THE FIVE NOBLE ORDERS OF ARCHITECTURE
WBro. K.W. Williams DGJD
Union Lodge #247
Worshipful Master and Brethren, this evening it is my intention that we should embark on a journey that would lead us to two destinations:
1) First, it is my purpose to explore the Architectural History of these five Orders, and
2) Secondly, having established their architectural significance, to show the close connection between operative Masonry and architecture on the one hand and accepted and speculative Freemasonry on the other.
In other words, I shall attempt to address the question: “Why do these noble orders feature so prominently today in Freemasonry in general and in the furnishings and rituals of our Lodges in particular?”
My research and the decision to make
this presentation had its genesis during a visit in 2006 to the
My consciousness was indeed stirred. I began seeing examples of the five Orders in buildings and structures such as:
Monument on the bank of the
own Grand Lodge on
Ø The Archway Screen of Hyde Park Corner-example of the Ionic
portico of the famous
Ø The even more famous and well known St Paul’s Cathedral- where in the masterly hands of that renowned and venerable architect, Sir Christopher Wren, the Corinthian occurs on the lower storey of the facades and on the upper storey the Composite Orders.
The next logical question that arose in
my mind was: “Why are they so prominently a part of the architecture of Masonic
Temples? At Grand Lodge in
First, let us look at the term “Noble”.
According to Perce J. George of Mannum Lodge #97, Grand Lodge,
However, Mannum asserts that Mitchell Beazley’s Pocket Guide to Architecture refers to these five Orders as “Classical” suggesting that both these terms are synonymous.
What is an “Order”? George Savage in his “Extract from Dictionary of Antiques” proffers this definition:
“An ‘Order’ is an architectural term which comprises the classical column with its capital and superimposed horizontal entablature.” The column by itself is not the Order.
They were strict rules which governed the relationship between diameter and height of columns of each Order and the proportions of intercolumniation.
The column proper is divided into three named parts:
Ø Base-a series of annulets or ring-like mouldings. The portion of the column on which the Shaft is placed
may either be fluted (having long round grooves)
or unfluted or plain as are the shafts in the
Ø Capital – the carved head or upper part of a column superimposed on the shaft which, by its design, is the manner by which each Order is recognized and distinguished. This is developed later in the presentation.
In addition, the definition of the following architectural terms must be noted:
Ø Entablature- the entire horizontal superstructure supported by the row of columns and on which the arch of the ceiling is mounted, comprising the architrave, frieze and cornice (distinct horizontal layers, one on top the other running the length of the entablature).This detail is not evident in the design of Company Path’s.
a square pillar projecting from a wall. Refer
to the western and eastern walls of the
Ø Abacus- a square or rectangular member interposed between the capital of a column and the superstructure it supports( in other words , akin to a shim)
Bro Alex Horne in his 1964 Prestonian Lecture reminds us that from the first formation of society, order in architecture may be traced. When the rigour of seasons obliged men to contrive shelter from the inclemency of the weather, we learn that they first planted trees on end, and then laid others across, to support a covering. The bands which connected those trees at top and bottom is said to have given rise to the idea of the base and capital of pillars; and, from this simple hint, originally proceeded the more improved art of architecture
The five Orders of architecture are thus classed:
What we have in the
The above listing ranges them not chronologically, but in increasing order of complexity.
The Doric, Ionic and Corinthian are the original three Orders invented by the Greeks and are considered as representing Strength, Wisdom and Beauty.
The Tuscan and Composite are of Roman origin.
The Orders, as used by the Greeks, were essentially constructive. The Romans, on the other hand, frequently used them as purely decorative features, without any structural value; although they continued to use them constructively, as in the colonnades of forums and temples.
