Rochester disagreement over Freemason fresco
Dec. 16, 2005
By Alex Delmar-Morgan
A row has been raging at Rochester Cathedral now for months over the thorny issue of Freemasonry. The Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali and the Dean, the Very Rev Adrian Newman, are at loggerheads over whether the Freemasons of east and west Kent who donated money towards a fresco in the Cathedral should be acknowledged in a plaque next to the painting. Funds for the fresco were raised partly by the Dean and Chapter, but the Freemasons also made a substantial contribution to a picture with considerable artistic significance. It is the first medieval-inspired fresco of a baptism to be completed in an English cathedral for 800 years. Work finished on the painting in November of last year, which is situated in the north transept. Despite its cultural importance, Bishop Nazir-Ali remains adamant that no mention of this notoriously secretive organisation should exist inside the Cathedral. He told The Church of England Newspaper: “I fully appreciate the sensitive position which the new Dean is trying to resolve, and support him in his efforts to find a way forward in recognising the contributions of individual donors to the fresco.
“When it comes to Freemasonry as an institution, however, I base my views on a Church of England report, Freemasonry and Christianity, endorsed by General Synod, which found that Freemasonry is incompatible with Christianity.” However, Dean Newman disagrees and feels all donors should be recognised. Appointed in January of this year he has the task of settling an old dispute that was running before he became Dean. He said: “I want to acknowledge the contribution of all donors to the fresco. I fully respect the Bishop’s position and I am trying to find a mutually acceptable way to acknowledge the generous contribution of all donors to the cost of the fresco, including the Freemasons.” The Freemasons are a society with their roots in the medieval craftsmen’s guilds. Their arcane symbols and rituals have often been shrouded in secrecy, though in recent years, there has been a move towards greater openness. The Masonic Temple in Manchester now opens its doors to anyone who wants to hire rooms for conferences and weddings.