Thirty years in the making, a replica of the Ark of the Masonic Covenant is being crafted to serve as a permanent memorial of the Union of the two Grand Lodges. John Hamill explains its history
Sir John Soane (1753-1837) was one of England’s greatest architects. He became a Freemason in 1813 and, after the Union of the two Grand Lodges in 1813, was the first to hold the new office of Grand Superintendent of Works. As such, he was the professional adviser overseeing the maintenance and development of Freemasons’ Hall in London.
The first work he produced for Grand Lodge was what became known as the Ark of the Masonic Covenant. To bring the Union of the Grand Lodges into being, both parties had agreed Articles of Union that laid the foundations of the United Grand Lodge of England. As an important document, it was to be carried into each Quarterly Communication of the Grand Lodge by the Grand Registrar. Soane offered to produce an ‘ark’ to stand in front of the Grand Master’s throne into which the document could be safely placed while the meeting was in progress.
It was an impressive piece of furniture, triangular in shape with an Ionic, Corinthian or Doric column at each corner and surmounted by a dome topped by Soane’s signature lantern. It stood in front of the Grand Master’s throne from 1814 until 1883 when disaster struck. A fire broke out in the old Grand Temple, gutting its interior and destroying the portraits of former Grand Masters, most of the furniture and Soane’s Ark. Much was done to reconstruct the interior of the room and reinstate the paintings and furniture but Soane’s Ark was not replaced.
One of Soane’s 20th-century successors as Grand Superintendent of Works was architect Douglas Burford. He became interested in Soane’s masonic work and did a great deal of research in the archives at Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London. There he discovered Soane’s original plans for the Ark.
Burford wrote the subject up in a paper for Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076, and hoped to persuade Grand Lodge to have a replica constructed. It has taken 30 years for that dream to become a reality.
Burford was delighted to learn that, as part of the Tercentenary celebrations, Soane’s Ark was to be reconstructed. He was even more pleased to have an opportunity to travel to York to see the work underway.
The project has been one of cooperation between the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, Sir John Soane’s Museum, the Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation and master wood carvers Houghtons of York.
The Factum Foundation is an organisation that uses digital technology to accurately record heritage items for conservation purposes, to enable facsimiles to be produced and, as in the case of this project, to reconstruct lost items.
Houghtons of York is an old family firm that uses traditional methods and materials to produce new architectural woodwork or furniture, as well as to restore and reconstruct damaged and lost items. The combined efforts of these two firms have produced a superb and accurate reconstruction of one of the lost treasures of Grand Lodge.
On completion, the new Soane’s Ark will be the centre of an exhibition at Sir John Soane’s Museum opening on 11 October. Under the title Soane’s Ark: Building with Symbols, the exhibition will discuss Soane’s membership of Freemasonry and include other masonic items from his collections.
The Ark will then be transported to the Royal Albert Hall for the great Tercentenary celebration, where it will be dedicated by the Grand Master. Afterwards it will, like the original, take its place in the Grand Temple as a permanent memorial.
The Minutes of the Regular Convocation of 30 April 2009were confirmed.
Committee Meetings 2010
23 March, 28 September and 1 December.
Petitions For New Chapters
Petitions were granted for a new Chapter to be attached to Edward Holiday Lodge No. 7997, to be called Edward Holiday Chapter No. 7997, Dewan Freemason, 15 Jalan 18/16, Taman Kanagapuram, 46000 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia (Eastern Archipelago); for a new Chapter to be attached to Lodge of Enlightenment No. 9550, to be called Chapter of Enlightenment No. 9550, Masonic Hall, Deyncourt Gardens, Upminster (Essex).
Charters of Confirmation
Charters of Confirmation were granted for the following Chapters, the original Charters having been either lost or destroyed: Commercial Travellers Chapter No. 2795 (London); Amicus Chapter No. 3772 (London); Mount Kenya Chapter No. 5638 (East Africa) and Square Mile Chapter No. 9352 (London).
A Centenary Jewel has been granted to Hauley Chapter No. 797 (Devonshire), Sir Watkin Chapter No. 1336 (North Wales), Eldon Chapter No. 1755 (Somerset), Chiswick Chapter No. 2012 (Middlesex), Astley Chapter No. 2997 (Northumberland, Fairfax Chapter No. 3255 (Yorkshire, West Riding).
Grants of transfer were approved as follows: Peace and Friendship Chapter No. 7414 (London) to be detached from Peace and Friendship Lodge and attached to Highgate Lodge No. 1366 (London) and be known as Highgate Chapter No. 1366.
The following Chapters have surrendered their Charters: Imperial Vitruvian Chapter No. 87, in order to amalgamate with WilliamPreston Chapter No. 766 (London); Fraternity Chapter No. 1697 and Cribden Chapter No. 7285, in order to amalgamate with Chapter of Fidelity No. 274 (East Lancashire); London Scottish Rifles Chapter No. 2310, in order to amalgamate with Scots Chapter No. 2319 (London);Cavendish Chapter No. 2620, in order to amalgamate with Æsculapius Chapter No. 2410 (London) and Israel Chapter No. 6824, in order to amalgamate with Carnarvon Chapter No. 1735 (South Africa, Western Division).
The following Chapters have surrendered their Charters: Acacia Chapter No. 1309 (Middlesex), Addiscombe Chapter No. 1556 (London), Guelph Chapter No. 1685 (London), Raymond Thrupp Chapter No. 2024 (Middlesex), Shurmur Chapter No. 2374 (Essex), Concordia Chapter No. 2685 (South Africa, North), Eltham Palace Chapter No. 2980 (London), Chapter De Aar No. 3198 (South Africa, Central Division), Chapter Puerorum, No. 3377 (London), Seymour Bell Chapter No. 3635 (Northumberland), St Ann's Chapter No. 3691 (London), Georgian Chapter No. 6752 (Hampshire and Isle of Wight), White River Chapter No. 7082 (South Africa, North), Thomas Telford Chapter No. 8029 (Staffordshire) and Centre Chapter No. 8568 (Middlesex). The Chapters have been erased from the register of Grand Chapter and the Charters cancelled.
'Lest We Forget'
Some thoughts for Armistice Day on Freemasonry in the First World War and the Masonic Peace Memorial of those who fell, was given by D.W. Burford and J.M. Hamill.
Meetings of Supreme Grand Chapter
Future Convocations will be held on 29 April 2010, 10 November 2010 and 28 April 2011.