Lodge of Research No. 2429, which meets at Freemasons’ Hall, Leicester, was the scene for a unique event: the first time it had been addressed by a female researcher after their meeting on 23rd March 2015
The guest speaker was Maxine Gilhuys Notarbartolo from Florence. She was no stranger to Leicester having attended the 2014 symposium the lodge organised to celebrate the union of the two rival Grand Lodges in 1813. It was at that symposium that the speaker first saw the masonic marble table which graces the Leicestershire and Rutland Masonic Library and Museum, and that artefact set her research pulses going!
The Master of the Lodge, W Bro David Hughes, introduced the speaker as a true citizen of the world who, having been born in Guyana, was educated in Birmingham, and then worked for various international organisations in Geneva, Zurich and New York. Subsequent studies at the Universities of Bologna and Leiden continued the cosmopolitan nature of the speaker's life. Currently based in Florence she has developed a strong interest in the history of Freemasonry.
Maxine proceeded to hold the attention of all present with a wonderfully illustrated address on the history and provenance of the marble table. She showed how it was not Florentine work, but that its roots lay in the Pietre Dure tradition which had been imported into Malta from the Italian mainland by the Knights of St John.
Freemasonry flourished in this Knightly Order in the eighteenth century, and so it was natural that there should be a crossover between the rituals of the knights and that of the Craft. The octagonal form of the table was especially important in this respect. The octagon is an important form in church architecture and its eight sides have a special number significance in the Christian tradition. It seems the Knights of Malta used octagonal tables for some of their meetings and our marble table continues that tradition by being some form of tracing board or other instructional device.
It seems the table, known to be one of a small number, may have been commissioned by English masons resident on Malta with either the army, navy, mercantile or government in the early years of the nineteenth century. It was then shipped to England where it was fitted with its current base. It was then probably part of the furnishings of a stately home. Quite how it then passed to a suburban house in Nuneaton where it was until sold to us via an auction sale still remains a mystery. However, the speaker promised to continue her researches with a view to finding out more about the table’s ‘hidden years’ if at all possible.
Maxine’s interesting paper will be printed in the Transactions of the Lodge of Research, and will be available for purchase from the Lodge Secretary or the Editor of the Transactions in October 2015.