(Appeared in Fairfield Citizen newspaper 11/1)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.
Fairfield, CT – It was a sneak peek at a historic organization with roots dating back to the Middle Ages and the first time in decades in Connecticut that its doors had been opened to the public.
For three hours early Saturday afternoon, Fairfield’s Masonic Temple at 131 Beach Road held an Open House opportunity for visitors to tour the lodge, ask questions of members and learn more about this often controversial and mysterious society.
“We felt we wanted to meet the community, remind them we are here and that we contribute to life in Fairfield,” said Easton resident and Worshipful Master Andrew Bilukha, 35, the leader of Fidelty St. John’s Lodge 3 as the temple is formally recognized.
Bilukha was joined by Fairfield resident James L’Acosta, 49, a lodge brother who helped provide historical background. Said L’Acosta, while there are rumored connections to the builders of King Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem and even to Stonehenge, freemasonry is clearly associated to stonemason guilds in western Europe dating back to the Middle Ages. It was organized as an association for these laborers, who were builders of some of the great cathedrals.
In those days, stonemasonry was a critical craft and, though the era was very restrictive, these workers were allowed free travel. “As history progressed, methods for masonry changed from operative or labor-oriented, to speculative, in which men were not necessarily masons but using tools and methods to explore spiritual and moral questions,” said L’Acosta.
This transformation happened in the years 1500-1650, coinciding with the beginning of the Enlightenment period. The fraternity served as a safe and secret haven for discussion about such ideals as democracy, science, education, equality, freedom of religion and freedom of consciousness.
As more freedoms were gained, there was less secrecy, and, in 1717, the first grand lodge was formed, in London, England. The structure, analogies, symbols and rituals it established then – and those experienced by noted early American masons Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and Paul Revere -- are still observed today. The most recognized symbol, which is featured on the face of the Fairfield lodge, is a square and compass.
The Society took hold in Fairfield in 1762 and was believed to have been initiated at the Sun Tavern, where meetings were held. Masons met on moonlit nights, as they could see to travel. This tradition of meeting twice a month is still observed today.
The lodge’s past masters include members of Fairfield’s founding families including the Wheeler, Bulkeley, Lockwood, Penfield, Hull, Rowland and Staples clans. The current facility on Beach Road was established in 1954, at which time membership hovered around 700. Membership currently numbers 170.
The footprint of the lodge interior mimics early templates, with an east-to-west orientation. Elements include an altar, with a Holy Bible, at the center; a Master’s chair and raised gallery to the east; a Senior Warden’s chair to the west; and a Junior Warden’s chair to the south. The north and south sides of the room each feature about fifty blue velvet theater-style seats for members. At the Fairfield site, historical memorabilia such as tools, photographs and record books is also displayed.
The Master, which is a voted position, leads the lodge, with support from the Wardens. He wears a black felt hat and a pendant called a “jewel” which is his badge of office, carries a wooden gavel to symbolize his authority and carries a stonemason’s apron around his waist.
At meetings, there is no discussion of religion or politics and, while generally an open forum, there are certain lessons presented centered around principles like friendship, morality, brotherly love, service to God, ethical dilemmas and philosophy.
Reported Bilukha, the Masons are very community involved. They host Red Cross blood drives and a child identification program. They conduct a M.A.D.D. program with the Fairfield Police Dept. and fund burn units at area hospitals. They operate a Masonicare healthcare program for citizens and seniors. They raise funds for Shriners Hospitals. In fact, according to L’Acosta, 2.5 million American masons in over 15,000 lodges give more than $800 million to charities each year.
An open house visitor, Jean Kelley of Norwalk, said her grandfather was a freemason. Kelley’s daughter, Linda Lindine, said, “It’s fascinating to learn more about his association with the masons.”
While once a “secret society”, the fraternity now refers to itself as a “society with secrets”, meaning it prefers to retain privacy around its rituals and practices. It maintained that ideal during the open house while still providing a closer look at its rich and colorful history and traditions.