The Five Noble Orders of Architecture

by MasterMason
Save to PDFPrint to Paper

Why Not Six ??

What happened to the GOTHIC ???

What order of architecture still abounds?

What order of architecture is not mentioned in our ritual? GOTHIC


Have you ever wondered how Freemasonry developed from those old builders in stone? those old Masons?


What gave them a system of morality unequalled by any other craft or guild?


I have been interested in the skills of these builders, and have visited their works whenever I could. Those marvellous buildings; The Cathedrals, Churches and Castles of Britain and Europe. What style are they?




Our craft esteems the Ionic, Doric and Corinthian represented in the columns of the Masters and Wardens Pedestals. In our rituals we are taught only of the Five Noble Orders But in reality there are six and the greatest and Noblest of all is GOTHIC.


It was the Greeks who developed the Noble Orders, starting with the Doric which they took from Egypt via Moses and King Solomon.


The Doric is the first of the Three Greek Orders and the simplest. It is found in Greece Sicily and Southern Italy. The finest example is The Parthenon on the Acropolis at Athens. It was favoured by the Greeks for their temples.


It represents the body of a man, whose body length is about 6 times that of his foot so its height is six times the diameter at the base. Thus the Doric Pillar exhibits the proportions, strength and beauty of the body of a man.


The Ionic is placed second although it was developed at the same time  as the Doric, Its best example is the Erechtheion, also on the Acropolis at Athens. The Ionic came from Assyria, however the Greeks refined it, it is modelled on the form of a woman whose body is eight times the diameter at the base which makes it slenderer more like a female figure. The flutes on the column were representative of the folds on a woman’s gown. Thus the Ionic Pillar exhibits the adornment , delicacy and proportions, of a woman. The Greeks then developed the more refined and delicate Corinthian the most beautiful of the five. The Corinthian is the third of the orders and is a variant of the Ionic.


Its main difference is in the Capital. It was developed and used by the Romans who wanted a more beautiful style for their buildings and the Corinthian with its exuberance and the richness of its decorations and the fact that it was finer in it’s proportion, being built following the form of a young maiden. It’s length being ten times the diameter of its base.


The Romans took the Doric and from it developed the Tuscan with which came the Roman Arch and so were able, using lintels to build multi story buildings like the Colosseum which even today is a marvellous building.


The Romans then mingled the ornaments of the Ionic and Corinthian and made what we now know as the Composite.


So there we have the Five Noble orders of Architecture:



The application of these pillars to Freemasonry as Wisdom Strength and Beauty is as you can see quite apt. The Worshipful Master is represented by the Ionic, the Senior Warden by the Doric and the Junior Warden by the Corinthian.


Where do we see these orders? Only in their ruins.


Which of the orders survives in abundance??




GOTHIC !! From whence did it come? Who invented it? or did it just grow?


The Italians called it Gothic after the Goths who were supposedly an uncivilised group of savages from the North. We all know who were the uncivilised people from the North. The Germans, Russians and Scandinavians. It is likely that our own uncivilised thugs, the Crusaders on their trips to the Middle East, brought back to Western Europe and Britain, the idea of the Gothic Arch.


It is certain that the Norman Conquest started an era of building the like of which had never before been seen. The Normans or French developed vaulting which combined with the Gothic Arch gave grace and beauty to the interiors.  Freemasonry was established with the Gothic, which ran from the twelfth century on. However there is no mention of Gothic in our ritual, with which our Masonic forebears worked more than any other.


Why is it left completely untouched ?

Did the ritual predate it? NO


It was most probable that it was protected by secrecy. The need to know, carefully guarded, so that no written records were allowed. Masonic lodges were in existence in the tenth century and to builders, “master masons “ The secrets of the Masonic arts were confined. Surely our ritual should acknowledge Gothic as a form of which we should have some education and recognition, the style, the period in which it appeared, it’s characteristics will lead us to a better understanding of Freemasonry, why we are here to-day and why Freemasonry is what it is?


All over England and Western Europe the Gothic style and form was so similar that it would seem to support the theory that Masonic lodges spread from country to country taking their secrets of construction and geometry with them. Indeed “Masons Marks” can be found in all the great churches and cathedrals regardless of religion.


