Sharon Masonic Lodge No. 97 at 20146 Leslie Street, Queensville, Ontario, Canada

Sharon Masonic Lodge No. 97 at 20146 Leslie Street, Queensville, Ontario, Canada

Masonic Broken Column.…


Short Talk Bulletin – Vol. 34, February 1956,
No. 2 – Author Unknown

The story of the broken column was first illustrated by Amos Doolittle in the "True Masonic Chart" by Jeremy Cross, published in 1819.

Many of Freemasonry’s symbols are of extreme antiquity and deserve the reverence which we give to that which has had sufficient vitality to live long in the minds of men. For instance, the square, the point within a circle, the apron, circumambulation, the Altar have been used not only in Freemasonry but in systems of ethics, philosophy and religions without number.

Other symbols in the Masonic system are more recent. Perhaps they are not the less important for that, even without the sanctity of age which surrounds many others.

Among the newer symbols is that usually referred to as the broken column. A marble monument is respectably ancient – the broken column seems a more recent addition. There seems to be no doubt that the first pictured broken column appeared in Jeremy Cross’s True Masonic Chart, published in 1819, and that the illustration was the work of Amos Doolittle, an engraver, of Connecticut.

That Jeremy Cross "invented" or "designed" the emblem is open to argument. But there is legitimate room for argument over many inventions. Who invented printing from movable type? We give the credit to Gutenberg, but there are other claimants, among them the Chinese at an earlier date. Who invented the airplane? The Wrights first flew a "mechanical bird" but a thousand inventors have added to, altered, changed their original design, until the very principle which first enabled the Wrights to fly, the "warping wing", is now discarded and never used.

Therefore, if authorities argue and contend about the marble monument and broken column it is not to make objection or take credit from Jeremy Cross; the thought is that almost any invention or discovery is improved, changed, added to and perfected by many men. Edison is credited with the first incandescent lamp, but there is small kinship between his carbon filament and a modern tungsten filament bulb. Roentgen was first to bring the "x-ray" to public notice-the discoverer would not know what a modern physician’s x-ray apparatus was if he saw it!

In the library of the Grand Lodge of Iowa in Cedar Rapids, is a book published in 1784; "A BRIEF HISTORY OF FREEMASONRY" by Thomas Johnson, at that time the Tiler of the Grand Lodge of England (the "Moderns"). In this book the author states that he was "taken the liberty to introduce a Design for a Monument in Honor of a Great Artist." He then admits that there is no historical account of any such memorial but cites many precedents of "sumptuous Piles" which perpetuate the memories and preserve the merits of the historic dead, although such may have been buried in lands far from the monument or "perhaps in the depth of the Sea".

In this somewhat fanciful and poetic description of this monument, the author mentions an urn, a laurel branch, a sun, a moon, a Bible, square and compasses, letter G. The book was first published in 1782, which seems proof that there was
at that time at least the idea of a monument erected to the Master Builder.

There is little historical material upon which to draw to form any accurate conclusions. Men write of what has happened long after the happenings. Even when faithful to their memories, these may be, and often are, inaccurate. It is with this thought in mind that a curious statement in the Masonic newspaper, published in New York seventy-five years ago, must be considered. In the issue of May 10, 1879, a Robert B. Folger purports to give Cross’ account of his invention, or discovery, an inclusion, of the broken column into the marble monument emblem.

The account is long, rambling and at times not too clear. Abstracted, the salient parts are as follows. Cross found or sensed what he considered a deficiency in the Third Degree which had to be filled in order to effect his purposes. He consulted a former Mayor of New Haven, who at the time was one of his most intimate friends. Even after working together for a week, they did not hit upon any symbol which would be sufficiently simple and yet answer the purpose. Then a Copper-plate engraver, also a brother, was called in. The number of hieroglyphics which had be this time accumulated was immense. Some were too large, some too small, some too complicated, requiring too much explanation and many were not adapted to the subject.

