ISSUE 22, July 2007
Quarterly Communication: Speech of the Grand Master : Address of the Pro Grand Master : Report of the Board of General Purposes
Historic: Architect to a King
Young Masons: Value of a warm welcome
Faith and Freemasonry: The twin supports
Supreme Grand Chapter: Speech of the Pro 1st Grand Principal and Report of the Committee of General Purposes
The Grand Secretary: Notes
   Travel: In the footsteps of the pharaohs
Inventor: Voice of the people
Human Rights Court Judgement: Landmark victory for Masons
International Conference: Masonic history unveiled
The Grand Chancellor: Special overseas role
Specialist Lodge: Prior Rahere and his legacy
Public Service: Serving the famous
Education: Events : Importance of the cable tow
Lbrary & Museum: Fraternal art
Masonic Charities: RMTGB : Grand Charity : RMBI : NMSF
Letters, Book reviews, Gardening

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He did recover and set out for his native land but on his journey he had a dreadful vision in which he was carried by a winged beast to the edge of a horrible abyss, into which he thought he was about to plunge.
    As he cried out in terror a figure appeared beside him ‘bearing royal majesty in his countenance, of wonderful beauty and imperial authority’ who identified himself as St. Bartholomew and directed Rahere to found a church and hospital in his name at Smithfield. The saint also told Rahere that he should have no doubt or anxiety at all concerning the expenses of this work, but should merely apply himself diligently to his appointed task.
    The cost of the promised building work proved no problem as Rahere received the patronage of the king and the Bishop of London and work commenced in the rather dreary and muddy land known as Smoothfield, or Smithfield, the site of a gallows. Beside the effigy of Rahere on his tomb is a small figure of a kneeling monk reading a bible. The words being read are from Isaiah 51:3, “Consolabitur ergo Dominus Sion, et consolabitur omnes ruinas ejus; et ponat desertum ejus quasi delicias, et solitudinem ejus quasi hortum Domini.” (For the Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord). It has been suggested that this refers to the new life brought to this desolate place by the building of the Priory Church and hospital.
    The construction of the church, to become part of an Augustinian monastery, and the hospital, now the oldest active hospital in London, commenced in 1123.
    Work must have progressed at a great pace, as both buildings were completed within 20 years. Rahere, by then an Augustinian canon, became the first Prior of the church and the first Master of the hospital, posts he held until his death in 1143.
    The original church was much larger than the present-day building; indeed, it was larger than most cathedrals at that time. Sadly, after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, several parts fell into disrepair and others were used for different purposes. The now-restored North Transept, for example, was for some time a blacksmith’s forge.
    In addition to founding the church and hospital, Rahere was given funding by the king to establish an annual cloth fair at Smithfield, running for three days from St Bartholomew’s Eve, August 23rd. The fair proved extremely popular and it became one of the great annual events in London and a public holiday. It eventually developed into a huge market, trading in many commodities other than cloth, including meat and livestock, and there was a myriad of entertainment – jugglers, fire eaters, jesters, minstrels, storytellers and many more, and Rahere himself would sometimes amuse the crowds with juggling.
    Also, the operative guilds prepared and performed mystery plays but, alas, the collapse of the guilds and the puritanical attitudes fostered by Protestantism brought the mystery plays to an end but their tradition is perpetuated in Masonic rituals.
    The fair was last held in 1855 but, to this day, there is a large meat market at Smithfield.
    After his mystical experience Rahere devoted his life to preaching and teaching and, in the Christian tradition of those days, to healing. From the very beginning, miraculous events occurred. On one evening during the building of the church, as night was descending, many people witnessed a mysterious light over the church which remained for around one hour. Not long after the monastery was founded, there were claims that Rahere had gifts of healing and the sick and lame came on pilgrimages from afar in the hope of being healed. Even after Rahere’s death, people would lay prostrate in the Priory Church praying to St Bartholomew for healing. The Book of Foundation states that “many and innumerable tokens of miracles were performed, but on account of their abundance they were neglected and were handed down to memory by scarcely anyone” and so the author of that book resolved only to describe those he had personally witnessed. The many reports include healing of the blind, deaf, dumb and paralysed (in one well described case a girl who was blind, deaf, dumb and paralysed was healed) and also those with severe deformities, strokes, epilepsy, tinnitus, severe mental disorders, insomnia and dropsy.
    Clearly, Rahere saw no conflict between healing of Divine origin in his church and curing by the ministration of the medical profession in his hospital.
    Some 860 years after the death of Rahere, the church and hospital still stand, the former smaller than the original and the latter very much larger. Both have endured threats to their very existence – the hospital having recently survived attempts to close it. But the spirit of Rahere is stronger than those of mortal men and these great institutions, and the fine Masonic Lodge bearing his name, are active and flourishing today.

    The author is grateful to W.Bro. Trevor Dutt, Honorary Archivist to the Rahere Lodge, for information on the consecration of this Lodge.

Rahere’s statue over the entrance to the Priory Church, holding a model of the hospital

Altar and columns in the church

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