1) Tuscan Order
The Tuscan is the first of the five
Orders of Architecture. It is the most simple and solid of the five orders. It
was invented in
Sir Henry Wotton in his Elements of Architecture describes it as “a plain, massive, rural pillar, resembling a sturdy well-limbed labourer, homely clad”
2) Doric Order
The Doric is the second of the Five Orders of Architecture and the first and simplest of the Greek Orders. It is plain and natural and is the most ancient. Its column is eight diameters high and has seldom any ornaments on base or capital, except mouldings; though the frieze is distinguished by triglyphs and metopes, and the triglyphs compose the ornaments of the frieze. The solid composition of this order gives it a preference in structures where strength and a noble simplicity are chiefly required.
The Doric is the best proportioned of all the orders.
Historic tradition has it that, in
about 1,000 B.C., the Dorians, a tribe from the region to the north of the Gulf
of Corinth, invaded and conquered southern
3) Ionic Order
This is the third of the Five Orders of
Architecture and the second of the three Greek Orders. It bears a kind of a
mean proportion between the most solid and delicate orders. Its column is nine diameters
high; its capital is adorned with volutes, and its cornice has denticles. There
is both delicacy and ingenuity displayed in this pillar; the invention of which
is attributed to the Ionians, as the famous
4) Corinthian Order
This is the fourth of the Five Orders of Architecture and the third of the three Greek Orders.
The Corinthian is the richest of the five orders, is deemed a
master piece of art, and was invented at
Legend has it that Callimachus took the hint of the capital of this pillar from the following remarkable circumstance:
“A freeborn maiden of
5) Composite Order
The Composite, contrived by the Romans, is the last of the Five Orders.
It is compounded of the other orders. Its capital has the two row leaves of the Corinthian, and the volutes of the Ionic. Its column has the quarter-round as the Tuscan and Doric orders, is ten diameters high, and its cornice has denticles or simple modillions. This pillar is generally found in buildings where strength, elegance and beauty are displayed.
According to Horne, the ancient and original orders of architecture, revered by Masons, are no more than three, the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. To these the Romans have added two, the Tuscan, which they made plainer than the Doric, and the Composite, which was more ornamental, if not more beautiful, than the Corinthian. The first three orders alone, however, show invention and particular character, and essentially differ from each other: the two others have nothing but what is borrowed, and differ only accidentally; the Tuscan is the Doric in its earliest state; and the Composite is the Corinthian enriched with the Ionic. To the Greeks, and not to the Romans, we are indebted for what is great, judicious and distinct in architecture.
As a general comment, it must be noted
that whereas the shafts of all five Orders are fluted with the exception of the
Tuscan, the shafts of the
Influence on Operative Masonry
How did these Five Orders impact on the mason craft? Although not well understood outside an enthusiastic few (and not always by them), the Five Orders exercised a considerable fascination, even if sometimes indirect on craftsmen of all kinds, apart from architects and interior decorators.
The Augustan Age (1700-1750) was
intensely interested in Architecture. To satisfy the needs of architects and
builders, and the curiosity of the dilettanti, numerous books on the subject
had been and continued to be published. Many indeed were devoted to the one
subject of the Orders and gave in great detail particulars of their dimensions,
modular relationships, proportions and so on.
Masonic Symbolism of the Orders
Why these Orders of Architecture are so
intimately linked with speculative Masonry? Why do we today see replicas of them
We are reminded of the close connection between early accepted and speculative Freemasonry on the one hand and operative Masonry and architecture on the other. Bro T.O. Haunch, S.W., who in moving the vote of thanks at the end of Bro Atkins’ 1968 Prestonian Lecture had this to say and I quote:
“Intelligent and educated men of the eighteenth century, then, took a keen interest in building and in development and refinement of styles of the late Renaissance, and it is not surprising that many of them, as patrons of building works no doubt, should have been attracted to Masons and Freemasonry. Nor is it surprising, in the circumstances, that the five noble Orders should have been grafted on to the developing system of speculative Freemasonry.