Finally, the copper-plate engraver said, "Brother Cross, when great men die, they generally have a monument." "That’s right!" cried Cross; "I never thought of that!" He visited the burying-ground in New Haven. At last he got an idea and told his friends that he had the foundation of what he wanted. He said that while in New York City he had seen a monument in the southwest corner of Trinity Church yard erected over Commodore Lawrence, a great man who fell in battle. It was a large marble pillar, broken off. The broken part had been taken away, but the capital was lying at the base. He wanted that pillar for the foundation of his new emblem, but intended to bring in the other part, leaving it resting against the base. This his friends assented to, but more was wanted. They felt that some inscription should be on the column. after a length discussion they decided upon an open book to be placed upon the broken pillar. There should of course be some reader of the book! Hence the emblem of innocence-a beautiful virgin-who should weep over the memory of the deceased while she read of his heroic deeds from the book before her.

The monument erected to the memory of Commodore Lawrence was placed in the southwest corner of Trinity Churchyard in 1813, after the fight between the frigates
Chesapeake and Shannon, in which battle Lawrence fell. As described, it was a beautiful marble pillar, broken off, with a part of the capital laid at its base. lt remained until 1844-5 at which time Trinity Church was rebuilt. When finished, the corporation of the Church took away the old and dilapidated Lawrence monument and erected a new one in a different form, placing it in the front of the yard on Broadway, at the lower entrance of the Church. When Cross visited the new monument, he expressed great disappointment at the change, saying "it was not half as good as the one they took away!"

These claims of Cross-perhaps made for Cross-to having originated the emblem are disputed. Oliver speaks of a monument but fails to assign an American origin. In the Barney ritual of 1817, formerly in the possession of Samuel Wilson of Vermont, there is the marble column, the beautiful virgin weeping, the open book, the sprig of acacia, the urn, and Time standing behind. What is here lacking is the broken column. Thus it appears that the present emblem, except the broken column, was in use prior to the publication of Cross’ work (1819).

The emblem in somewhat different form is frequently found in ancient symbolism. Mackey states that with the Jews a column was often used to symbolize princes, rulers or nobles. A broken column denoted that a pillar of the state had fallen. In Egyptian mythology, Isis is sometimes pictured weeping over the broken column which conceals the body of her husband Osiris, while behind her stands Horus or Time pouring ambrosia on her hair. In Hasting’s ENCYCLOPEDIA OF RELIGION AND ETHICS, Isis is said sometimes to be represented standing; in her right hand is a sistrum, in her left hand a small ewer and on her forehead is a lotus, emblem of resurrection. In the Dionysaic Mysteries, Dionysius is represented as slain; Rhea goes in search of the body. She finds it and causes it to be buried. She is sometimes represented as standing by a column holding in her hand a sprig of wheat, emblem of immortality; since, though it be placed in the ground and die, it springs up again into newness of life. She was the wife of Kronus or Time, who may fittingly be represented as standing behind her.

Whoever invented the emblem or symbol of the marble monument, the broken column, the beautiful virgin, the book, the urn, the acacia, Father Time counting the ringlets of hair, could not have thought through all the implications of this attempt-doubtless made in all reverence-to add to the dignity and impressiveness of the story of the Master Builder.

The urn in which "ashes were safely deposited" is pure invention. Cremation was not practiced by the Twelve Tribes; it was not the method of disposing of the dead in the land and at the time of the building of the Temple. rather was the burning of the dead body reserved as a dreadful fate for the corpses of criminals and evil doers. That so great a man as "the widow’s son, of the tribe of Naphtali" should have been cremated is unthinkable. The Bible is silent on the subject; it does not mention Hiram the Builder’s death, still less the disposal of the body, but the whole tone of the Old Testament in description of funerals and mournings, make it impossible to believe that his body was burned, or that his ashes might have been preserved.

