Can you believe it: today I've met HRH Prince Michael of Kent!
I was seeing (professionally for my book: Inspector Morse and Hercule Poirot have an episode playing in this building) an exhibition in Freemasons' Hall in London. This imposing Art Deco monument was built in 1933, and the United Grand Lodge of England is the governing body of Freemasonary of England, Wales and the Channel Islands.
Today a big meeting took place - you saw a lot of distinguished gentlemen in elegant black suits. Thus we were only allowed to see the remarkable exhibition in the library instead of getting the (free) tour round the building.
But by chance I found a guide: a lovely, very well-informed man who showed me around, and when I asked him he admitted that he was a Freemason himself, and so I learned a lot. In one display cabinet he showed me "the Lewis" (I instantly thought of Inspector Morse's sidekick) - an implement used for lifting heavy blocks of stone. It is inserted into the top of the stone and signifies "strength and is the emblem of the eldest son of the mason. When conjoined with the Perfect Ashlaw it symbolises the son supporting the parent. "
The Freemasons do not advertise or make proselytes: you have to ask to be allowed to become a member. And - that was new to me - you can be of any religion (or none - as long as you believe in a Higher Being). I knew that Catholics for a very long time were forebidden by the Pope Clement XII to swear the oath of Freemasonary - if they did, they were excommunicated.
I love the little stories.
In 1730 the German Catholics who intended to join Freemasonary but were not allowed created 'The Order of the Mopses' (Mops is the German word for the dog 'pug' - that was their symbol - and because they had not to swear an oath the Catholic Church could not excommunicate them.
Another very interesting story:
In 1934, soon after Adolf Hitler's rise of Power, the German Grand Lodge of the Sun in Bayreuth recognised the danger to Freemasonary, because the Nazis hated them and confiscated their property. So they elected the 'Forget-Me-Not" in lieu of the traditional Square and Compass emblem as a mark of identity for Masons (...) - throughout the wholeNazi-era that little blue flower marked a Brother.'
By the way: there are Sisters now too - though in different Lodges.
While the visitor told me these and other interesting facts, he suddenly draw me near him and bowed his head; I thought: 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do' and followed: HRH Prince Michael of Kent, who is the current Grand Master of the Mark Master Masons had entered the room, followed by two High Masons, and he smiled at us, then disappeared in the Grand Hall.
For more information see: www.freemasonry.london.museum