How one member's medal inspired a new era of masonic lodge jewels

Friday, 07 December 2018

Commemorating the membership of the Earl of Middlesex, the Sackville medal was to usher in a new era of diverse and exquisite masonic lodge jewels

The exhibition Bejewelled: Badges, Brotherhood and Identity at the Library and Museum of Freemasonry features more than 150 masonic jewels and traces their history, creation and meaning. But one shining item dates from the very beginning of this story, and would lead to all other lodge jewels.

A lodge in Florence struck the Sackville medal in 1733 to commemorate the membership of Charles Sackville, Earl of Middlesex. The lodge seems to have been independently created, as no warrant from England exists. 

The medal was not intended to be worn. It was struck by lodge members in honour of their Master and was meant to be kept as a memento, and as a gift to visiting Freemasons. That said, all three copies in the Library and Museum show signs of being used as jewels. One has a hole pierced into it while the others have had clasps fitted and later removed. It was from this beginning that the immense diversity of lodge jewels began.

As one would expect given its age, the medal wears its masonic influences lightly. On the obverse is a classical raised bust of Sackville naming him ‘magister’ (master) and on the reverse sits a figure of Harpocrates, the Greek god of secrecy, carrying a horn of plenty with the inscription ‘Ab Origine’ (to the founders). 

More overt is the perfect ashlar surrounded by stonemasons’ tools resting at the figure’s feet. But until research in the early-20th century proved there was a lodge in Florence, there was still debate about whether the medal was even masonic. The mason’s tools here are strewn around and the square and compasses are not yet given prominence. Interestingly, at his request, the medal does not refer to Sackville’s noble titles, and this may show that to be Master of a lodge was already considered an honour. 

One other famous, or even infamous, member was Tommaso Crudeli. A local man, he became the lodge Secretary, but on 25 June, 1737, the lodge was condemned by the Chief Inquisitor in Rome and closed down. Crudeli was arrested in an effort to discover the activities and members of the lodge. Although interrogated for several years, he did not reveal the names of his fellow Freemasons and his release was eventually negotiated. His health broken, he died shortly afterwards, taking his masonic secrets with him.

The Sackville medal is one of many exquisite and historic examples on display in Bejewelled: Badges, Brotherhood and Identity at the Library and Museum of Freemasonry until 24 August 2019. Open from 10am to 5pm Monday to Saturday. Admission is free.

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