The Israelites did not embalm their dead; burial was accomplished on the day of death or, at the longest wait, on the day following. According to the legend, the Master Builder was disinterred from the first or temporary grave and reinterred with honor. That is indeed, a supposable happening; that his body was raised only to be cremated is wholly out of keeping with everything known of deaths, funeral ceremonies, disposal of the dead of the Israelites.

In the ritual which describes the broken column monument, before the figure of the virgin is "a book, open before her." Here again invention and knowledge did not go hand in hand. There were no books at the time of the building of the Temple, as moderns understand the word. there were rolls of skins, but a bound book of leaves made of any substance-vellum, papyrus, skins-was an unknown object. Therefore there could have been no such volume in which the virtues of the Master Builder were recorded.

No logical reason has been advanced why the woman who mourned and read in the book was a "beautiful virgin." No scriptural account tells of the Master Builder having wife or daughter or any female relative except his mother. The Israelites reverenced womanhood and appreciated virginity, but they were just as reverent over mother and child. Indeed, the bearing of children, the increase of the tribe, the desire for sons, was strong in the Twelve Tribes; why, then, the accent upon the virginity of the woman in the monument? "Time standing behind her, unfolding and counting the ringlets of her hair" is dramatic, but also out of character for the times. "Father Time" with his scythe is probably a descendant of the Greek Chromos, who carried a sickle or reaping hook, but the Israelites had no contact with Greece. It may have been natural for whoever invented the marble monument emblem to conclude that Time was both a world-wide and a time immemorial symbolic figure, but it could not have been so at the era in which Solomon’s Temple was built.

It evidently did not occur to the originators of this emblem that it was historically impossible. Yet the Israelites did not erect monuments to their dead. In the singular, the word "monument" does not occur in the Bible; as "monuments" it is mentioned once, in Isaiah 65 – "A people…which remain among the graves and lodge in the monuments." In the Revised Version this is translated "who sit in tombs and spend the night in secret places." The emphasis is apparently upon some form of worship of the dead (necromancy). The Standard Bible Dictionary says that the word "monument" in the general sense of a simple memorial does not appear in Biblical usage.

Oliver Day Street in "SYMBOLISM OF THE THREE DEGREES" says that the urn was an ancient sign of mourning, carried in funeral processions to catch the tears of those who grieved. But the word "urn" does not occur in the Old Testament nor the New.

Freemasonry is old. It came to us as a slow, gradual evolution of the thoughts, ideas, beliefs, teachings, idealism of many men through many years. It tells a simple story-a story profound in its meaning, which therefore must be simple, as all great truths in the last analysis are simple.

The marble monument and the broken column have many parts. Many of these have the aroma of age. Their weaving together into one symbol may be-probably is-a modernism, if that term can cover a period of nearly two hundred years. but the importance of a great life, his skill and knowledge; his untimely and pitiful death is not a modernism.

Nothing herein set forth is intended as in any way belittling one of Freemasonry’s teachings by means of ritual and picture. These few pages are but one of many ways of trying to illuminate the truth behind a symbol, and show that, regardless of the dates of any parts of the emblem, the whole has a place in the Masonic story which has at least romance, if not too much fact, behind it.

by Bro. William Steve Burkle KT, 32°
Scioto Lodge No. 6, Chillicothe, Ohio.
Philo Lodge No. 243, South River, New Jersey

The meaning of the Broken Column as explained by the ritual of the Master mason degree is that the column represents both the fall of Master Hiram Abif as well as the unfinished work of the Temple of Solomon[i]. This interesting symbol has appeared in some fascinating places; for example, a Broken Column monument marks the gravesite in Lewis County Tennessee[ii] of Brother Meriwether Lewis (Lewis & Clark), and a similar monument marks the grave of Brother Prince Hall[iii]. In China, there is a “broken column-shaped” home which was built just prior to the French Revolution by the aristocrat François Nicolas Henri Racine de Monville[iv]. Today “The Broken Column” is frequently used in Masonic newsletters as the header for obituary notices and is a popular tomb monument for those whose life was deemed cut short. Note that when I speak of The Broken Column here, I am referring to only the upright but shattered Column Base with its detached Shattered Capital, and not to the more extensive symbolism often associated with the figure such as a book resting on the column base, the Weeping Virgin (Isis), or Father Time (Horus) disentangling the Virgin’s hair. In this version the shattered column itself is often said to allude to Osiris[v]. While these embellishments add to the complexity of the allusion, it is the shattered column alone which I intend to address.

