Free Church Masonic Ceremony

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An article from the John o' Groat Journal describes the masonic ceremony carried out while laying the foundation stone of the old Free Church in Tain in late August of 1843.

The building of the Free Church of this place having been contracted for some time ago, and workmen being actively engaged in clearing out the foundation preparatory to commencing the work, a wish was expressed by the inhabitants and others, that the foundation stone would be laid with masonic honours. An application was, with this view, accordingly made to the Brethren of St. Duthus Lodge; and a meeting was held by them in their hall, to consider the matter. it was decided by a majority of votes, that the request would be complied with.

Friday, the 25th ultimo, was appointed for the ceremony taking place: and, as soon as this was known, the day was looked forward to in anticipation of much pleasure, by both town and country. The day at length arrived. The early morning promised well; but, as it wore on, several murky clouds appeared hovering in the east, which foreboded no good. Every locality has its own weather-wise folks: but, as do tors differ, so did they on this occasion. One prophesied rain before noon -another supported our drooping spirits, by assuring that;

"The sun meridian in darting from on high
Lights the gay scene, and brightens up the sky."

Be this as it may, the preparations were not in the least slackened, more especially as the various approaches to the good old burgh were crowded with gaily-dressed visitors from the neighbourhood. By twelve o'clock, the hour appointed for the procession to start, there could not have been less than three thousand persons in the High Street. As soon as the clock chimed the hour, the Brethren, true to time, moved away from the door of their hall in the following order:- The Burgh Officers, carrying their halberts; the Provost, the Magistrates, walking three abreast: the Band: the Tyler, with his sword; the colours carried by two of the Brethren; the gilded mallet carried by an operative; the cornucopia, containing an abundance of corn, and the wine and oil in two silver cups, supported by two of the Brethren; the coins of the realm, some and other documents, in a sealed bottle, carried by a Brother; the Chaplain, bareheaded, carrying the Bible; the Wardens, with their batons; the Master and Past Master; then followed the rest of the Brethren, two and two.

After traversing almost all the streets and lanes of the burgh, the band playing the Masons March, the procession arrived at the spot at half-past one. The brethren having formed a ring in front of the crowd, the master placed himself on the east, supported by the past master, the senior warden on the west, and the junior warden on the south of the stone; then, by the assistance of operatives, the master turned and laid the stone, and the past master having applied the level, the senior warden the square, and the junior warden the plumb, to their respective purposes, and the master being thus assured that the stone was correctly placed, gave three knocks with the mallet, and, uncovering, as all the people did, made the following concise, but appropriate address:-

"May the Grand Architect of the universe grant a blessing on this building now begun, and enable us to bring to a happy termination this and every other work undertaken by us for His glory, and the good of this place and people." 

Three distinct trumpet flourishes, three huzzas, three claps. After this, Provost Murray deposited in a cavity of the stone a large crystal phial, hermetically sealed, containing various coins, newspapers, and other documents; and, after doing so, spoke thus: 

"It has now been my pleasing duty, in presence of this most respectable and numerous assemblage of the inhabitants of Tain and its vicinity, to deposit in the corner-stone of this building a sealed bottle, containing the coins of the present reign, together with the various documents and papers usual on such occasions, and descriptive of the constitution and principles of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. While this high honour has been conferred upon me by the people of this town, I feel it not the least that I have had an opportunity of thus publicly taking part with my fellow countrymen, in testifying our attachment and veneration for the distinguishing pride of Church of our fathers. 

It is pleasing to witness the public demonstration that has this day been made by all ranks of the community, and particularly by the office-bearers and brethren of St. Duthus Lodge of Freemasons, to whom, in an especial manner, I log, in my own name, and that of my fellow parishioners, to tender our very best thinks for the honour they have conferred on the important work which has this day brought us together. Our worthy clergyman will fully address you on this occasion, and, therefore, I shall not take up your time with any further remarks. It is unnecessary for me to say, that the prospect of his continuing to labour among us is, indeed, cheering, and should be made as a matter of gratitude to that Almighty God whom we would humbly pray to prosper the work of our hands."

Thereafter, were successively handed to the master, the cornucopia, from which he took the corn and strewed it on the stone, then the wine, which he poured on the stone, and afterwards the oil, which he poured over all and having uncovered, as before, expressed himself as follows:

"May the all bounteous hand of Heaven bless this town and district with an abundance of corn, wine, and oil, and with the necessaries and comforts of life; and may the same Almighty power long preserve this work from ruin and decay."

This having concluded the ceremony, so far as the Freemasons were concerned, the Rev. C. Mackintosh then stepped forward, and addressed himself to the crowd on the subject of the proceedings of the day. He then offered up a short prayer and sang a few verses, when the brethren of St. Duthus Lodge again fell into regular order, and marched back to their lodge, and the crowd quietly dispersed.

At four o'clock precisely, dinner was served up by brother James Ross, to which upwards of forty of the brethren did ample justice. The chair was occupied by R. W. M. Fergus Fergusson, Esq., assisted by Messrs Garioch and Ellison, vice presidents. Suitable toasts were given in the course of the evening, and many capital songs were sung by the brethren. About 10 o'clock the party broke up, highly gratified with the manner in which the proceedings of the day had been begun, carried on, and concluded.