of Roman Builders and Constructors in 715 B.C. conducting their own means of worship, these colleges were assembled to erect temples and monuments with the following presiding officers: Masters, Wardens, Censors, Treasurers, Keepers of the seals and Secretaries. It is claimed that Greek artists and architects were employed by the colleges, with the Greeks bringing to their work both the secrets of their art and the religious mysteries of their declining nation.
King Athelstan -- like his grandfather, Alfred the Great -- is described as being a liberal thinker. He was also an architect and, in addition to his many acts of church building and the promotion of learning, he gave charters to several Masonic Guilds.
This, then, was the beginning -- starting with England's first King in name, who died in 941.
In the Charter a list of articles or rules were set up to govern the conduct of Freemasons. It made absolutely no provision for atheists or traitors, telling the Brethren they must revere God, be faithful to the King and "obedient to constituted authority."
A plea for tolerance was included in the Third Article: "You should be serviceable to all men . . . without disquieting yourself as to what religion or opinion they shall hold . . ." The Brothers should be faithful among themselves, the Charter continued, and help those reform who had done wrong.
An order to strict secrecy came next, and the Charter also called for fidelity, a good reputation and to "honestly finish your labor." Brothers were further admonished to "always pay honorably that which you owe" and to "do nothing that will injure the good reputation of the Fraternity."
The Charter then states that Masons should aid Brethren in distress "within half a league" but "No Master of Fellow-craftsman should accept indemnity for admitting any person as a Mason, if he be not free-born, of good reputation, of good capacity and sound of limbs."
But why is all this important today?
Every Grand Lodge of today is a lineal descendant of the 926 York Assembly of Masons. Every copy of the Ancient Manuscript Constitutions reaffirms this end in 1717, when the first organized Speculative Grand Lodge came into existence; the terms of the York Charter were adopted and used as a basis for its Constitution and Declaration of Principles.
Speculative Masonry is a direct outgrowth of the operative Fraternities of Guilds and came about because of the great influx of men of the professions, industry and the aristocracy when they became known as "Accepted Masons." And it is to this transition that Freemasonry, which is now the world's greatest Fraternity, owes its very existence.
In the 15th Century, for example, the rapid boom times of the Renaissance soon dissolved into a major depression in the building trades and the Craft almost died out as a result. In fact, there was an eight-century period -- from about the 10th Century until 1717 -- when Freemasonry gradually developed into a complete speculative system.
Other extant documentation of transition clearly shows that the Royal Arch from the very beginning was a part of Ancient Craft Masonry. We find, for example, in the 15th Century portions of the York Fabric Rolls a numismatic mention of a Second part of the Third Degree, which obviously referred to the Royal Arch.
At a later date the Templars attached themselves for protection to the Freemasons. This is evidenced by the monumental brasses of early 17th Century vintage -- probably 1640 -- which belong to the oldest Chapter in the World, Sterling Rock No. 3 of Sterling, Scotland.
The brasses clearly depict symbols of the Royal Arch, as they do those of the Symbolic Lodge and Knights Templar. The Chapter's minutes begin 1743 and its bylaws for 1745 set a five-shilling fee for exaltation.
The Ecclesiastics of York Minister have long held that the Free Masons of the Middle Ages were convened for secret meetings in the crypt of York Minister. Early in the 20th Century, research brought an ancient Lodge Minute Book to light. This book reports meetings of the Lodge in the historic old structure, describing the Lodge as being a secret recess in the Cathedral crypt.
In addition, there is a wealth of well-attested history and other evidence, establishing the fact that the first important step from Guild Masonry toward the Freemasonry of 1717 was taken in York, England, by an assembly of the Craft at about 926 A.D.
And the result of this assembly was a Code of Regulations, which was preserved by tradition, subsequently serving first as the basis of the Constitution of 1117.
The Articles and Points
1. The Master Mason must be steadfast, trusty and true and render perfect justice to both workman and his employer.
2. The Master Mason shall be punctual in his attendance at the general congregation or assembly.
3. The Master must take no apprentices for less than seven years.
4. The Master must take no apprentices who are bonds men, but only such as are free and wellborn.
5. The Master shall not employ a thief or maimed man for an apprentice, but only those who are physically fit.
6. The Master must not take craftsmen's wages for apprentice's wages.
7. The Master must not employ an immoral person.
8. The Master must maintain a standard of efficiency by not permitting incompetent workmen to be employed.
9. The Master must not undertake to do work which he cannot complete.
10. No Master shall supplant another in the work under taken.
11. The Master shall not cause the Mason to work at night except in pursuit of knowledge.
12. The Master must instruct his apprentices in everything they are capable of learning.
13. No Mason shall speak evil of his fellow's work.
14. The Master shall take no apprentices for whom he has not sufficient labor.
15. The Master is not to make false representations nor compromise the sins of his fellows.
1. Those who would be Masons and practice the Masonic art are required to love God and His holy church, the master for whom they labor and their Masonic Brethren for his is the spirit of Masonry.
2. The Mason must work diligently in working hours that he may lawfully refresh himself in the hours of rest.
3. The Mason must keep the secrets of his Master, his brethren and the lodge faithfully.
4. No Mason shall be false to the Craft, but maintain all its rules and regulations.
5. The Mason shall not murmur at fair compensation.
6. The Mason shall not turn a working day into a holiday.
7. The Mason shall restrain his lust.
8. The Mason shall be just and true to his Brethren in every way.
9. The Mason shall treat his Brethren with equity and in the spirit of brotherly love.
10. Contention and strife shall not exist among Brethren.
11. The Mason shall caution his Brother kindly about any error into which he may be about to fall.
12. The Mason must maintain every ordinance of the assembly.
13. The Mason must not steal or protect one who does.
14. The Mason must be true to the laws of Masonry and to the laws of his country.
15. The Mason must submit to the lawful penalty of any offense he may commit.
The York Rite Sovereign College
The York Rite Sovereign College of North America came into being in the City of Detroit, Michigan on January 6, 1957. It was the result of a meeting called by Richard W. Lewis, Past Grand High Priest of the Grand Chapter R.A.M. of Michigan, and attended by the heads of the four Michigan York Rite Grand Bodies and a number of distinguished Masonic leaders from other States. These founders, responding to a need which had long been recognized in the York Rite, outlined the structure and purpose of the new organization and arranged for its incorporation.