The Broken Column is believed to be a fairly recent addition to the symbolism of Freemasonry, and has been attributed to Brother Jeremy L. Cross. Brother Cross[vi] is said to have devised the symbol based upon a broken column grave monument dedicated to a Commodore Lawrence[vii], which was erected in the Trinity Churchyard circa 1813. Lawrence perished in a naval battle that same year between the Frigates Chesapeake and Shannon. The illustration of the broken column was reportedly first published in the “True Masonic Chart” by artist Amos Doolittle in 1819[viii]. There is however little evidence beyond the word of Brother Cross that the symbol was thus created[ix],[x].

Whether the Broken Column is a modern invention or passed down from times of antiquity is of little consequence; regardless of its origins the symbol serves well as a powerful allusion in our Craft, and as will be discussed, may have deeper meanings which align with other Masonic symbols which also incorporate images of columns and pillars.

Freemasonry makes generous reference to columns and pillars of all sorts in the work of the various degrees including the two pillars which stood at the entrance of Solomon’s Temple, the four columns of architectural significance, and the three Great Columns representing strength, beauty, and wisdom[xi]. The first mention of pillars in a Masonic context[xii] is found in the Cooke Manuscript dated circa 1410 A.D. The three Great Pillars of Masonry are of particular interest in this article even though it is the Broken Column and its deeper meanings which I ultimately intend to explore.

Three Great Columns:

The basis for the Three Great Columns can be traced to an ancient Kabalistic concept and a unique diagram found in the Zohar which illustrates the emanations of God in forming and sustaining the universe. The diagram also reflects certain states of spiritual attainment in man. This diagram, called the Sephiroth consists of ten spheres or Sephira connected to one another by pathways and which are ordered to reflect the sequence of creation. In accordance with Kabalistic belief Aur Ein Sof (Light Without End) shines down into the Sephiroth and is split like a prism into its ten constituent Sephira[xiii], eventually ending in the material universe. To discuss the Sephiroth in sufficient depth to impart a good understanding is well beyond the scope of this paper; however, a basic understanding of how the structure of the Sephiroth is related to the Great Columns is manageable, and is in fact essential to the subsequent discussion of the Broken Column. Be aware that the explanations I give are vast oversimplifications of a highly complex concept. In an attempt to simplify the concept, it is inevitable that some degree of inaccuracy will be introduced.
I would like to begin my discussion of the Three Great Columns by discussing the Cardinal Virtues. The Cardinal Virtues are believed to have originated with Plato who formed them from a tripartite division[xiv] of the attributes of man (power, wisdom, reason, mercy, strength, beauty, firmness, magnificence, and base kingship) presented in the Sephiroth. These concepts were later adopted by the Christian Church[xv] and were popularized by the treatises of Martin of Braga, Alcuin and Hrabanus Maurus (circa 1100 A.D.) and later promoted by Thomas Aquinas (circa 1224 A.D.). According to Wescott[xvi] the Four Cardinal Virtues are represented by what were originally branches of the Sepheroth:
“Four tassels refer to four cardinal virtues, says the first degree Tracing Board Lecture, these are temperance, fortitude, prudence, and justice; these again were originally branches of the Sephirotic Tree, Chesed first, Netzah fortitude, Binah prudence, and Geburah justice. Virtue, honour, and mercy, another triad, are Chochmah, Hod, and Chesed.”

