A Canterbury tale

The links between Freemasonry and Canterbury Cathedral have helped preserve this iconic building. Glyn Brown gets to the foundations of a historic relationship that was only renewed 10 years ago

Canterbury Cathedral is a place of strange and majestic beauty, from the echoing cloisters and soaring Bell Harry Tower to the dazzling stained-glass windows and vaulted ceilings. 

Founded in AD597, rebuilt and enlarged, it seems to sanctify and protect Canterbury. With the pale Caen-stone grandeur of this UNESCO World Heritage Site dwarfing the modern buildings around it, the Cathedral has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries. Chaucer’s motley crew are perhaps the best known of those travelling to its sanctuary to worship at the seat of the Anglican church and the shrine of St Thomas Becket. 

The sense of peace and the knowledge of the sheer human endeavour that went into its construction make the Cathedral a deeply moving place. Added to which, there are ties between Freemasonry and the very fabric of the Cathedral that go far back in time.

The building has survived all sorts of trauma, from the civil war to damage during World War II, and so requires ongoing restoration. And this, in part, is where Freemasonry comes in today. Not only does the Grand Charity donate regularly, but Kent Freemasons and their neighbouring Provinces have pledged to raise a substantial sum for a particularly urgent project. 

Launched by Provincial Grand Master of East Kent Geoffrey Dearing, the 2017 Canterbury Cathedral Appeal is being coordinated by Roger Odd (pictured), Past Deputy Provincial Grand Master of East Kent: ‘For a long time, I had no idea there had been links between the Cathedral and Freemasons,’ Roger admits. ‘Then I realised Archbishops of Canterbury had been Freemasons – people like Geoffrey Fisher, who crowned our current Queen. I also saw a picture of Past Provincial Grand Master of Kent Lord Cornwallis at a service in 1936. There had been connections, but the relationship hadn’t been re-established for some time.’

It was 10 years ago, when Roger was asked to find out if Freemasons could attend a Cathedral Evensong service, that this all changed. ‘I made an approach, met someone from the Cathedral Trust, which was about to launch an appeal for restoration work funding, and our relationship started again. It was really just us asking what Freemasons could do to help.’

The relationship has since blossomed and Roger now visits the Cathedral several times a month, often going behind the scenes. ‘It is such a privilege. You see the actual construction of this glorious, iconic building, how it’s survived, how bits haven’t survived – and why it needs such tender loving care.’

‘It is such a privilege to see the actual construction of this glorious, iconic building.’ Roger Odd

Investing in craft

One of the more resonant things to have come out of the relationship is the grant of £22,000, given for the past three years by the Grand Charity towards funding an apprentice stonemason. ‘The trainees are passionate about what they’re doing, and it’s lovely to see some of them now becoming master masons and trainers themselves,’ says Roger.

The Kent Museum of Freemasonry is currently mounting a timely exhibition to explain the bond between Freemasons and the Cathedral building. A video features a stonemason at work: ‘He’s a young stonemason who we supported and he’s so dedicated, so enthusiastic, and only too pleased to show you how to try the job yourself – he let me handle the tools so I understood it.’ 

How did that feel? ‘I was scared, first of all! It’s the skill of being able to chip stone away at an angle, to use that heavy maul and chisel correctly. Some of these tools are years old, but the masons know exactly how to make the right groove and create the perfect figure or moulding.’

Heather Newton, stonemason and the Cathedral’s head of conservation, sees the Freemasons’ support as nothing less than a blessing. ‘We’re desperately in need of funds,’ she says. ‘It’s a huge building, and there’s always something that needs doing. The Freemasons have been immensely generous, but the fact that they’ve given much of their donation specifically for training apprentices is particularly helpful. It’s proper, practical help, and in many cases it’s been a lifeline for some very talented people. You see them develop over the course of the apprenticeship – the experience enriches them.’

For Newton, the stonemasons are the ‘guardians’ of the Cathedral. It’s almost as if the building is a living, breathing thing that holds people’s hopes and beliefs within it. ‘It’s exactly like that, an extraordinary place.’ But like any living thing, it needs support. ‘The weather throws everything at the Cathedral. The south side gets lashed by rain and wind, then hot sun in summer. The north side is attacked by cold.’ 

Does it cause you pain when you see it start to crumble? 

‘It does sometimes, when you see really old little bits of detail just hanging on by a whisker. If something precious is on the brink we take it out and put it in a safe place, replacing it with as accurate a copy as we can. After all, the original will still bear that first stonemason’s marks.’

The most pressing issue is the deterioration of the north-west transept and its pinnacles. One of the oldest parts of the building, dating back to the 11th century, it supports the area of the Martyrdom, the small altar to St Thomas Becket, as well as one of the breathtaking stained-glass windows Freemasons of the past helped provide, dating from 1954. 

