Amphibalus

Not immediately a ‘heathen’ subject, but still something that may be worth pointing at.

As you probably know, Masonic texts usually contain legendary histories of the Craft. The so-called “Old Charges” often are just that. These histories were probably read to candidates as a part of their initiation. The histories start in some distant past with Noah or Moses, but a part I want to bring to your attention is how the Craft came to England.

Soon after that St. Adhabell came into England and converted St. Albon to Christianity. St. Alban loved masons very much, and he was the first to give them charges and customs in England, and he ordered adequate wages to pay for their toil. After that there was a worthy King in England, called Athelstone [Athelstan], and his youngest son loved the Science of Geometry very much; and he knew, as well as the masons themselves, that their handicraft was the practice of the Science of Geometry.

Thus says the Cooke Manuscript form 1410.

St. Alban returns in several other “Old Charges”. In the Grand Lodge No.1 manuscript (1583) no predecessor is mentioned. This also isn’t the case in the York No.1 manuscript (1600), but here it is said that a pagan walled the town (that is now called) St. Albons [Albans], so a pagan mason made the wall around the city of St. Albons, suggesting that the man St. Alban got the craft from him. In Inigo Jones (1600) not the builder, but the king was the pagan (“And in Saint Albane’s [Alban’s] time; the King of England that was a pagan, did wall the town that was called Verulum”). This is repeated in the first Sloane manuscript (1646). The first version of the Constitutions turns the situation around claiming “The Knowledge of Masonry was unknown in England until St. Alban came thither [There], who instructed the King in the said Science of Masonry, and also in Divinity, who was a Pagan”. Not the pagan, but the Christian knew Masonry.

The reason this is interesting, in several manuscripts, Aethelstan is the next to be acquainted with Masonry and it was Aethelstan’s son Edwin who compiled the charges. Aethelstan probably came from Scandinavia and some will say that he mixed Norse paganism with masonic knowledge.

I want to look ‘into the other direction’ though. In 1686 Robert Plot (1640-1696) wrote the book The Natural History of Staffordshire (1686) in which he has a few things to say about Free Masonry, such as:

that it was brought into England by Saint Amphibal, and first communicated to S.Alban, who set down the Charges of masonry, and was made paymaster and governor of the Kings works, and gave them charges and manners as St. Amphibal had taught him. Which were after confirmed by King Athelstan, whose youngest son Edwyn loved well masonry, took upon him the charges and learned the manners, and obtained for them of his father a free-charter.

I don’t think I had heard of this Amphibal before and I thought he appeared in none of the Old Charges, but this turns out to be false. There is one that brings him on stage, the William Watson manuscript (1535) which says:

Every honest Mason or any other worthy workman that has any love for the Craft of Masonry, and would like to know how the Craft of Masonry first came into England and by whom it was established and confirmed, it is noted and written in histories of England and in old charges of St. Alban’s time, and King Ethelstone [Athelstan] declared, that Amphabell came out of France into England, and brought St. Alban into Christendom and made him a Christian man. He brought with him the charges of Masons as they existed in France and in other lands.

What can see find about this Amphibalus? There is a Wikipedia article about him in which he is presented a Christian who converted St. Alban. It appears that the person Amphibalus may actually have been due to a mistake in reading amphiboles (the cloak of St. Alban) for a name by Geoffrey of Monmouth. It could be that the two get mixed up. Or would he actually have been the Adhabell from the very first quote of this article? About him I can find even less.

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