The Keystone

What is a Keystone? Why is it different, special, or set apart?

As all Mark Master Masons know, a Keystone is a stone unlike any others. While most workman only have orders to create good work, true work, square work. Yet, the completion of the first temple and more importantly the 9 arches, could only be accomplished the aid of that special stone, one completely different than any other needed for building walls and foundations – the keystone.

The Keystone is used to complete an arch which creates a window or portal to a special place. What makes this stone so special is not the material; this stone is made of the material as any other stone, what makes it special is its shape. Just like the Master Mason who uses the common gavel to break the corners off the rough ashlar to form the perfect ashlar, so the Royal Arch Mason learns to take the same common material to create a stone with a singular form and function. The keystone is both special with its shape but also with is placement. It is placed at the highest point of the archway and by its characteristics; it gives strength, and durability to the arch. The purpose of a Keystone is to impart to Royal Arch Masonry its durability and uniqueness. Let us explore the mighty characteristics of this stone of singular form and beauty…the most important stone in all the building.

Each Masonic body was derived its teachings from a variety of symbols more ancient than our craft. Their moral teachings have come to represent vital and enduring principles, not only to Masons, but to the world at large.

As the studied Master Mason should be able to explain to the youngest Entered Apprentice, the Blue Lodge ritual is founded upon that memorable period when Solomon, King of Israel, erected his temple to the living God, and the traditions, symbolism, and ritual of the craft may be traced to that period, and beyond to earliest initiatic traditions.

Royal Arch Masonry bases its traditions, its symbolism, and its teachings on that period of time when the Jewish people produced some of the most remarkable, interesting, and romantic art, literature, and architecture of any race before. The Mark Master, Past Master, and Most Excellent Master degrees deal with King Solomon depicted in the Old Testament. The historical context is within the era of the Persian empire, and the Jewish people.

The Keystone is used in different ways in the three of the four degrees governed by a Royal Arch Chapter.

The Mark Master degree teaches the important lesson that freemasonry is not only working in the quarries, but learning how give and receive your wages for that work.  We first learn about the keystone.

We confer the degree of a virtual Past Master because it was believed that the knowledge is these degrees was only of use to a mason who had occupied the oriental chair of King Solomon and knew the value of leadership and service.

The Most Excellent Master degree venerates the Keystone in its ceremony, while in the Royal Arch degree, the Keystone is rediscovered in the ruins of the Temple.

As all of Masonic ritual is built upon the preceding degrees, the symbolism of the Keystone is shared in the Most Excellent and Royal Arch Degrees with references to the Mark Master degree, which is the ceremony where it is first introduced to a York Rite candidate.

A Keystone completes an arch which greatly strengthens a building’s design. The keystone in reality allowed for the great advancement of architecture, leaving the horizontal lentil in the past and allowed for great arches that could support their own weight and that of a great structure besides. It was a revolutionary device for Ancient Builders because it made the edifice stronger, allowed in light, and beautified the interior.

We are taught that Entered Apprentices carried stones, Fellowcrafts carved and chiseled, and Master Masons lead, taught, and designed. But this is all done in the restrictions of squared work. Think about it – the candidate (a Master Mason) is handed a copy of a Keystone as he begins the Mark Masters Degree. He has no idea of what the stone means, what its purpose is, or what he is to do with it.

As a Royal Arch Mason, we must unlock the mystery, we must discover its purpose through the aid of the Designer and knowledge of people such as King Solomon.

The shape of the Keystone makes it unique. It is neither an oblong, nor a square. It is not like the other stones. Our ritual tells us that is was personally designed by one of the greatest artisans to walk the earth, Hiram Abif. He is remembered as one who had an extra proportion of God-given ability in the art of stone building. This shows an extension of knowledge from our Blue Lodge teachings, yet it also shows a new level of achievement, that of shaping stones for the building that were not square. This shows us that sometimes in life we are to take the knowledge of building, stones, and carving that we possess and make a new level of existence that enhances the previous work.

As mentioned previously, the Keystone is critical to giving a building some unique characteristics

Before electricity, large buildings possessed dark interiors and were candle-lit places day and night. The arch, by aid of the Keystone, allows the possibility of more light to enter the building because more windows and doors could be built into a wall. How does this affect your daily life? What does it mean for your spiritual building? By using a Keystone as a symbol, you can allow “more light” to enter into our life.  The portals that can be created in greater numbers allowing easier access to core of the building, when arches and Keystones are used in a building, represent you as a Mason allowing the cares and sorrows of the hurting souls around you to penetrate your heart and cause you to be a source of Hope to mankind.

An Arch, by design, reaches to the sky or upward the closest stone in an arch is the Keystone. This is meant to reflect that we should build our Arch toward the Grand Architect completing it with our Keystone that we have shaped. This further means, we should be using the knowledge of G-d and our Faith in Him we have attained to accomplish this task …to find our purpose while building our spiritual temple.

On our Royal Arch Chapter coins, letterhead, and rings, we represent the essence of the greatness of Royal Arch Masonry be the use of a Keystone. May each one of us use the Keystone to represent our aspirations to strengthen, enlighten, and improve our world, country, families, friends, and ourselves.

Portions taken from the Installation of Grand Officers of the Grand Chapter RAM of Iowa at Oskaloosa speech, October 5th, 1887 written by C. M. Harl.

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