With the Cathedral in need of support, it was a happy coincidence that Roger was considering how best to mark the Freemasons’ Tercentenary. The result is that the Provinces of East and West Kent, Sussex and Surrey have pledged to raise £200,000 by the end of the year to enable restoration work already underway to be completed.

‘The Freemasons have been immensely generous. They’ve given proper, practical help.’ Heather Newton

Masonic foundations

And so to the Kent Museum of Freemasonry, where you will discover – if you don’t already know – that Freemasonry is thought to have origins in English stonemasons who built the great cathedrals and churches of the Middle Ages. 

Tony Eldridge, a museum trustee and volunteer, says visitor numbers have risen notably since its refurbishment in 2012: ‘We’ve had 9,000 visitors in the past 12 months, over 5,000 of those non-masons.’ From the interactive children’s area to the surprising list of masons (including George Washington and ‘Buzz’ Aldrin), the museum opens a door on Freemasonry, particularly through the current exhibition tracing modern – and ancient – bonds with the Cathedral. 

A semi-professional singer, Tony often sings at Canterbury Cathedral and knows it well: ‘A Canon, Tom Pritchard, once said to me, “If you think of the prayers that have soaked into the walls, it’s no wonder people feel so uplifted here.”’ Or as Roger says, ‘The more I get involved with the Cathedral, the more I feel, “Aren’t I lucky to be a part of this?” ’ 

Find out more about the Kent Museum of Freemasonry at www.kentmuseumoffreemasonry.org.uk 

Published in Features

Canterbury connection

An exhibition has opened in East Kent that reveals the enduring link between Canterbury Cathedral and local masons. Heather Newton, head of conservation at the cathedral, said, ‘[We are] grateful to the Freemasons for their support over many years. The exhibition allows us to celebrate this and give the public an insight into our craft.’

Roger Odd (above), Past Deputy PGM for East Kent, said, ‘Our connections with the cathedral are not just local, with the national Freemasons’ charity recently donating £22,000 to fund an apprentice stonemason. And to celebrate the Tercentenary, the Freemasons of Kent, Surrey and Sussex have pledged to raise £200,000 towards the restoration of the north-west transept and its pinnacles.’

Read more about the links between Canterbury Cathedral and Freemasonry here.

Thursday, 15 March 2012 00:00

Catching the fishing bug

Fishing days out organised by masons have been growing in popularity

The Province of East Kent members of the Masonic Trout and Fishing Club certainly rose to the occasion when the club staged its final day out of the season with rod and line for Portal School Dover at the Chart Fisheries in the Weald of Kent. For the local masons it had been a successful season of fishing arranged especially for disadvantaged young people, and the prizes and certificates of achievement for Portal School pupils were presented to the youngsters by Deputy Provincial Grand Master Roger Odd.

Thursday, 09 February 2012 14:59

East Kent Hospice Awards

Since 1984, the Freemasons’ Grand Charity has donated £8.7 million to hospices throughout England and Wales, supporting the ongoing compassionate care (physical, social and spiritual) which they give to patients and their families. During last year a total of £600,000 was distributed to 226 hospices. This included an allocation of £100,000 specifically for services dedicated to caring for children. As well as supporting individuals who require hospice care, staff will also support families and close friends during the illness and bereavement.

These grants are awarded and distributed each year via Provinces. On Saturday, 7th January 2012, at the meeting of the Millennium Lodge of Charity, the Deputy Provincial Grand Master, Roger Odd, and the Master of the Lodge, Brian Monk, had the great pleasure of presenting the grants for 2011 to the representatives of 6 local hospices.

Roger said ‘Our hospices provide an invaluable service to many patients and families in times of great need and personal distress and we, the members of the Masonic Province of East Kent, are proud to help sustain this important service through our charitable giving by the Grand Charity and supported by our 2014 Festival’.

During the presentations, each representative gave a brief and informative outline of the work of their hospice and the services that they provide and paid tribute to all the members of the Masonic Province of East Kent for their unparalleled acts of charity that enables such a difference to be made to people’s lives. Dr John Reuther, a Grand Lodge Officer, also gave a talk on ‘The Changing Face of Charity’.

In concluding the awards, the Provincial Grand Charity Steward, Wayne Smith announced that the 2014 Festival had now raised £2 million, two thirds of our target.

Wayne said ‘The words ‘thank you’ are often lost in our selfless and untiring efforts to raise money for our 2014 Festival. It is therefore an honour, on behalf of the Province, for me to praise you all in the work so far and for your future efforts which I know will make the Festival a huge success’.

