Cambridge Encyclopedia » Cambridge Encyclopedia Vol. 27

freemasonry - Organizational structure, Principles and activities, Membership requirements, Women and Freemasonry, History, Contemporary challenges, Opposition to Freemasonry

england freemasons masons

A movement claiming great antiquity, whose members (masons) are joined together in an association based on brotherly love, faith, and charity. The one essential qualification for membership is a belief in a supreme being. Non-political, open to men of any religion, freemasonry is known for its rituals and signs of recognition that date back to ancient religions and to the practices of the mediaeval craft guild of the stonemasons (in England). During the 17th-c the masons' clubs, or lodges, began to be attended by gentlemen who had no connection with the trade. The Grand Lodge of England was founded in 1717, that of Ireland in 1725, and Scotland in 1736; freemasonry spread to the USA, the British colonies, and European countries. Freemasons are now mainly drawn from the professional middle classes. The organization regularly comes under attack for the secrecy with which it carries out its activities. In 2006 freemasons numbered five million worldwide, with 300 000 in England and Wales.

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