Ancient Constitutions and Old Masonic Manuscripts
In the old, operative stonemason days, the Old Charges were used in making a Mason. They are known by various names including Old Records, Legends of the Craft, Old Masonic Manuscripts, Antient (old, archaic word for Ancient) Constitutions, Antient Manuscripts and Old Constitutions.
The Old Charges are old, ancient documents that have been sent down to man from the 14th century. Their regulations, rules, and legends are now a part of Masonic traditional history. These ancient documents are in the form of parchment rolls and handwritten paper that have been stitched together in book form, pasted together or sewn together. Some are also in printed, modern book form.
These manuscripts have ages that range from 1390 to 1714. Some Old Manuscripts are now incorporated into Lodges Minute books. Some of the Old Manuscripts are Gothic script specimens while some of them are well-kept in the Masonic Library of West Yorkshire England and the British Museum.
Old Masonic Charges (From 1390 to 1714)
These Old Masonic Manuscripts or Old Charges form the basis of each Grand Lodge jurisprudence and modern Masonic Constitution. They show the continuity of the Masonic Institution for over 600 years and even more. They show valid proof through documents of the antiquity of Masonry. No other Craft have this same proof.
These Masonic Old Charges have a legendary and traditional format. They are written in arcane or Olde Englishe which makes them difficult to read by laymen or amateurs. So many of these words were written 600 years ago, so they mean something different today. A lot of people will have problems reading them. They wouldn’t understand their archaic wording. Only true language historians will be able to read the wordings clearly.
These Old Manuscripts have been studied and understood by Masonic historians all through the years. They have translated lots of them into laymen language that can be understood by almost anyone. After studying and understanding these Old Manuscripts carefully, proof has emerged that these Old documents were used to make a Mason in the Old days of Operative Freemasonry. Some of the documents were used for the constitution of Lodges in the old days.
There are about 19 major Old Charges and several minor Old Charges which make up to 100 in total. They have been sent down all through the centuries. Some are in British Museums while others are in well established, old libraries in the archives of Masonic Lodges. Some have been published by those who discovered them.
The Old Constitutions are quite similar in content, and Historians assume that they are copies of earlier documents that had been lost to book burnings, holocausts, wars and other chaotic circumstances. We must be grateful that some parchments still exist till date.
One of these manuscripts is the Halliwell manuscript that was written in poetic meter and has about 794 lines of rhymed verse. At about 600 years old, it is the oldest Masonic document in existence. The Halliwell manuscript is also known as the Regius manuscript as it was found with other documents and renamed later.
All the Old Constitutions start with an invocation to God Almighty, the Mighty Father of Heaven.
Freemasons are proud of their documented and ancient heritage. They are proud to be members of the oldest Fraternity in the world.
Name, Origin and Whereabouts of some Old Masonic Manuscripts
Here are the names, year of origin, and the current location of some Old Masonic Manuscripts.
Cooke Manuscript- 1490
York Manuscript, No 1- 1600
Dowland Manuscript- 1500
Sloane Manuscript, No. 3323- 1659
Sloane Manuscript, No. 3848- 1646 The British Museum
York Manuscript, No. 4- 1704
York Manuscript, No. 5- 1670
York Manuscript, No. 6- 1670
Landsdowne Manuscript- 1560
Lodge of Antiquity Manuscript- 1686
Harleian Manuscript, No 1942- 1660
Papworth Manuscript- 1714
Aitcheson-Haven Manuscript- 1666 Located at the Grand Lodge of Scotland
Alnwick Manuscript- 1701 Located at the Newcastle College of Rosicrucians
Edinburgh-Kilwinning Manuscript- 1670 Located at the Mother Lodge Kilwinning, No.0, Scotland
Grand Lodge Manuscript- 1583 Located at the Archives of the Grand Lodge of England
Harleian Manuscript, No 2054 Located at the Archives of the Grand Lodge of England
Halliwell Manuscript- 1390 Located at the King’s Library, British Museum
If you want to get more information about the Old Charges along with a full list of them, you can check Hughan’s Old Charges and the Mackey-Hughan-Hawkins Encyclopedia of Freemasonry.
You can check the website of Philbrick Lodge No. 2255 located in Essex England if you want to read the old manuscripts and documents.
Only uneducated and ignorant Masons will see these Old Charges as mere dusty pieces of Masonic history that have nothing to do with Freemasonry today. All masonic constitution, bylaws, rules, statutes, regulation, Grand Lodge and Blue Lodge bylaws and everything in Masonic charters contain some of what is written in the Old Constitutions.
These Old Masonic Manuscripts are built into bylaw books and constitutions of several Grand Lodge Constitution as the foundation of several Masonic jurisprudence. These bylaws and constitutions serve to regulate and govern the legal affairs of the Craft.