The Kirkwall scroll is a fascinating piece of Masonic history, but not too much has been published about it. The writings that I know about the scroll are either old (J.B. Craven in 1897 and W.R. Day in 1925, both in Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, the first is mostly history, the latter about the symbolism), or short. It seems that in Cooper’s The Rosslyn Hoax? from 2007 some pages are dedicated to the scroll.
Today I want to have a look at a specific element on the scroll. The ‘seal’ in the third panel from the bottom.
According to Craven and later authors, the Kirkwall lodge was founded in 1736.
J.B. Craven writes/quotes:
The Lodge Kirkwall Kilwinning No. 382 was founded on the 1st day of October, 1736, by “John Berrihill, free Meason from the Antient Lodge of Stirline, and Wm. Meldrum, from the Lodge of Dumfermline.” These two brethren, having admitted other four, the six formed themselves “into a proper court” of which Mr. Alexander Baikie, Merchant in Kirkwall, was the first Master. The Lodge obtained a regular charter from Grand Lodge of Scotland on 1st December, 1740, which is signed by William St. Clair, of Roslin, Grand Master. The original charter is still carefully preserved in the Lodge, along with the curious Scroll presently to be referred to, and most of the old minutes of meeting and accounts of the Treasurers.
One of the founders came from an “Antient” lodge in Stirling, Scotland. Thus the conclusion is that that seal is the “Antient” seal. This poses a few problems though.
William Saint Clair, the mentioned Grand Master, was supposedly initiated in 1736, but he is also known as the first Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Scotland (or in full: “Grand Lodge of Antient Free and Accepted Masons of Scotland”), founded in… 1736, the same year as the lodge in Kirkwall was founded. He was initiated in Kilwinning, so who knows there is a connection with the name of the lodge “Kirkwall Kilwinning” that Craven mentions (also the first Master of the lodge seems to have come from Kilwinning). In any case, the Grand Lodge of Scotland is -of course- not the “Antient Grand Lodge of England”, but it could refer to the “Grand Lodge of Antient Free and Accepted Masons of Scotland”. As far as I know, that grand lodge never had an emblem anything similar to the seal on the scroll though.
The “Antient Grand Lodge of England” was only founded in 1751, but there is an interesting connection.
The seal of the “Antient Grand Lodge of England” looks a lot like the image on the Kirkwall scroll.
The odd thing is, the grand lodge of the Antients was started with the (in)famous Ahiman Rezon of Laurence Dermott. The cover of these ‘constitutions’ also have a seal, but this one has a noticeable difference:
The cherubim holding the seal are in this case obviously male. The symbols on the seal seem to be the same as on the seal on the scroll. A lion on the top left, an ox on the top right, a man on the bottom left and an eagle on the bottom right. This could be a reference to the four Evangelists. In any case, that element appears to be the same in the three images above. Also the seal of the Grand Lodge of Ireland, supposedly founded in 1725 has male cherubim, but the four images on the seal. The Grand Lodge of Scotland never seems to have anything similar to this.
It would be nice to find out if the seal of the “Antients” was designed after or before the publication of Ahiman Rezon.
Like I said, the “Antients” grand lodge was formed after the lodge in Kirkwall. What about the “Antient” lodge in Stirling? The “Lodge Ancient Stirling, No. 30” is now part of the Grand Lodge of Scotland. A history of the lodge can be found online (1). “In 1599 we find that the second of the Schaw Statutes named Stirling as the Third Head Lodge of Scotland in accordance with their Ancient privileges.” Further the history says:
The Speculative Lodge, whose records begin with the installation of Office-bearers on 28th December 1741, have in their possession the ancient charges belonging to the Operative Lodge (which is recognised as a Charter by Grand Lodge), a copy of the alleged Charter by King David I dated 1147, and two ancient brass plates, believed to be seventeenth century, on which are inscribed the different steps in Masonry.
