Henry Andrew Francken

The Mysterious Ladder

94_029DP1DBDo you recognize this ladder? It’s a prop that Scottish Rite Freemasons used during the early 1900s when conferring the 30th degree. Known as the “mysterious ladder,” the words on one side’s rungs call out the seven liberal arts and sciences: grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. The rungs on the other side, marked with transliterations of Hebrew, reminded initiates of virtues such as understanding, faith, purity and charity. Writing on the sides of the ladder represents love of God and love of your neighbor. These messages, along with the upward-pointing shape of the ladder reminded the candidate of how he could learn and grow as a Mason.

While this particular ladder dates to the early 1900s, the history of its use in the Scottish Rite degrees goes back to the mid-1700s, when it appeared in the 24th degree. Scholar Alain Bernheim has found evidence that this degree, complete with an illustration of the ladder, originated in France in 1750. The Francken Manuscript in the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, which dates to 1783, also includes an illustration of the ladder with the text of the 24th degree, then titled “Grand Elected Knight of Kadosh or Knight of the White and Black Eagle” (you can read more about Henry Andrew Francken, the compiler of the manuscript, here). As the degrees were rewritten and reorganized into the present-day system, the ladder remained in what became the 30th degree. Regalia Catalog Ladder 1

Ritual books from 1875, 1904 and 1939 include an explanation of the ladder and required the candidates to mount the steps and climb over it before receiving the degree. The 1904 and 1939 books show a scale drawing of the ladder and indicate its placement in a plan of the room or stage. The ritual explained that “it is the only way of entrance to the Order, and we sincerely trust that the lessons taught on its several steps will make a deep and lasting impression on your mind.” Regalia catalogs in the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library collection from the early 1900s (see illustration on right) offer the ladder “of wood, well made and finished, the proper lettering in both English and Hebrew.” Today, the ladder is no longer used in the 30th degree, but it helps to demonstrate the change from intimate degree ceremonies conferred in the lodge room to elaborate staged degrees during the early 1900s.

Mysterious Ladder, 1900-1910, United States, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library purchase, 94.029. Photograph by David Bohl.

Ladder illustration from Catalog No. 270, The Lilley Company, 1900-1920, Columbus, Ohio. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.

Spring Gallery Talks: "A Sublime Brotherhood"

3.23  SC010T1_compressedWe have added some spring gallery talks in A Sublime Brotherhood: 200 Years of Scottish Rite Freemasonry in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction to our programs roster.

The talks will be held at 2 p.m. on: Saturday, March 22; Saturday, April 26; Saturday, May 17; Saturday, July 26.

"A Sublime Brotherhood" was curated by Aimee E. Newell, the Museum's Director of Collections, in celebration of the bicentennial of the Northern Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite's founding. The exhibition features keystone documents, such as the Francken manuscript (pictured here). You will also see richly decorated ritual objects, like a colorful and intricately carved lectern, and personal items, such as astronaut John Glenn's Scottish Rite ring

Come and learn about the Scottish Rite's French roots, its founding in America two centuries ago and its evolution into one of the most popular American fraternal groups during the 1900s. Among other features of the exhibition are photos, costumes, and Scottish Rite items, many of which have never previously been on view.

Our readers may be interested in the publication that accompanies "A Sublime Brotherhood," co-authored by Newell and other Museum staff. To learn more about the book and how to order it, read our previous post.

For further information, contact the Museum at (781) 861-6559 or check our website: www.monh.org.

Image credit:

Francken Manuscript, 1783. Henry Andrew Francken, Kingston, Jamaica. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, SC 010. Photograph by David Bohl.

A Brittle and Torn Manuscript: Conservation of an early Scottish Rite Patent

Hays patent before conservation by NEDCC_CROPPED In selecting an item for conservation this spring, I chose a Scottish Rite patent from Henry Andrew Francken (1720-1795) to Moses Michael Hays (1739-1805). The document was in poor condition. Up until the mid-19th century, paper was generally made from linen and rags, materials which contribute to their physical integrity and longevity. The later nineteenth-century practice of adding cheaper wood pulp in the paper-making practice is what contributes to the type of brittle paper that we usually attribute to many late 19th-century newspapers, books, and other documents. (For more on this topic, and other factors that contribute toward paper deteriorating, check out the Library of Congress's helpful page on the subject). Despite being from a period when we might expect paper to be strong, the Hays patent was very brittle because the iron gall ink had burned through the document in several places. In addition, there were many tears and breaks along the folds of the manuscript and the upper left portion of the manuscript was detached (see photo at left).

In anticipation of the upcoming 200th anniversary (1813-2013) of the birth of the Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, I selected this document for conservation.  This is a very early and important Scottish Rite patent, a manuscript copy in Hays' handwriting, and dated 1768. The location of Francken's original patent to Hays is unknown. On December 6, 1768, Francken appointed Hays to be a Deputy Inspector General for the West Indies and North America.  This appointment and patent gave Hays the authority to confer the degrees of the Order of the Royal Secret upon selected Master Masons. The twenty-five degrees of the Order of the Royal Secret (often called the Rite of Perfection) was a precursor to the Scottish Rite, which was officially formed in 1801. Hays, born to a Dutch family in New York, lived in New York City at the time that Francken deputized him. A year later, in 1769, Hays was made the first Master of the newly formed King David's Lodge, a lodge whose namesake reflects the Jewish faith of its first officers (the silversmith Myer Myers was Senior Warden, and Isaac Moses was Junior Warden). Hays later relocated to Newport Rhode Island and then Boston. Hays served as Grand Master Massachusetts Grand Lodge from 1788-92.

Hays patent after 
conservation by NEDCC_CROPPEDThe document was taken to the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) in Andover, Massachusetts, which specializes in preservation and conservation of paper-based objects. Here, their trained professionals cleaned the document using dry cleaning techniques to reduce surface soil.  Then, the document was immersed in a filtered water and alcohol bath to clean the paper and reduce acidity.  After this, the item was alkalized (or deacidified) with a calcium hydroxide solution.  The document was later backed with Japanese paper and wheat starch paste to mend tears and fill in losses to provide overall support.  Lastly, it was humidified again and dried flat between blotters under light pressure.

When the document was completely dry, it was encapsulated in a polyester film (Melinex) to protect against dirt, handling, and atmospheric pollution (see photo at right).  This important manuscript can now be viewed and studied in preparation for the 200th anniversary of the Supreme Council.