In England there developed a lighter version known as “English Gothic” which melded Italianate with Gothic and developed into the architectural style used by Sir Christopher Wren to build St. Paul’s Cathedral. Sir Christopher Wren was a Freemason . Indeed a Grand Master, and he considered that Gothic belonged to Freemasonry, and that perhaps it did not originate from the Goths but from the Saracens as a visit to the Moorish built Alhambra Palace in Spain would show.


Wren was also Surveyor General of British works of architecture and was the foremost authority on the subject. It is believed that the early gothic masons worked only from a ground plan and projected the elevation with a square and the arches with a pair of compasses, this was thought by some to be because of the secrecy, but others thought that they had not yet developed the finesse in their plans.


With but a single given dimension the master mason, the Gothic architect developed their plans, section, and elevations by strictly geometrical means, using as modules regular polygons, above all the square.  This method of determining architectural proportions was so essential that it was most secret to the medieval lodges and was communicated only between Master Masons.


Fortunately documents survived that substantiate the use and importance of geometry in Gothic architecture, these being found in the minutes of a conference held in Milan dated 1391 and years following. The Milan Cathedral was begun in 1386, problems arose and master masons from France and Germany were called in to help. These discussions gave paramount importance to the use of geometry, the question being whether to use a square or an equilateral triangle.


The discussion between the French and Italians became mired as to whether the Italians were ignoring the rules by calling Science to be one thing and Art another. It was resolved that art was experience and science the ability to account by rational geometric means. The result was an agreement that the stability and beauty of an edifice were not distinct values but were comprehended in the perfection of geometric form.


Two aspects of Gothic architecture were without precedent, the unique relationship between form and function. The outstanding aspect of gothic was the use of light. The removal of non-structural walls and the use of many large and beautiful windows, helped by wonderful advances in stained glass, opened up the cathedrals. This gothic Architectural form was created in the minds of those whose visions were of mighty and glorious houses of God, earthly representations of a vision of the Heavenly City. The Gothic Cathedral, the most complete embodiment of the Gothic Spirit, and of the cathedral age, originated in the religious experience, the political and physical realities of twelfth century France. It became the expression in stone of the philosophy of the age, the speculations relative to existence and knowledge of the time.


For the serious student and the casual observer alike, the most obvious characteristic is that the whole scheme of the building is determined by, and all it’s strength is in the framework, rather than in its walls. This framework is made up of piers, arches and buttresses and is freed from all unnecessary encumbrance of wall and made as light in all it’s parts as is compatible with strength. The stability of the building’s fabric did not depend on inert massiveness, but upon a logical adjustment of active parts whose opposing forces neutralised each other and produced a perfect equilibrium.


The other notable feature is the pointed arch, which, though not unique to Gothic was used because it allowed the height of the vault to be varied independently of its width. Whereas the Roman Arch with it’s rounded form has a height equal to half its span. The pointed arch can be made to any reasonable height and not in relation to its span.


It was not until the end of the 15th Century that geometric proportioning secrets were published by Mathew Roriczer the builder of Regensburg Cathedral. He taught how to take the elevation from the ground plan by means of a single square.  He also taught how to halve a square using only a square and compasses, producing squares that have areas increasing or decreasing in geometric progression. We now have some strong reasons for freemasons concentration on geometry. For they worked with it every minute of their day.  Hence in our ritual “Geometry or Masonry originally synonymous terms.


Cathedrals were the centre of society. Together with the attached Masons’ Lodge, they were the centre of education and Art.  They encompassed schools and later Universities and Libraries.


The curriculum of the medieval cathedral school is preserved in our Masonic Ritual for in addition to Theology and Philosophy the subjects taught were the seven liberal arts and sciences i.e. grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy.


The distinguishing characteristics of our order are Virtue, Honour and Mercy and may they ever be found in the breast of a Free and Accepted Mason.


We must remember that “Gothic Architecture” was protected by secrecy, allowing no cowans to participate, but requiring an apprenticeship to a Master Mason before one could become a Fellow-craft and share in the Rites and Secrets as we still observe them today. Much of this discourse comes from Gould’s “History of Freemasonry” and Bernard Jones’  “Freemasons guide & compendium” with certain thoughts of Philip White, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New Hampshire; and for some time a member of Lodge Killara, and a little time and a lot of reading and exploring.


You may also enjoy

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More