The Regius Manuscript, the Masonic Constitution?

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Sophi

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Conspirabytes Level2The Regius Manuscript, also known as the “Halliwell Manuscript,” is one of the oldest known documents related to Freemasonry, dating back to approximately 1390. It’s written in Middle English verse and is considered a crucial piece of evidence for the early history of Freemasonry in England.

The authorship of the Regius Manuscript is unknown. The document itself does not provide any clues as to who specifically wrote it. It’s generally believed to have been created by an anonymous medieval scribe or cleric who was well-versed in both the craft of masonry and the moral and ethical teachings of the time.

The content suggests that the author was knowledgeable about the traditions and practices of the stonemasons’ guilds, as well as the classical and biblical references that were common in medieval scholarly works. The blending of practical, moral, and legendary elements indicates that the author intended to create a comprehensive guide for the masons, incorporating historical reverence and ethical guidance.

Since the manuscript was first brought to public attention by James O. Halliwell in 1839, it has often been referred to as the Halliwell Manuscript. However, Halliwell was a scholar who studied and published the manuscript, not its author. The true identity of the manuscript’s writer remains a mystery, adding an element of intrigue to its historical significance

The manuscript is a poem consisting of 794 lines and is often described as a “Masonic Constitutions.” It outlines the duties and obligations of a mason, providing insights into the moral and ethical framework of the craft at the time. Interestingly, the Regius Manuscript also incorporates elements of Christian doctrine, suggesting that medieval Freemasonry had a strong religious component.

The document begins with a legendary history of the craft, tracing its origins back to Euclid in Egypt. It then transitions into a set of regulations and moral teachings. Some key themes include:

  1. Moral Conduct: Emphasises virtues such as truthfulness, fidelity, and brotherly love.
  2. Obligations of Masons: Details the responsibilities masons have towards each other, their lords, and the church.
  3. Guild Structure: Describes the organisation and hierarchy within the guild, including the roles of apprentices and masters.
  4. Craft Secrets: Touches upon the importance of maintaining the secrets of the craft, hinting at the esoteric knowledge passed down within the fraternity.

Regius Manuscript excerptThe Regius Manuscript is preserved in the British Library (MS. Bibl. Reg. 17 A.I.). It was first brought to the attention of the public by James O. Halliwell, a noted Shakespearean scholar, in 1839, which is why it’s also known by his name.

The manuscript provides valuable insights into the social and professional lives of medieval masons and helps to trace the evolution of Freemasonry from operative stone masonry to the speculative philosophy it became in later centuries.

It’s fascinating to consider how this ancient text connects to the secretive and often romanticised world of modern Freemasonry. The rituals, symbols, and lore have evolved, but the Regius Manuscript offers a glimpse into the roots of these traditions, highlighting the enduring human quest for knowledge, moral improvement, and community.

The authorship of the Regius Manuscript is unknown. The document itself does not provide any clues as to who specifically wrote it. It’s generally believed to have been created by an anonymous medieval scribe or cleric who was well-versed in both the craft of masonry and the moral and ethical teachings of the time.

The content suggests that the author was knowledgeable about the traditions and practices of the stonemasons’ guilds, as well as the classical and biblical references that were common in medieval scholarly works. The blending of practical, moral, and legendary elements indicates that the author intended to create a comprehensive guide for the masons, incorporating historical reverence and ethical guidance.

Since the manuscript was first brought to public attention by James O. Halliwell in 1839, it has often been referred to as the Halliwell Manuscript. However, Halliwell was a scholar who studied and published the manuscript, not its author. The true identity of the manuscript’s writer remains a mystery, adding an element of intrigue to its historical significance.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Masonic Manuscripts

See also:

Unlocking the Legacy of Euclid: Exploring the Architect of Geometry and His Enduring Impact

The Regius Manuscript Full Text


Steff asks Sophi…

Steff:
Can you give some examples of text from the manuscript please?

Sophi:
Certainly, Steff. Here are some excerpts from the Regius Manuscript, rendered in Middle English, followed by a modern English translation for clarity:

Middle English:

Opening:

“Hic incipiunt constituciones artis gemetriae secundum Eucyldem.”

