DeatH OF a
the leGend and lessons
Behind a faMous work of
by John L. Cooper III, Junior Grand Warden
In Rosslyn Chapel, in Scotland, stands a memorial to the remarkable skill of the stonemason’s art. Called the Apprentice
Pillar, it might also be called the Pillar of Beauty, for it is an
exquisite example of freestone carving by an operative mason.
The legend, which may not be as old as the pillar itself, tells of
the tragic end of the craftsman who carved it, and the jealousy
that caused his murder.
Crime of passion
It begins with a Master Mason who assigns an Entered
Apprentice the task of carving the third, and most beautiful, of
the central pillars in the chapel. He does not give the Entered
Apprentice any instruction in how to carve the pillar, perhaps
because he wants the Entered Apprentice to fail at the task.
The Master Mason then sets off for a foreign land, ostensibly to study a famous pillar and then bring the design back to
the chapel, where he will complete the pillar that the failed
Entered Apprentice could not carve. However, upon his return,
he discovers that the Entered Apprentice has completed the pillar, and that he has done so with a skill that the Master Mason
could never hope to achieve. In his anger, the Master Mason
strikes the Entered Apprentice on the forehead with a setting
maul, felling him dead at his feet.
As a punishment for his crime, the other stonemasons carve
a stone head representing the Master Mason along the inner
wall of the chapel, with its gaze forever fixed on the Apprentice
Pillar. And across from this, they carve another head – one
representing the slain Entered Apprentice, with a great wound
on his forehead, gazing forever at the stone
head of his murderer. The crime and its con-
sequences were carved in stone for all time.
Lessons carved in stone
The legend is about the failure of the Master
Mason to perform his prime duty of instructing his Entered Apprentice, and, instead,
plotting to discredit him and claim the glory
for himself. It backfires, and instead of our
remembering the great skill of the Master
Mason, we remember only his betrayal. The
beauty created by the Entered Apprentice is
his lasting memorial.
The story teaches three Masonic lessons
that we should not forget. First, it is the duty
of every Mason to empower another Mason
to succeed. Every Entered Apprentice is
told that his “future moral and Masonic edifice” will be built well and truly if he stays
close to the “master builder” in his lodge
– symbolically represented by the master of
the lodge. That, in turn, requires the master
to teach Freemasonry to those in his charge,
and particularly to a new Mason.
Second, we are taught to circumscribe
our passions, and keep them within due
bounds. Focused energy is a blessing;