THE Consistory Court of the diocese of Carlisle has refused a faculty to permit a masonic symbol to be added to the churchyard memorial of a person who had been a senior Freemason. Although the Churchyard Regulations permit representations of objects or motifs appropriate to the life of the deceased, and although the Chancellor declined to hold that Freemasonry was incompatible with Christianity, he held that it would be “wholly inappropriate” to permit the symbol to be added.
William Kenneth Wilson, a Freemason, died in 2012, and was buried in the churchyard of St Oswald’s, Dean, in Cumbria, a Grade I listed church dating from the 12th century. The memorial contained his name, dates of birth and death, and the words “Forever in the hearts of those who loved you. Rest in peace.”
There were also three unusual features of the memorial, which were allowed by the Priest-in-Charge. At the top was an etched landscape intended to represent the gateway to heaven; a rose immediately above the words “Rest in peace”; and a rugby ball with the lettering “WTRLFC”.
The petitioner, Dorothy Stubbs, who was the niece of the deceased, wished the memorial to incorporate a set square and compass to reflect the deceased’s lifelong association with Freemasonry, but that was refused by the Priest-in-Charge. The petitioner then applied to the Consistory Court for a faculty to permit it.
The PCC unanimously supported the petitioner’s application, but, when the matter was referred to the DAC, it did not recommend that a faculty be granted, and also had concerns about the other unusual features on the memorial.
The petitioner said that, since badges or insignia of the armed forces of the Crown were permitted, it was “difficult to comprehend” why the Freemasonry symbols should not be permitted. The set square and compass were “inoffensive”, she said, and many would not know what they represented.
She said that the set square and compass were acknowledged as the signs of master builders, or masons, who were employed throughout the Christian world to build cathedrals. She gave several examples, including one of the stained-glass windows of Rouen Cathedral, which paid “a tribute to its builders by illustrating the square and compasses” which had been “an acceptable Christian symbol for many centuries”.
The Provincial Grand Master of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons of Cumberland and Westmorland, Keith Hodgson, stated that the deceased had joined Freemasonry more than 40 years before his death, and “progressed through the ranks”. In 2001, he had been invested as a Grand Officer, and, in 2007, he had become Provincial Grand Master for the Mark Degree in Freemasonry.
Mr Hodgson said that it was “fitting” that the masonic symbol should be represented on the headstone of the deceased, and that the symbol of the set square and compass was unique to Freemasons, and could be seen in most cemeteries in the area.
No evidence was produced before the Consistory Court, however, that the symbol had appeared in any Church of England churchyards in the diocese of Carlisle.
The Chancellor, Geoffrey Tattersall QC, said that the Priest-in-Charge had no authority to approve the set square and compass on the memorial; nor had he authority to permit the three unusual features on the memorial. But the Chancellor accepted that the Priest-in-Charge had been acting in good faith.
The issue of Freemasonry was considered by the General Synod of the C of E in July 1987, in a debate on a report, Freemasonry and Christianity: Are they compatible? The report stated that it was “clear that some Christians have found the impact of Masonic rituals disturbing and a few perceive them as positively evil”, believing them to be blasphemous because God’s name “must not be taken in vain, nor can it be replaced by an amalgam of the names of pagan deities”.
The Synod’s primary theological objection centred on Freemasonry’s use of the word “Jahbulon”, the name used for the Supreme Being in Masonic rituals. It is an amalgamation of Semitic, Hebrew, and Egyptian titles. In its final paragraph, the report pointed to “a number of very fundamental reasons to question the compatibility of Freemasonry and Christianity”.
By a majority of 394 votes to 52, the General Synod carried a motion endorsing the report, including its final paragraph, and commended it for discussion by the Church. There had been no formal developments at national level since the 1987 debate. It was contended by some Christians that Freemasonry posited an alternative to the Christian understanding of God the Holy Trinity, and was thus idolatrous.
The Roman Catholic Church has a longstanding opposition to Freemasonry, and still prohibits membership on the ground that Masonic principles are irreconcilable with the doctrines of the Church.
The Chancellor said that, for the purposes of his judgment, it was not necessary to determine whether Christianity and Freemasonry were compatible. But he was, he said, entitled to note from the decisions of the General Synod and other Christian Churches that there was some doubt whether the two were compatible,
and that the addition of a Masonic symbol on a memorial in a C of E churchyard was likely to be controversial.
The Chancellor declined to grant the faculty sought, because the Churchyard Regulations 2010 expressly prohibited “any arms, crests, badge or insignia” except in certain circumstances for an insignia of the Armed Forces of the Crown.
Although the regulations permitted “representations of objects or motifs appropriate to the life of the deceased or of accepted Christian symbols”, there were already many such objects or motifs on the deceased’s memorial.
The Masonic symbol of a set square and compass was not an accepted Christian symbol, and was considered by some to be unchristian.