“Whose wol bothe wel rede and loke, He may fynde wryte yn olde boke Of grete lordys and eke ladyysse, That had mony chyldryn y-fere, ywysse. And had no rentys to fynde hem wyth, Nothur yn towne ny felde, ny fryth. A cownsel togeder they cowthe hem take, To ordeyne for these chyldryn sake, How they myght best lede here lyf Withouten grete desese, care, and stryf.”

Modern English:

“Here begin the constitutions of the art of geometry according to Euclid.”

“Whoever will both well read and look, He may find written in old books Of great lords and also ladies, That had many children together, indeed. And had no incomes to support them with, Neither in town nor field, nor in forest. A council together they could take, To ordain for these children’s sake, How they might best lead their life Without great distress, care, and strife.”

Middle English:

Lines 143-152:

“Every mason that is a mason, He must love well God, and holy church always, And his master also that he is with, Whersoever he goes in field or enclosed, And thy fellows thou love also, For that thy craft will that thou do.”

Modern English:

Lines 143-152:

“Every mason that is a mason, He must love well God, and holy church always, And his master also that he is with, Wherever he goes in field or enclosed, And thy fellows thou love also, For that thy craft will that thou do.”

Middle English:

Lines 497-508:

“Twelve artyculus there they fonde; Of artyculus there they wrote them y-wys, That he was a mason good mason, And he wrote them in olde booke. Hyt befelle they seyn, upon a tyme, He wrote them in olde booke. The first artycul of this geomety, The clerk Euclyde he founde hit with his honde, How that he was the first wryter of his book, And we all dyd come of hym y-wys, Ever more we shall us amende.”

Modern English:

Lines 497-508:

“Twelve articles there they found; Of articles there they wrote them indeed, That he was a good mason, And he wrote them in old book. It befell they say, upon a time, He wrote them in old book. The first article of this geometry, The clerk Euclid he found it with his hand, How that he was the first writer of his book, And we all did come of him indeed, Ever more we shall amend ourselves.”

These excerpts provide a glimpse into the language and style of the manuscript. They highlight the blend of practical regulations, moral instructions, and the legendary history of the craft as perceived by medieval masons. The text underscores the importance of community, ethical conduct, and the transmission of knowledge within the fraternity.

You can find the entire text here.

Steff:
Euclid is referred to extensively throughout the manuscript!?

Sophi:
Indeed, Euclid is mentioned prominently in the Regius Manuscript, reflecting the medieval belief that the origins of geometry—and by extension, the principles of masonry—can be traced back to the ancient Greek mathematician.

Euclid is repeatedly credited with establishing the foundational principles of geometry and, by extension, the craft of masonry. This connection to Euclid serves to underscore the notion that masonry is an ancient and honourable profession, rooted in the revered knowledge of the past. The manuscript’s frequent references to Euclid highlight the enduring legacy of classical knowledge and its importance in the medieval understanding of craftsmanship and intellectual tradition.

Steff:
It’s fascinating to see the threads of such influences throughout history and society.

Sophi:
Absolutely, Steff. The way historical and intellectual traditions intertwine is indeed fascinating. The Regius Manuscript is a prime example of how ancient knowledge and medieval society’s values were woven together to form the foundations of Freemasonry.

The medieval period saw a revival of classical learning, often referred to as the Renaissance of the 12th century, where scholars began to rediscover and revere ancient texts. Euclid’s “Elements,” one of the most influential works in the history of mathematics, was a cornerstone of this revival. The reverence for Euclid in the Regius Manuscript reflects this broader cultural movement.

Moreover, the manuscript’s blend of practical guidance, moral instruction, and legendary history demonstrates how Freemasonry was more than just a technical craft—it was a moral and philosophical framework. By tracing its origins to Euclid and Egypt, the manuscript situates masonry within a grand historical narrative, lending it prestige and a sense of timeless wisdom.

This intertwining of ancient influences with medieval societal structures highlights how knowledge is preserved, adapted, and reinterpreted across generations. It underscores the continuity of human curiosity and the pursuit of understanding, from the ancient scholars to the medieval masons, and even to today’s modern thinkers.

In modern times, Freemasonry still draws on these ancient and medieval traditions, incorporating symbolism, ritual, and moral philosophy. The Regius Manuscript, therefore, not only offers a window into the past but also provides a link to the present, showing how enduring these ideas and values can be.

It’s a testament to the enduring human spirit to seek knowledge, build communities, and find meaning in our shared history.

 

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