Holding beards

Many European cathedrals have strange details, some of which are usually even hardly visible. In Den Bosch (or ‘s-Hertogenbosch) in the Southern Netherlands there is the Saint Johns Cathedral. It has some of the more famous little figurines sitting on the flying buttresses high up in the air.

(1)

As you can see there are people, animals, sometimes something in between. Some of the people play an instrument, while others represent a craft. Some of these craft statuettes are popular among Freemasons.

Such replicas are available of many of the “flying buttresses figurines”, but these are the first that I encountered. The fellow on the left appears to be hewing a rock. That must be an entered apprentice, right? The second one is laying bricks. Fellow Craft? Then we have a man with making drawings with compasses, the Master Mason obviously. Yet, it is the fourth figure that is usually named “Master Mason”. Perhaps he points towards the drawings made by his colleague on the left?

Be that as it may, the fourth person is obviously holding his beard. This even appears to be the reason he is called “Master Mason” in the first place, because he has his hand in the “master’s sign”. Here we have another such “Master Mason” from the Stephansdom in Vienna (Wien), Austria.

Irony has it that I know this century old image (republished in different books) and I have never seen an actual photo, but there are more examples from different parts of the world, often called “Master Masons”.

The strange hand posture does indeed remind of a Masonic sign, yet not that of the third degree. And would the holding of the beard be equivalent to holding the hand below the chin? There are strong suggestions that they do.

We know of other types of figures holding beards, such as this one:

Which makes a connection between the beard and a ‘sanctifying hammer’ (literally). Thor is sometimes seen as a God of initiation (2). If this suggestion is correct, the hand below the chin either or not holding a beard might be a sign of the initiated, which, perhaps, was the Master Mason among the Masons guilds. The beard just may have even a significance of its own here (3).

Another fascinating possible link between pre-Christian usages and Freemasonry.


(1) Photo taken from this website on 3/8/2021

(2) Thórr, God of initiation (accessed 3/8/2021)

(3) Beards of Power (accessed 3/8/2021)

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