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The Traveling Gavel: Facts & Legend

More fact than legend has it that the “Masonic Traveling Gavel” originated in the Middle Ages through social activities by the masters of trades or guilds. When these masters met socially, the host of the gathering presided over the evening with a specially designed Gavel.

The very same Gavel was handed over to the guild whose number was the highest in attendance. Since these informal social meetings were mostly held in a tavern, drinking became an integral part of the list of events for the evening’s activities. It was a time to relax and unwind from days of hard work. Drinking, singing, and merrymaking became the focal point of these gatherings.

The “Gavel” in time was replaced by a Grail, Chalice or Goblet. Whatever one preferred to call it, it became the centerpiece displayed at the table. It was to remind everyone that it was not for a business that they had gathered. These trade and guild masters enjoyed a tremendous amount of respect not only within their own community but beyond the borders of their own regions.

Depending on their choice of trades, it took up to twelve years of rigorous learning and training to achieve the rank of Master. Since Fellowcrafts and apprentices were still in the states of acquiring the skills and knowledge of their trades, they were not permitted to join in or participate in these social “activities”.

Coral singing became one of the Masters best known social functions. The chorus was comprised of men of the highest caliber in the art of singing who traveled throughout the land entertaining others and themselves. In time other groups from different regions emerged and contests were held in numerous places to determine who was best.

An elaborately decorated Goblet was the prize – to keep until won or reclaimed by another guild. The most famous chorus of all was that of Nuremberg, which still practices the art of choral singing today. It is immortalized by Richard Wagner in Die Meistersinger von Nuremberg.

Freemasons, whose system of advancement is copied from the trades and guilds of the stonemasons of the Middle Ages, also adopted, in general, the idea of A “Traveling Gavel”. It is that Gavel which symbolizes fact and part of the legend of the “Traveling Gavel” or “Goblet” of the Masters in the Middle Ages. The Masonic history of the “TRAVELING GAVEL” and the “Meistersinger” are forever intertwined and will live on for all time.

Reprinted from an article submitted by;
R: .W:. Joseph T. Loeb, DSA;
Published in the Empire State Mason Spring 1993 issue, Vol. 41 No.1