Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Kirkwall Scroll

Hanging within the halls of Lodge Kirkwall Kilwinning No. 38 (2) is a relic known as the Kirkwall Scrolls. Lodge Kirkwall Kilwinning No. 38 (2) is located on the Orkney islands (24-miles northeast of Scotland) and is one of the oldest Lodges in Scotland. From extant records, this Lodge traces its history back to 1736, but its charter is dated 1740. The Lewis Masonic publishing company describes them in the following way:
Some believe that the Kirkwall Scroll is the oldest Freemasonic relic in the world, painted by mysterious masters in the middle ages to preserve ancient pagan wisdom, and to integrate Norse myths, Wicca and Kabbalah.
Others assert that the Scroll shows the origins of many Masonic degrees and that it maps out the Apprentice's journey through the Ancient and Accepted Rite from neophyte to Prince & Master of the Royal Secret, and finally to the 33rd. degree of Inspector General.
The scrolls are decorated sailcloth that include a number of Masonic symbols and maps. The scroll is composed of three separate sections (left, center, and right) sewn together and is 18.5-ft long and 5.5-ft wide. It is kept on the west wall of the Lodge room which gets the least amount of light (this helps with preservation).
The left section shows the Jews wandering before they go to Egypt.
The right section shows the Jews wandering in the Wilderness after their flight from Egypt. Some wonder if these two side sections were once joined together at one time. 
The center section displays seven scenes. Starting at the bottom is an altar with two pillars on each side of it with common Masonic emblems surrounding it. 
The second scene is another altar surrounded by symbols to include the Mosaic Pavement, two upside-down Square & Compasses, and a Cross of Lorraine
The third shows among the Masonic symbols an altar, two pillars, an arch, the breastplate of a High Priest, and cherubim. It should be noted that there are cherubim present on the arms of the Antient Grand Lodge of England, the Grand Lodge of Ireland and the United Grand Lodge of England. 
The fourth scene shows the Tabernacle of the Ark of the Covenant and symbols that remind me of the Royal Ark Mariner degree. 
The fifth is said to show the Last Judgment.
The sixth scene seems to have an Allied Masonic Degree theme as it shows a cross on top of a pyramid with a rainbow arching over it, all of which is surrounded by Masonic and alchemical symbols.
The seventh shows a naked woman, thought to be Eve, sitting under a tree surrounded by animals. In the backdrop, is a body of water and mountains.
There is a debate as to the age and origin of this scroll. Some like Andrew Sinclair declare it to be a medieval treasure while others like Bob Cooper state that it dates only from the late 18th century. Personally, I think the latter is correct and that the other claims are sensational and historically inaccurate. 

Dr. Andrew Sinclair, a Scottish historian from Churchill College, believes that the scroll proves that Freemasonry is descended from the fabled Knights Templar. Going further with this, Robert Lomas, a Masonic author, sees depictions of the Ancient & Accepted Scottish Rite in the seven scenes previously described.
"The symbols up the centre strip seem to show the means of progression of the initiate from the degree of entered apprentice through to the rank of Sovereign Grand Inspector General." - Robert Lomas
With all due respect to Bro. Lomas, but this seems suspect as the 33-degree system of the Scottish Rite didn't come about until 1801. Prior to that, the Rite of Perfection that came to the Americas in the 1760s only consisted of 25-degrees. The Supreme Council of the Ancient & Accepted Rite wasn't established in the UK until 1845.

On the other side of the fence, the minutes of this Kirkwall Lodge state that around the end of July 1786, Bro. Williame Graeme, a journeyman painter by trade and who had recently affiliated to this Lodge from an Antient Lodge, presented a floor cloth to the Lodge and it is assumed that this scroll is that floor cloth. There are no other documentation or historical references to the scrolls before this date. When Bro. Graeme died, he left to the Kirkwall Lodge his Book of the Ancient Constitution of Free and Accepted Masons. One theory is that this scroll was created by Bro. Graeme, a Mason from an Antient Lodge, scrolls adorned with Antient symbolism, and which the earliest references to this scroll occurred after his affiliation with the Kirkwall Lodge.

Bob Cooper and others come to this conclusion by analyzing the symbolism adorning the Kirkwall Scroll. Bro. William R. Day, an Australian Freemason, did some extensive research on these scrolls that were published in Volume 38 of Ars Quatuor Coronatorum and who thought the scrolls were a modern production. Bro. Day was known for his expertise in Masonic symbolism. He notes that the on the altar is found the coat of arms for the Antient Grand Lodge. The Antients were not founded until 1751 and these arms were first displayed in 1764 so he states "it is reasonable to assume that the Scroll is of later date than that, especially as there are other traces of Antient influence." The name Blesington also appears on the scroll who served as Grand Master from 1756 to 1760. He also noted that verses from Exodus and Song of Solomon were on the scroll and were verbatim from the King James Version (KJV), but the KJV wasn't translated until 1611.

According to Brian Smith, an archivist for Shetland Islands Council, the carbon-dating results from Oxford University’s Accelerator Laboratory were 85BP+/-35 which translates into a range of 1680-1740 for the low end and 1800-1960 on the high end. Such results do not support claims of medieval creation and would coincide with Bro. Graeme's presentation to the Orkney Lodge. Bro. Cooper reminds us in his analysis that "radiocarbon dating is essentially for calculating the age of things in thousands of years, not hundreds. The results translate into a very wide range.” 

Bro. Stephen Dafoe said it right in The Compasses and the Cross when he said, and I am paraphrasing, that we Masons are a peculiar breed not being content with our history that some have to invent sensational legends in an attempt to bolster our pedigree. On its own, this scroll and the symbolism adorning it is worthy of research and preservation without fabricating a legend about it.


1. Kirkwall Scroll. (n.d.). Retrieved from Freemasonry Watch:  

2. Kirkwall Scroll. (n.d.). Retrieved from Lewis Masonic: 

3. Masonic manuscripts: Kirkwall Scroll. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia: 

4. Sinclair, A. (n.d.). The Kirkwall Scroll. Retrieved from Skirret: 

5. Smith, B. (n.d.). The Not-So-Secret-Scroll - Priceless Relic or Floorcloth? Retrieved from ORKNEYJAR: 

6. The Kirkwall Scroll. (n.d.). Retrieved from Robert Lomas' website:

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