Since the beginning of humanity, man has been seeking for the very roots of his existence. This search can be explained as means to overcome an insecurity, by reaffirming certain steady points of reference, which reach all the way back to the beginning of time. It is interesting, that despite the fact that many centuries have passed, these theories persist to bewilder man.
There are several theories in regard to the history of Freemasonry, including the Ancient Greek and Egyptian Mysteries, Crusaders, and the professional guilds of France and Germany. However, the only theory that still holds strong evidence on the origins of Freemasonry is that of the professional guilds of Operative Masons, and Stone Masons that travelled from place to place during the erection of the great Gothic Cathedrals.
There is indeed indisputable evidence of the participation of non-professionals in Masonic guilds. These men were called “Accepted Masons” and participated in the guilds’ labors practically as equals. Such historical examples emerge in Scotland from 1599, and then in England, from October 16, 1646, when according to his diary, philosopher, and alchemist Elias Ashmole, was made an accepted Mason.
This leads us to the historical date of June 24, 1717, when representatives of four London Lodges met at Goose and Gridiron Inn, creating thus, the Premier Grand Lodge in the world – the Grand Lodge of England. That is the actual starting point in the history of Freemasonry.
From these four Lodges, three have been operating to this day with different names and numbering: The first is the Lodge of Antiquity. Νο 2. The third, the Lodge of Fortitude and Old Cumberland. No. 12. And the fourth is the Royal Somerset House and Inverness Lodge No 4. The second Lodge that met at the Crown Inn was disbanded in 1736. The discrepancy in numbering occurred after the unification of the Grand Lodges of the Moderns and the Antients respectively, which took place in 1813.
Following the first meeting, the first convocation was scheduled on St. John the Baptist’s day, June 24, 1717, at the Goose and Gridiron Inn. There, attendees elected by show of hands, Anthony Sayer as Grand Master, and Capt. Joseph Elliot and carpenter Jacob Lamball, as wardens.
Freemasonry subsequently, started to grow rapidly, not only in England, but also in Ireland, Scotland, France, Germany, and the rest of Europe. In Ireland, and Scotland the first Grand Lodges were consecrated in 1725, and 1736 respectively. At the same time, antagonistic masonic bodies emerged, and in 1725, we saw a Grand Lodge forming in York, named The Grand Lodge of All England. The Lodges that constituted it were mainly from Northern England, but eventually they either broke up (the last breaking up in 1792), or became absorbed by the Grand Lodge of England. Other such masonic bodies included the Grand Lodge of England south of the River Trent and Scots Grand Lodge.
However, the most important rival of the Grand Lodge of England, came from the Grand Lodge of England according to the Old Institutions, or as it became more commonly known, the Grand Lodge of the Antients or Atholl (named after the two Dukes of Atholl, who served as Grand Masters during a thirty year period). The Antients dubbed the members of the first Grand Lodge, the “Moderns” as they supported that the latter made unacceptable reforms, which the former had not made. The First Grand Lodge never accepted the “Moderns” characterization, and instead called themselves the ““Premier” Grand Lodge.
In 1813 the Antients and the Moderns decided to unite with the Duke of Sussex being the Grand Master. Through this union, the new masonic body that emerged became known as the United Grand Lodge of England – a name it still holds to this day. The UGLE is based at the Freemasons’ Hall in Great Queen Street where the building evolved into its contemporary form in 1933. From the very first years of the Grand Lodge’s operation, new lodges started emerging in European countries, and British colonies. In North America, specifically, the first English Lodges appeared around 1730 from the Moderns, and 1751 from the Antients.
Today the United Grand Lodge of England, is globally recognized with the distinguishing title “Mother Grand Lodge” This title of course is a distinction of the UGLE’s historical contribution, and honor, and does not give any special authority. Today, freemasonry is present in practically every country operating under democratic regimes.