A lodge has been active in Stirling for centuries, but records of the “Speculative Lodge” go back only to after the foundation of the Kirkwall lodge. Of course that does not mean that the Stirling lodge could not have existed. The lodge archives (which have a large gap) have records as old as 1147 (allegedly) and: “two ancient brass plates, believed to be seventeenth century, on which are inscribed the different steps in Masonry”. About these brass plates the history later mentions: “From the photographed copy it will be seen that the seventeenth century brass plates do in fact relate to the various degrees in Freemasonry including many of the higher orders which were at that time worked by this Ancient Lodge.”
So the person(s) who wrote the history say(s) that in the 17th century “higher orders” were worked in “this Ancient Lodge”. That could explain why some symbols on the Kirkwall scroll are connected to ‘high degrees’ by some authors. That does have to mean too that these ‘high degrees’ were already worked only on in the history of modern Freemasonry. I would love to see what symbols are on these brass plates.
The Stirling lodge from which one founding member of the Kirkwall lodge came was ancient, but was if it was “Antient”, is was part of the Antient Grand Lodge of Scotland.
Could it have used a seal that later inspired the seal of the “Antient Grand Lodge of England” and on the Kirkwall scroll? Could it have worked in different degrees, symbols of which found their way to the Kirkwall scroll?
Dating the scroll
C14 dating placed the scroll as early as the 15th century. The earlier mentioned Day wrote in 1925 that the scroll is made up of different parts which may explain why University of Oxford Research laboratory said (2):
We analysed material from the Kirkwall Scroll on two separate occasions” says a spokesman from the Archaeology and History of Art department which carried out the work. “You have to allow a certain margin of error in calibrating carbon content and the first sample taken from the outside edge of the material was possibly 18th or early 19th Century. The second piece which came from the central panel produced a much older date – 15th or Early 16th Century.
That does not help much. Do do we know how the lodge came in possession of the scroll then? Indeed we do, but not with 100% certainty. Robert Lomas (3) writes:
The lodge minutes for 27 December 1785 record:
“Bro. William Graeme, visiting brother from Lodge no 128 Ancient Constitution of England [Lodge Prince Edwin, In Bury East Lancs] was at his own desire admitted to become a member of this Lodge, and he accordingly signed the articles and Rules thereof”
Seven months later the minute book records that Bro William Graeme gifted to the Lodge a floor cloth. This is believed to be the Kirkwall Scroll. Its history before this time is not known.
The lodge name that Lomas puts between brackets is under dispute. What is also under dispute is Graeme’s role in the affair. The quote suggests that the scroll not necessarily had to come in the possession of the lodge at its foundation, so perhaps the Stirling connection is not all that interesting after all. By 1785 there was an “Antient” Grand Lodge. Graeme supposedly was member of one of their lodges in England and visited the Kirkwall lodge all the way up on the Orkney Islands bringing with him a gift. By that time there were also ‘high degrees’. 1785 Does not have to be the time of the manufacturing of the scroll. In his book The Rosslyn Hoax? R. Cooper suggests that Graeme had the scroll made. In that case, it is still pretty old, but not predating ‘modern Freemasonry’.
Not really. With the current information it seems that the Kirkwall lodge was founded -at least partly- from a lodge predating the Grand Lodge of Scotland and the Antient Grand Lodge of England. When the Kirkwall lodge had been active for a while, they got a visit from an “Antient Grand Lodge of England” member and got the scroll as a gift. The lodge itself was part of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, but apparently accepted visitors from the “Antients” of England. This makes the scroll an “Antient” gift. The seal indeed could very well be the “Antient Grand Lodge of England” seal. If that is so, the scroll has to be dated between 1751 and 1786.
Perhaps you noticed the name of “William St. Clair, of Roslin”. That is indeed a connection to the family who had the famous Rosslyn Chapel built. It is -therefor- quite surprising that the scroll was not sucked into the craze that followed the books of Dan Brown and that the information about it is stil scarce. I have not (yet) read the book of archivist of the Grand Lodge of Scotland Cooper. It seems that he did quite some research into the scroll.