Operative masonry, and accepted Freemasonry following it, already had a tradition of pillars and columns. There were the two pillars of the Old Charges, the one which would not burn, and the other which could not sink, which were the means of preserving the Seven Liberal Sciences for posterity from God’s vengeance by fire and water. Then there was the basic importance of, and interest in, the porchway pillars of KST. To these the Augustan speculative Freemasons proceeded to add the columns of the five noble Orders, and to develop their symbolism, especially that of the three most celebrated, the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian, as the traditional supports of the Lodge”.
Influence on Speculative Masonry
1) I quote from Bro Alex Horne’s 1964 Prestonian Lecture:
“With the coming of the Renaissance and the Reformation, the intellectual and religious mind of Europe had taken a turn, and the formation of our own Grand Lodge in 1717 had thus brought with it almost inevitably the injection into the new Speculative Masonry of the elements, not of the ”barbarous” and now unpopular Gothic, but of the revived and universally acclaimed classical architecture, of which the Five Orders were at once the symbol, the epitome and the expression.
The influence of the “accepted” or “speculative” masons was a sign of the times and a genuine reflection of the intellectual spirit of the period. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries knowledge of architecture, more particularly of the Orders, was regarded as an essential part of every gentleman’s education.
Probably it was this interest in the art of building that induced cultural gentlemen of the period to join the lodges; and this general interest of the age in architecture (comparable, let us say, to the present-day general interest in music) may explain why, of all the medieval arts, it was the mason craft, and not any other, that was seized upon by the cultured gentlemen of that time and transformed by them into a speculative science”
2) My research suggests that William Preston is held responsible for the introduction of the Five Orders into the Masonic system.
3) The Second Degree Tracing Board
Worshipful Master, every Mason of our Constitution would be very familiar with the following extracts from the Explanation of the Second Degree Tracing Board, and I quote:
“……the five who hold a Lodge are the Master, two Wardens and two FC’s……Five hold a Lodge in allusion to the five noble orders of architecture, namely the Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite.
4) Grand Lodge Certificate
Since the middle of the 18th century certificates have been issued to Brethren. In 1819 the United Grand Lodge first used a design with the Three Pillars in line across the certificate, forming two panels. This certificate is known as the “Pillars Certificate”, and, with modifications, is still in use today.
5) Lodges named after the Orders
It is very common to hear of Lodges of our Constitution worldwide that derive their names from one or the other- Doric, Ionic and Corinthian by far being the most popular.
6) Emblematic manifestations of the Orders of Architecture in our Company Path Temple, Georgetown
6.1) The floor candle-holders (as indeed they were before the advent of electricity) of the WM, SW and JW’s are patterned after the Corinthian Order with a fluted shaft.
6.2) The back of the Chairs of the WM, IPM , Chaplain and other distinguished Brethren who sit on the dais are adorned with a feature akin to the capital of a Corinthian column as part of their construction
WM and Brethren we have arrived at the end of this excursion whose purpose was to explore the Five Orders of Architecture. I hope that I have succeeded in providing to the Brethren a better appreciation of their historical significance and Masonic symbolism.
It would be remiss of me were I not to give credit to the sources that assisted me in compiling this paper
1) WBro Neville Leyland Scott, LGR, Portico Lodge #7950, who at much personal sacrifice gave of his time and traveled considerable distances from his home in West Sussex on three occasions to the Library and Museum of Grand Lodge in London (120 miles return) to do the initial leg work, assemble the relevant literature, have it photocopied and posted to Guyana.The research material that was made available to him is so jealously protected by the copyright laws that he was not allowed to photocopy more than 10 % of any one volume or paper.
I suppose that such selfless sacrifice and dedication can only be expected of one who is a worthy Mason, a kinsman, a loyal cousin. I am indebted to him.
2) The Prestonian Lectures of Bros Alex Horne (1964) and H. Kent Atkins PAG Supt of Wks (1968)
3) The Five Noble Orders of Architecture by Perce J. George, Mannum Lodge #97, Grand Lodge, South Australia
WM, I wish to thank you most sincerely for allowing me this opportunity and my gratitude to the Brethren for the courtesy of listening to me so attentively.
(April 15, 2008)