In an earlier post, I wrote about the wonderful glass bell Louis Felix gave to Monitor Lodge in Waltham, Massachusetts. The object pictured here served the same purpose in Masonic ritual, but is entirely different in materials, mechanism and sound.
You can see this ritual bell, originally used by members of Union Lodge in Dorchester, in Curators’ Choice: Favorites from the Collection. From about 1870 or so, lodge members rang this bell to mark a symbolic midnight, or “low twelve,” during a Masonic ritual based on the story of Hiram Abiff’s murder at King Solomon’s Temple. In one mid-1800s description of the ceremony, the Master approaches the candidate, who lays on the floor, playing the part of the murdered Hiram, and “strikes the hour of low twelve on a triangle or bell...” near the candidate’s head.
When one of the brothers wanted to sound this bell, he turned the small crank on the side of the wooden base. The crank is still shiny, burnished by the touch of many fingers. Each rotation of the crank brought a clapper against the side of the metal gong. A square and compasses cut from a light-colored wood and fixed to the front of the wooden stand the object had a Masonic purpose. Ball-shaped brass feet and a decorative pewter finial, now a little bent, lend the object panache.
In time, the tradition of marking midnight with a bell fell out of fashion in Masonic lodges. Brothers replaced the striking of a ceremonial bell with twelve notes played on an organ. Eventually, bells like this one no longer had a place in the lodge.
This bell does not boast a makers’ mark, and we do not have anything else quite like it in the collection. It may have been crafted by a brother for Union Lodge or it could have been the product of a fraternal supply house. Without some kind of documentation, it is not possible to say for certain, but we are curious about who made it. If you know of a similar object or some other kind of “low twelve” bell, please leave us a comment.
Ritual Bell, ca. 1870. National Heritage Museum, Gift of Union Lodge, Ancient Free & Accepted Masons, Dorchester, Massachusetts, 78.52.3. Museum staff photo.
Malcom C. Duncan, Duncan’s Masonic Ritual and Monitor, (New York: L. Fitzgerald, Publisher), 1866, p. 107.
John D. Hamilton, Material Culture of American Freemasons, (Lexington, Massachusetts: Museum of Our National Heritage), 1994, p. 89.