broken-column1 Thus we have a connection between the Cardinal Virtues and the Sephiroth. The Three Pillars of Freemasonry (Wisdom, Beauty, and Strength) are associated with the Cardinal Virtues[xvii] and also therefore with the Kabalistic concept of the Sephiroth[xviii]. I have provided an illustration of the Sepiroth in Figure 1. This particular version of the Sephiroth is based upon that used in the 30th Degree or Knight Kadosh Grade[xix] of the ASSR. The Sephiroth, incidentally is also called “The Tree of Life”. Each of the vertical columns of spheres (Sephira) in the Sephiroth are considered to represent a pillar (column). Each pillar is named according to the central concept which it represents; thus in Figure 1 we have the pillars Justice, Beauty, and Mercy left to right, respectively. The Sephiroth is a very elegant system in which balance is maintained between the Sephira of the two outermost pillars by virtue of the center pillar. Note also that traditionally the Sephiroth is divided into “Triads” of Sephira. In Figure 1 the uppermost triad, consisting of the spheres Wisdom, Intelligence, and Crown represent the intellectual and spiritual characteristics of man. The next triad is represented by the Sephira Justice, Beauty, and Mercy; the final triad is Splendor, Foundation, and Firmness (or Strength).

According to S.L. MacGregor Mathers[xx], the word Sephira is best translated to mean (or is best rendered as) “Numerical Emanation”, and each of the ten Sephira corresponds to a specific numerical value. Mathers also asserts that it was through knowledge of the Sephiroth that Pythagoras devised his system of numerical symbolism. While there are additional divisions and subdivisions of the Sephiroth, the concept which is of interest to us here is that God created the Material World or Universe (signified by the lowest Sephira, Kingdom) in a series of ordered actions which proceeded along established pathways (i.e. the connecting lines between the Sephira in our Figure). Each of the Sephira and each pathway are a sort of “buffer” between the majesty and power of God and the material world. Without these buffers, profane man and the material world he inhabits would meet with destruction. On the other hand, enlightened man is able to progress upwards along these pathways to higher level Sephira and to thereby achieve enhanced knowledge of the Divine. Tradition holds that man once was closer to the Divine spirit, but became corrupted by the material world, losing this connection (i.e. The fall of Man from Grace. Note also the reference to the Tree of Knowledge and possible connections to the Tree of Life). God uses the Sephiroth in renewing and sustaining the material universe. Each new soul created is an emanation of God and travels to materiality (physical existence) via the pathways established in the Sephiroth. In a similar fashion, the spirits of the departed return to God via these same pathways, making the Sephiroth the mechanism by which God interacts with the universe.

broken-column2. The Broken Column:

In Figure 2, I have redrawn the Sephiroth as an overlay of the Three Great Columns; however in this version the Pillar of Beauty is Broken. Note especially that the center pillar, the Pillar of Beauty in the Sephiroth has a gap between Beauty and Crown, in effect making this column a Broken Pillar[xxi]. I believe this “fracture” symbolizes Man’s separation from knowledge of the Divine, and an interruption in the Pathway leading from Beauty directly to the Crown (which symbolizes “The Vast Countenance”[xxii]).

I would also like to extrapolate that if the Broken Column indeed represents Hiram Abif as per the explanation given to initiates, then the two remaining columns would then correspond to Solomon and Hiram King of Tyre[xxiii]. Certainly the Sephira (Wisdom, Justice, and Splendor) which comprise the column of Justice align well with the characteristics traditionally associated with King Solomon. Tradition unfortunately does not address Hiram King of Tyre although we can assume that Intelligence, Mercy, and Firmness or Strength would be a likely requirement for a Monarch of such apparent success. The connection between the Three Great Columns and the three principle characters in the drama of the Third Degree does have a certain sense of validity. The “Lost Word” associated with Hiram Abif would then allude to the lost Pathway.

