The Kirkwall Scroll

On the west wall of the temple of Lodge Kirkwall Kilwinning No. 38(2) in Orkney hangs one of the oldest and most important Masonic artefacts in the world. Known as The Kirkwall Scroll, it is made of three pieces of strong linen (some suggest sailcloth) sewn together and hand-painted throughout. The complete hanging cloth is eighteen feet six inches long and five feet six inches wide. It consists of a centre strip which contains around one hundred Masonic symbols, and two outer strips which appear to be maps. The two outside strips appear to have come from the same piece of material and may well have been joined at one time.

In 1999 Robert spoke at the Orkney Science Festival and one evening, after dinner with fellow scientists Karl Pribram and Andrej Detela, they went together for a private viewing of the Scroll.

The Brethren of Lodge Kirkwall Kilwinning take excellent care of this ancient document. It is kept high on the west wall of the temple, protected from direct sunlight within the darkness of the temple and access to it guarded from casual visitors, except by prior appointment.

Robert is a mason but the Brethren of Kirkwall Kilwinning very kindly extended an invitation to the eminent visiting scientists Prof Pribram and Dr Detela to view their well preserved treasures. Senior members of the lodge carefully unrolled the scroll and it was clear from its even colouring that the Freemasons of Kirkwall have taken good care of the scroll over the years. It shows no signs of fading and the linen is as strong as the day the lodge received it into its care. All three scientists were extremely impressed with the quality and preservation of the scroll and extremely grateful to the Brethren and Officers of the Lodge for allowing them to see the scroll. They all signed the visitor's book of the lodge, noting that it is self evident to anybody allowed to view the scroll that many generations of Orkney Freemasons have been faithful and careful custodians of this document since it was given to their Lodge in circa 1785. The lodge book itself asks the question; "Was this the Kirkwall Scroll?" and then, by implication rather than proof, goes on as if it was. Not all the Brethren believe this to be the case.

The lodge minutes for 27 December 1785 record:

"Bro. William Graeme, visiting brother from Lodge no 128 Ancient Constitution of England [Lodge Prince Edwin, In Bury East Lancs] was at his own desire admitted to become a member of this Lodge, and he accordingly signed the articles and Rules thereof"

Seven months later the minute book records that Bro William Graeme gifted to the Lodge a floor cloth. This is believed to be the Kirkwall Scroll. Its history before this time is not known. Bro Graeme was an Orcadian by birth who spent many years living in the North of England.

In a lecture on the history of the Kirkwall Scroll, given to Lodge Kirkwall Kilwinning in 1976 by Bro James Flett, he said:

"When I joined our Lodge many years ago there was at that time a very old Brother who occasionally visited the Lodge meetings at the advanced age of over 90. On one occasion I asked him if he could tell me anything about the Scroll. He said he did not know very much about it except that at his initiation it lay on the centre of the Lodge room floor when he was a young lad of 20."

There is some doubt about this story, however, as some senior members of the Lodge say that the older lodge room where they met prior to moving to their present premises (see link below) was too small to allow the scroll to be used as floor cloth.

"It would have more than filled the floor space and left no room for the ceremony." one venerable mason said. "The implication by the old brother of 90, an occasional visitor to the Lodge, is equally suspect. He was 90, it was seventy years since his initiation. Could his memory be slightly at fault? Yes, the argument could be put the other way, I agree. But I think it's too tenuous for outright proof. An early tracing board is what I believe it may have been. A 'navigation chart' to use the phrase of the non-Masonic Knight Templars which would have been unrolled to the relevant degree being worked. The Scroll is too long for the floor area of the existing Temple and the previous building used for the Temple, the Tolbooth, which was situated on the Kirk Green in front of St Magnus Cathedral, was even smaller."

What is not in doubt is that at the Kirkwall Scroll been in care of the lodge for a very long time. (See Latest News at the bottom of this page)

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. The scroll as it is presently displayed could be used a tracing board for the degrees Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite by simply unrolling the relevent section for each degree.

Many of inscriptions on the scroll are written in a Masonic code, which used form part of the secrets of the thirteenth degree of Master of the Ninth Arch, or The Royal Arch of Enoch. This Masonic Cypher is known as the Enochian Alphabet. On the second tabloid upwards, an altar is shown standing on a black and white pavement.On the pavement lies the triangular apron of a Deputy Grand Master of the Lodge of Perfection. The part of the inscription on the Altar reads:

I AM hath sent me unto you. I AM THAT I AM.

I am the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley.

I AM that I AM or I WILL BE that I WILL BE.

This is a clear reference to the 18th degree of the A&A known as Knight of the Rose Croix.

Two tabloids higher there is a diagram of the Lodge layout for the reception of a Grand Inspector Inquisitor General, modeled on the description of Solomon's  temple found in the bible.

The Lodge describes the scroll as "Our first treasure of antiquity." and long may the Lodge continue to keep this fascinating document in its careful and loving care.

Click here to see a rolling photograph of the Scroll

Click here for a quick tour of the Lodge of Kirkwall Kilwinning.

Here is a detailed drawing of the Kirkwall Scroll

(This drawing takes some time to download but its worth waiting if you really want to see what is on the Kirkwall Scroll)

Latest News

Lodge Kirkwall Kilwinning has had the Kirkwall Scroll carbon dated.

Click here to read Kath Gourlay's article from the Scottish Press

The early dating of the centre portion of the scroll, which describes symbolically the route through the many degrees of the Ancient Scottish Rite, adds to the evidence that Speculative Freemasonry started in Scotland around the mid-fifteenth century. The use of the Enochian Cypher is also interesting and may well reveal more in due course.

It is entirely appropriate that such an important Masonic artifact should remain in the excellent care of one of Scotland's oldest lodges. After all Lodge Kirkwall Kilwinning holds a warrant signed by William St Clair, direct descendant of the last St Clair Earl of Orkney and the scroll is housed alongside it.