With its scroll-topped blue pillars
and bold lettering, the door of 19
Hill Street is a distinctive entrance
to the Masonic Lodge No. 1. Despite being
a Georgian town house, it bears the name
“Mary’s Chapel” as that was the original location of the lodge in Niddry’s Wynd
– just off the Cowgate, until the street was demolished in 1787 to make way for
the South Bridge (see p. 41). The lodge is designated No. 1 in Scotland and it
may well be the oldest Freemason lodge in the world. References are made to
it in 1504 and it holds minutes of the oldest Masonic meeting on 31 July 1599,
making it the world’s oldest Masonic document.
This was the first lodge to admit speculative Freemasons, i.e. members who
were not builders. Some think the first such member (admitted in 1600) was
Sir Thomas Boswell, a distant ancestor of Samuel Johnson’s biographer; others think he may have just been signed in for a meeting. But there is clear proof
that in 1641 the natural philosopher Robert Moray and the Scottish army
colonel Henry Mainwaring were officially initiated as honorary members.
Other famous initiates were the Prince of Wales in 1870, and after him Kings
Edward VII and VIII (the one who abdicated).
If you look further up at the door, you will see an even more distinctive
embellishment above the window. An encircled star, with a series of numbers
and symbols, has been boldly carved into the stone. The four numbers on the
outside of the circle are simply the date 1893, the year it was proposed by Dr
George Dickson, the Master of this lodge. His design comprised a hexalpha, a
star made up of two opposing equilateral triangles (see following double-page
spread for more information on the history and symbolism of the hexalpha).
At their centre is a fiery G, the symbol of the Great Architect, i.e. God, radiating
his power. The top triangle represents the spirit, the lower one matter, and their
layout shows they are in balanced opposition: “As above, so below”. They are
surrounded by a circle of perfect universal harmony. This all tells the trained
eye that, due to the work of the lodge, all is well in the world.
Around the outside of the star are the letters “LEMCN⁰1”, which is a simple
abbreviation for “Lodge of Edinburgh, Mary’s Chapel No. 1”. The other Pictish
rune 16 symbols are the personal signature marks of each of the officials of
the Lodge of Scotland at the time, four of them Grand Lodge Office Bearers.
George Dickson himself appears at the top as an H with a rising sun above it.