The Oldest Masonic Chapel in the World
For more than 250 years Freemasons the world over have considered the oldest purpose-built Lodge Room to be that situated in St John Street, Edinburgh which belonged formerly and wholly to Lodge Canongate Kilwinning but is now owned by the Royal Order of Scotland and used as their Headquarters. There are, particularly in Scotland, older Buildings which are used by Freemasons for their meetings but without exception these edifices were erected for other purposes. The example which comes immediately to mind is the premises of Lodge Elgin & Bruce in Limekilns, Fife which was originally the King’s Wine Cellar. Lodge Elgin & Bruce was not formed until 1910 but the building may be traced back to 1362.
Some four or five years ago there appeared in the national magazine “Town & Country” a letter from an American reader in Virginia who claimed that in that State there had existed, until demolished some years ago, the world’s oldest purpose-built masonic premises.
Publication of the letter caused a flurry of communications resulting in a claim from the Lodge at Dalkeith that her premises had been designated the world’s oldest building erected for masonic purposes. This claim came to the ears of the Grand Secretary of the Royal Order of Scotland, who asked the writer of this article to look into the matter. The Dalkeith Kilwinning Lodge’s claim was said to be supported by a letter, displayed in their Lodge Room, from Historic Scotland. A letter was therefore addressed to that body and a prompt and courteous reply was received. This reply referred to the Virginian letter and went on to state that the letter displayed at Lodge Dalkeith Kilwinning No.10 stated only that the Lodge owned one of the oldest purpose-built masonic premises.
The writer of this article addressed a letter to the Virginian gentleman as well as a reply to Historic Scotland. It transpired that the Virginian premises had been timber built and on that premise alone the claim had been made. It transpired also that the gentleman making this claim was not a Freemason and had simply made an assumption.
The reply sent to Historic Scotland pointed out that the documentary evidence supported the claim of the Canongate Lodge.
Prior to 1735 the Lodge appears to have rented the rooms of the Canongate Incorporation of Shoemakers for Masonic purposes but in fact that year the rental terms could not be agreed. As a result the lodge members commissioned the building of their own premises, which saw the first meeting being held there in December 1735. Consecration of the Chapel, on the 18th December, 1736, was carried out by the Master, George Frazer, at the behest of William St Clair of Roslin, who, on 30th November 1735, had been elected as Scotland’s first Grand Master, The minute of the occasion reads:-
“Canongate, 18th Dec, 1736. AM: 5736.
“The Lodge having been summoned to attend the Grand Master at the Consecration of the New Lodge, built by the Subscribers, members of this Lodge ..........”
By sheer co-incidence, just before the then Grand Secretary of the Royal Order asked him to examine the whole matter, Bro. David Currie PM had been carrying out an examination of old documents discovered in the bottom of a recess in the Lodge. Badly affected over the years, they were nonetheless still legible. Among them were several of the receipted bills of 1735 - 1736. The most prominent one stated
“To ye erection of ye canopy, supply of curtains for ye doors and ye windows, 9s. 6d.” In modern terms 47½p.
As a result of this evidence being submitted to Historic Scotland, that body not only amended its records, but very graciously sent photo-copies of the amended documents. It is understood that this documentary evidence is now held by The Royal Order of Scotland, except for the Lodge Canongate Kilwinning minute, which remains in the minute book.