In so many of our Masonic Lessons we initially receive a plausible but quite shallow explanation of our symbols and allusions. Those who sense an underlying, deeper meaning tend to find it (Seek and you will find, knock and the door shall be opened). Perhaps in our ritual of the Third Degree, that which is symbolically being raised (restored) is the Pillar of which resides within us. If so, the Lost Word has then in fact been received by each of us. It only remains lost if we choose to forget it or choose not to pursue it.

[i] Duncan, Malcom C. Duncan’s Masonic Ritual and Monitor. Crown; 3 Edition (April 12, 1976). ISBN-13: 978-0679506263. pp 157.

[ii] “Meriwether Lewis, Master Mason”. The Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation.

[iii] “WHo is Prince Hall ?” (1996). Retrieved December 5, 2008 from

[iv] Kenna, Michael. (1988). The Broken Column House at Désert de Retz in Le Desert De Retz, A late 18th Century French Folley Garden. Retrieved December 6, 2008 from Valley Daze.

[v] Pike, Albert. (1919) Morals and Dogma. Charleston Southern Jurisdiction. pp. 379. ASIN: B000CDT4T8.

[vi] “The Broken Column”. The Short Talk Bulletin 2-56. The Masonic Service Association of the United States. VOL. 34 February 1956 NO. 2.

[vii] Brown, Robert Hewitt. (1892). Stellar Theology and Masonic Astronomy or the origin and meaning of ancient and modern mysteries explained. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1, 3, and 5 Bond Street. 1892.. pp. 68.

[viii] “Boston Masonic Lithograph”. Retrieved December 5, 2008 from Lodge Pambula Daylight UGL of NSW & ACT No1000.

[ix] Folger, Robert B. Fiction of the Weeping Virgin. Retrieved December 6, 2008 from the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon A.F. & A.M. / fiction/fiction.html

[x] Mackey, Albert Gallatin & Haywood H. L. Encyclopedia of Freemasonry Part 2. pp. 677. Kessinger Publishing, LLC (March 31, 2003).

[xi] Claudy, Carl H. Introduction to Masonry. The Temple Publishers. Retrieved December 5, 2008 from Pietre-Stones Review of Freemasonry.

[xii] Dwor, Mark. (1998). Globes, Pillars, Columns, and Candlesticks. Vancouver Lodge of Education and Research . Retrieved December 6, 2008 from the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon A.F. & A.M.

[xiii] Day, Jeff. (2008). Dualism of the Sword and the Trowel. Cryptic Masons of Oregon – Grants Pass. Retrieved December 6, 2008 from

[xiv] Bramston, M. Thinkers of the Middle Ages. Monthly Packet. Evening Readings of the Christian Church (1893). Ed. Charlotte Mary Yonge, Christabel Rose Coleridge, Arthur Innes. J. and C. Mozley. University of Michigan (2007).

[xv] Regan, Richard. (2005). The Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance. Hackett Publishing.

[xvi] Wescott, William ( ). The Religion of Freemasonry. Illuminated by the Kabbalah. Ars Quatuor Coronatorum. vol. i. p. 73-77. Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon. Retrieved September 29, 2008 from

[xvii] MacKenzie, Kenneth R. H. (1877). Kabala. Royal Masonic Cyclopedia. Kessinger Publishing (2002).

[xviii] Pirtle, Henry. Lost Word of Freemasonry. Kessinger Publishing, 1993.

[xix] Knight Kadosh. The Thirtieth Grade of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, and the First Degree of the Chivalric Series. Hirams Web. University of Bradford.

[xx] Mathers, S.L. MacGregor. (1887). Qabalah Unveiled. Reprinted (2006) as The Kabbalah: Essential Texts From The Zohar. Watkins. London. pp. 10.

[xxi] Ibid. Dualism of the Sword and the Trowel

[xxii] Ibid. Qabalah Unveiled .Plate III. pp. 38-39.

[xxiii] Duncan, Malcom C. Duncan’s Masonic Ritual and Monitor. Crown; 3 Edition (April 12, 1976).

Posted by antefixus21 on 2013-01-09 06:13:38


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