Souvenirs from Solomon's Temple
July 29, 2014
An inscription on the lid of this silver octagonal box tells its story:
"This piece of Magnesian lime stone was broken off from the side of one of the large foundation stones on which stood the renowned Temple of Solomon. It was procured by myself with considerable difficulty, the place being guarded by an armed Turkish soldier, in the spring of 1851 in the ancient city of Jerusalem, & it is affectionately presented to Hammatt Lodge, East Boston, as a memorial —J. V. C. Smith Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. Boston. Feb. 22, 1860."
Applied to the front of the box is an open book, representing the Bible, with a square and compasses symbol. The box is lined with dark blue velvet. Inside rests the piece of white limestone.
Masonic ritual is based on the biblical story of the building of King Solomon’s Temple. The structure is described in 1 Kings 6–7, including its dimensions and the materials used in its construction. Builders erected the Temple in the tenth century BC as a sacred resting place for the Ark of the Covenant, which contained fragments of the Ten Commandments’ tablets. In 597 BC, Babylon conquered Assyria and laid siege to Jerusalem. Ten years later, the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar II, destroyed the Temple and stole most of the artifacts inside; the Ark of the Covenant vanished and its location remains a mystery.
For centuries, Solomon’s Temple has captured the imagination of Freemasons. Individual Masons, as well as groups of lodge brothers (like those in the photo to the right), made pilgrimages to the site of the Temple in Jerusalem throughout the late 1800s and the 1900s. These men often brought back souvenirs made out of limestone from King Solomon’s Quarry, thought to be the source of the stone for the Temple.
Jerome Van Crowninshield Smith (1800–1879), who obtained the stone in this box and donated it to Hammatt Lodge, of which he was a charter member in 1860, was born in Conway, New Hampshire. He attended Brown University and Williams College, eventually becoming a physician. In 1826, Smith took the post of health officer of the port of Boston, a position he filled until 1849. He also worked as a medical journalist.
Smith became a Mason in 1822 when he joined Boston's Mount Lebanon Lodge. In 1857, he demitted from that lodge and became a charter member of Hammatt Lodge. From 1852 to 1854, he served as District Deputy Grand Master of District No. 1, and, in 1860, he was Deputy Grand Master of Massachusetts. During the early 1850s, Smith traveled, going to Jerusalem in 1851, where he procured the piece of limestone from Solomon’s Temple illustrated here. He also obtained another set of stones that he presented to Boston’s Mount Lebanon Lodge in 1852. Smith published three books about his travels: Turkey and the Turks, A Pilgrimage to Egypt, and A Pilgrimage to Palestine. He also gave lectures to Masonic groups about his trips.
When Smith returned from abroad in 1854, his fellow citizens elected him mayor of Boston; he served into 1855. He also resumed his work as a medical journalist and, in 1854, became editor of the Medical and Surgical Journal. In 1870, Smith retired and moved with his wife to New York City, where he lived until his death in 1879.
Today, this box is part of the collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, which is on extended loan at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library in Lexington, Massachusetts. This box is one of more than 100 objects from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts collection featured in the recent book Curiosities of the Craft: Treasures from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts Collection. You can order a copy here. You can see this box and other souvenirs from Jerusalem in our current (July 2014) exhibition, “Prized Relics: Historic Souvenirs from the Collection.”
Box, 1860, unidentified maker, probably Boston. Gift of Hammatt Lodge, Collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.4583a-b. Photograph by David Bohl.
Massachusetts Masons at King Solomon’s Quarry, 1899, unidentified photographer, Jerusalem. Gift of King David Lodge, Collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.11735.
Joseph Gutmann, “The Temple of Solomon and Its Influence on Jewish, Christian and Islamic Architectural Thought” in Companion to Contemporary Architectural Thought, ed. Ben Farmer and Hentie Louw (London: Routledge, 1993): 215-219.
Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts 1879 (Boston: Rockwell and Churchill, 1879), 67–68.