Friday, July 6, 2018

The Ancient City of York

We are taught in the Blue Lodge (sometimes referred to as Craft Masonry or the Symbolic Degrees) that Freemasonry is a progressive science taught through degrees. When one attains the Sublime Degree of Master Mason he has attained the highest degree in Freemasonry, but he should not be content with stagnation and should continue to seek further light in Freemasonry. One of the pathways a Mason may take in his continued education is the York Rite. It is important to remember that the York Rite, or any other body within the Masonic umbrella, is not considered higher in rank than the Master Mason degree, but rather is just a continuation for those seeking more light in Freemasonry. The York Rite of Freemasonry derives its name from the English city of York and surrounds the legend of King Athelstan (grandson of Alfred the Great), who reigned over a thousand years ago and is considered the first King of All England. From the Regius Poem or Halliwell Manuscript, King Athelstan is said to have granted the first charters to Masonic guilds at the legendary Grand Assembly at York which was held in 926 A.D. and which was presided over by King Athelstan. The city has been controlled by Romans, Saxons, Vikings, and Normans; and has been known by various names such as Eboracum, Jórvík, and Eoforwīc before being known as York. York was the location to many historic events and legends: the Roman Emperor Constantine was proclaimed Emperor at York in 306 AD, Athelstan's Assembly in 926 AD, the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, the War of the Roses, the English Civil War, and the birth of Guy Fawkes.

The ancient city of York has a rich history dating back nearly 2,000-years, but there is archaeological evidence that Mesolithic people settled in the region between 8,000 and 7,000 BC. It is located where the rivers Ouse and Foss meet. It was originally named Eboracum when it was founded by the Roman Ninth Legion in 71 AD which served as the capital of the Roman Province of Britannia Inferior then later the kingdoms of Saxon kingdom of Deirwa, Viking Kingdom of Jórvík, and Northumbria. At the time of Roman occupation in 43 AD, there was a tribe known as Brigantes who fought and lost to the Roman Legion. Initially, it was merely a fort, but grew into a town. The name of Eboracum is believed to be derived from the Brythonic word "Eborakon" which is a combination of "eburos" meaning "yew-tree" and "-āko(n)" meaning "place." The 12th-century chronicler, Geoffrey of Monmouth, suggested that the name derived from a legendary king named Ebraucus, but there is no evidence to support that theory.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, York fell under the governance of the Saxons who called it Eoforwīc or Eoforīc, which means "wild-boar town" or "rich in wild-boar". It is believed that the Saxons were confused "Ebor" meaning "yew tree" with "Eofor" meaning "wild boar." The Saxons originally came to Britain as mercenaries in the Roman Empire. In the early 7th century the kingdoms of Deira and Bernicia combined to make the Kingdom of Northumbria.

York was captured in 627 AD by King Edwin who made it his capital. The precursor of York Minster was erected in the same year and allowed for King Edwin to be baptized as a Christian. A stone church was built a few years later and dedicated to St. Peter. Under Edwin and his successors, Christianity began to spread among the Britains which caused York to become an ecclesiastical center, second only to Canterbury. From 735 onward, it would be a seat for an Archbishop. The church in York burned down in 741 AD and was replaced by a larger church containing no less than 30 altars.

After the Viking invasion and conquest of the 9th century, York (then called Jórvík) was a major trading route and capital for Vikings. The word York is rooted in the Old Norse word "Jórvík" which means "wild boar". The city prospered under the massive trading as archaeologists have found luxury goods from as far away as Byzantium (modern-day Turkey) and the Arabian Gulf have been found side by side along with local goods. 

The street names of York are a reminder of the city's history. Many of the streets end with "-gate", but it does not indicate that a gate was or is along that street. "-Gate" comes from the Danish word "gata" meaning "street." If there is or was a gatehouse located on a street, the street name is followed by "Bar" (i.e. Micklegate Bar). The Vikings lost control of York in 954 AD when King Eadred, brother of King Athelstan, defeated Eric Bloodaxe.

After the Battle of Hastings, in 1066 AD, England was left to the Normans under the leadership of William the Conqueror. While he had to suppress small rebellions, he took York without a battle and made it his base of operations for northern Britain. York was captured and sacked by both rebels and William's forces who ultimately kept the city and rebuilt it in 1069 AD. The city of York continued to prosper, but like the rest of Europe faced occasional plagues. in 1212, King John gave York a charter that gave the citizens the ability to self-government and which lasted until 1974.

While it is commonly referred to as York Minster, its official name is "Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St Peter in York." Under the direction of Walter de Gray, Archbishop of York, construction for the building began in 1220, but would not be completed until 1472. Popular for the time, the Minster was built using Gothic-style architecture. St. Williams College was built in 1461 as a home for priests of York Minster. This college is named after William Fitzherbert who was Archbishop of York in 1153. The minster is the seat for the Archbishop of York, the second-highest office of the Church of England. The word "minster" derives from the Late Latin word "monasterium" meaning "the church of a monastery." Minster is an honorific title used for particular churches in England: York Minster in York, Westminster in London, and Southwell Minster in Southwell.

The city of York was at the center of the War of the Roses (1455-1487), a series of civil wars, fought between the House of Lancaster (red rose) and the House of York (white rose) which resulted in the elimination the male lines of both families and the rise of the Tudor Dynasty; the Tudors were a distant relative of the Lancasters. Both of these houses were cadet branches of the House of Plantagenet, who ruled as England's king during the 14th century. The Yorks were descended from the female relatives of Edward’s second and fourth sons, while the Lancasters were related to Edward’s third son, John of Gaunt. When the throne was contested, both families claimed the throne. 


Between 1642 and 1646 England was torn apart by a civil war (primarily a class war) fought between the Royalists (supporters of Charles I) and the Parliamentarians. York was considered a Royalist stronghold but was captured by Parliamentarians in 1644. Once the civil war ended, York began to grow again and by 1660 was the third-largest city in England, next to London and Norwich. in the 17th century, trade began to decline in York due to the rise in trade from the American colonies.

With the Industrial Revolution (1760-1840) and the rise of the railway system, York became a hub for northern England. The Lord Mayor, George Hudson, was instrumental in bringing the railroad to York in 1839. Local businesses benefited from this improved transportation system and the railway itself became a major employer in York. One industry that came to York was confectionery and the making of cocoa; York, today, is remembered for its railway and confections. By 1850, thirteen trains a day ran from York to London and, by 1877, York had the largest train station in England. By the next century, York began to prosper and became a trading center for England and Europe. York took damage in World War II during German bombing raids.

Today it stands as a center for services such as education and health services as well as for its cultural tourist attractions such as the Shambles (inspired Diagon Alley in Harry Potter), York Minster, National Railway Museum, and Jorvik Viking Centre. York has been an epicenter of history, and, as a Christian and a Freemason, York is definitely on my "List of Places to See."


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