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Historic Standardization


Early Masonic initiates memorized degree rituals “mouth to ear,” through rote memorization of lectures and catechisms. In the late 1700s though, Masonic scholars and ritualists began efforts to standardize the rituals and unify the practice of the craft.

As efforts to standardize Masonic lectures grew, among the most popular versions were William Preston’s (1742-1818) in his 1772 “Illustrations of Masonry.”

Preston inspired Thomas Smith Webb (1771–1819), who published the first Masonic monitor in the United States, “The Freemason’s Monitor; or Illustrations of Masonry,” in 1797. This and monitors that followed were a largely American form of Masonic literature – manuals or books of esoteric ritualistic matter that guided non-tiled portions of Masonic ceremonies. Webb helped standardize Masonic ritual throughout the U.S., where he was a respected lecturer and teacher.

Among Preston’s most talented students was Jeremy Ladd Cross (1783–1861). After traveling as a lecturer, Cross partnered with Amos Doolittle, a talented Masonic artist and engraver, in New Haven, Connecticut. They began creating printing plates for Masonic aprons, and soon adapted Doolittle’s drawings of Masonic symbols for the publication of a new illustrated Masonic monitor, “The True Masonic Chart, or Hieroglyphic Monitor,” published in 1819. (“Illustrations” in the title of Webb’s monitor referred to clarification of the ritual, not visual elements.)

Together, Webb and Cross are credited for helping standardize U.S. ritual work. Cross’s success spurred the publication of innumerable monitors, which adopted and re-engraved Doolittle’s illustrations, though leaving them virtually unchanged.

Pictured here is a19th century apron that depicts the American Masonic Master’s Chart. It is a direct copy of the Masonic chart popularized by Cross’ early 19th century work, with a primary focus on the pillars of Jachin and Boaz. This beautiful apron, painted with watercolor on silk, was a gift of Wayne L. Butterbaugh to the Henry Wilson Coil Library and Museum of Freemasonry. View more images here and explore the full archives of the library and museum at masonicheritage.org.

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