Hospice Grants

Hospice Received by
Demelza House Children's Hospice Pat Flanagan
Ellenor Lions Hospice (Adult) Linda Trew & Elaine Higgins
Heart of Kent Hospice Jenny Watkins
Pilgrims Hospice - Canterbury (Pilgrims Hospice in East Kent) Dr Richard Morey
Pilgrims Hospice - Thanet (Pilgrims Hospices in East Kent) Dr Richard Morey
Hospice - Ashford (Pilgrims Hospices in East Kent) Dr Richard Morey
Published in The Grand Charity
Thursday, 01 December 2011 15:50

A season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

As if we need reminding of the fact that the summer had slipped away, when the strident tones of the alarm announced the arrival of the day of the final East Kent Fishing Charity's event of the season and it was still dark - groan! However all gloomy thoughts of short days were dispelled on the journey to Chart Fisheries in the beautiful Weald of Kent as we enjoyed a morning of clear blue skies, a warming sun and pockets of mist trapped in the low ground. As my good friend Bro Len Hopkinson remarked after extensively quoting Keats - 'not even a coarse fisherman could fail to be moved by the beauty of the day'!

Yes indeed, this was to be the last of four events in 2011 in what can only be described as a highly successful season of fishing for disadvantaged young people. With a now well established and enthusiastic team, all of the usual routines had swung effortlessly into action as we prepared to receive our fishing partners from the Portal School, Dover. At the stroke of ten and promptly on cue, a group of very excited young men disembarked from their transport, each one keen to learn and anxious to get started.

 From the outset the competition was fierce to be the most successful young fisherman of the day and in barely no time at all, excited cries heralded the first of many catches of the day. The school staff in attendance were surprised and amazed in equal measure by how attentive the young people were and how they remained focussed on what they were doing. It was also heartening to witness the obvious rapport being generated between the casters and their young charges, evidence if any were needed, of the benefits of our work within the community.

We were very pleased to receive the Deputy Provincial Grand Master, Roger Odd, who met with all of the young people and kindly agreed to award the certificates of achievement and prizes. In his closing address, Roger paid tribute to the members who gave their time so freely in support of such a worthwhile cause and for the happiness they generated.

Particular thanks are due to Ray Smith, Event Organiser, Len Hopson, Caster Manager, Pat Flanagan, Branch Secretary and Tim Pierpoint, Branch Treasurer - thanks guys for all your hard work in preparing for and delivering a wonderful season.
Friday, 18 November 2011 11:59

Hebrew Service at Margate Synagogue

Freemasonry is not a religion, but as a precondition of membership acknowledgement of belief in a Supreme Being is required. In recent years the members of the Province of East Kent have attended Evensong Servises bi-annually at Rochester Cathedral and last year at Canterbury Cathedral. The idea of holding a service at a local synagogue (thereby underscoring the broad faith basis of the membership) having been suggested, this was arranged under the auspices of the Provincial Grand Chapter, with the kind permission of the Margate Hebrew Congregation, at the Margate Synagogue on Sunday 19th June 2011.

The day was a mixture of sun, wind and showers, with the thunderous display of the Margate Air Show overhead. The Provincial Grand Chapter Stewards ushered the 120 strong congregation to their appointed places in the Synagogue. The Provincial Grand Superintendent, Michael Robin Bailey, his Deputy, Trevor Climpson, their ladies and the Deputy Mayor and Mayoress of Margate, were then processed in by the Provincial Grand Chapter Director of Ceremonies, Neil Johnstone.

The congregation were honoured by the presence of the Reverend Malcolm Weisman OBE, the Chief Rabbi's minister to small communities, who officiated at the service. Having welcomed the congregation, he gave a short introduction to explain what would follow. The order of service was printed in Hebrew with an English translation. After the Opening Ode, a thanksgiving prayer was offered by the Craft Provincial Assistant Grand Chaplain, the Reverend Howard Pashley. The Grand Superintendent read Zechariah Chapter 4, verses 1 to 7. Later the Deputy Provincial Grand Master, Roger Odd, read Genesis Chapter 49 verses 1 to 12 and the Deputy Grand Superintendent continued the readi to verse 28.

The Ark was opened by a Synagogue member and local Freemason, Jon Lloyd and a Scroll taken out by David Gradus, the Secretary of the Margate Hebrew Congregation. Prayers were offered for the Royal Family and peace in the world before the Scroll was replaced and the Ark closed. The Reverend Malcolm Weisman then gave an outstanding address, in the course of which he made particular reference to his appreciation of the common beliefs of the Hebrew faith and Freemasonry.

The service was brought to an end with the Closing Ode and National Anthem, the singing being led by Companion Tony Eldridge.

The Officiating Minister, Provincial Executive and distinguished guests then retired in procession to the ante-room, where they were joined by the rest of the congregation and provided with kosher wine and challah bread.

The Grand Superintendent thanked everyone in general for making this special occasion such a success and the Margate Hebrew Congregation in particular for making the East Kent Freemasons so welcome. He concluded by presenting David Gradus with a cheque for £250 as a contribution towards the Synagogue's building fund.

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