Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Saturday, 15 September 2012
Crusaders on stage
I have been wanting to get inside here for years - the Bath temple of the local Freemason's lodge, and now they have become a little less secretive, the doors are open to the public on a regular basis. In their own words, "We are not a secret society, we are a society with secrets".
In the mistaken belief that last Saturday was an free open day for all sorts of local attractions, we turned up at the lodge and ended up paying the going rate for the tour whilst everyone else left it until the following Sunday and paid nothing. That will teach us for being skinflints. At least it meant that we had one guide each, so we received the full attention of the very young Mason and the older one, who took it in turns to tell us all they knew - well, not all because, as the older one said, if he did that he would have to kill me.
This lodge is doubly interesting because it was the first 'Theatre Royal' in Bath, built in the early 18th century and situated just outside the medieval wall, most of which was still intact at the time. When the theatre moved out into the one that is still used today, the Catholics held their Mass here until they built the tallest spire in Bath a few hundred yards away, then the Masons moved in, for some reason abandoning their stupendous and purpose-built lodge to the Quakers, who have only just moved out. Mysterious.
Looking up to the walls of the present day temple, you can still see the marks where the boxes of the theatre where situated, and beneath the chequered carpet is some fairly recent vaulting which goes over the original, sloping theatre floor. Those pillars on what is now a sort of altar were built for the stage, and most of the original woodwork is still behind the massive triptych with King Solomon in it's centre. Apart from being very wise, Solomon is supposed to be the first person to build a stone temple using masons, which is why he gets pride of place.
Some years ago, the Masons bought the organ which you can see just to the right of the stage, thinking it was comprised of all they could see on the day of the auction. When they went to collect it, they found that the lot contained another 1000 pipes - big enough to fill a church. I asked if it was still played, and the guide said that it was, but less and less Freemasons play the organ these days, so not very often.
Dotted around the place are 3D depictions of lumps of stone - dressed and undressed - representing the physical side of the ceremonies. Most of them are made of wood, painted to look like stone. This is because most masons have never handled the real, heavy thing before, and many are too old to be able to pick it up as well. Somehow it seems sacrilegious to fake stone in a Freemason's temple.
The strangest part of the whole place is this tiny Knights Templar chapel to the rear, though.
It used to be a private chapel for one of the Catholics, but has since been taken on by a very elite branch of the Knights - so elite, in fact, that our Mason guide could not (or would not) tell us anything about them at all, other than that they received guests from all over the world, just to pay a visit to this tiny little room. I suspect they would probably have had to kill him if he did.
I noticed a pair of Masonic swords on the alcove before the altar, and I said that I had seen an identical pair for sale in the flea-market, the day before, and that these were probably made by 'Wilkinson and Co.' as well. He said he didn't know about that.
When we were let into this weeny chapel, it was a very warm day outside, but it felt a little above freezing in it. Our guide said that we were lucky to visit during the summer, because in winter time, the place is unbearably cold. It was like walking into a supermarket cooling cabinet.
The original Knights Templar were Crusaders, and made so much money by pillaging the Middle East that they were able to hold the French King virtually to ransom by lending him money, and - as so often with the Jews - the first remedy the King resorted to rather than formulating a repayment schedule was to try to have every last one of them killed during one night of carnage, right across the country.
This is why the few survivors went underground, only resurfacing several hundred years later when it seemed safe to hope the modern rulers would not try it again. They are still bloody secretive for Christians though - you do not apply to be a Knight Templar, unlike the Freemason's website, which has a section marked, "Interested in becoming a Freemason?" I suspect if you can play the organ, you're in.
I'm off to Cornwall for the weekend. See you later.