Deep within the stony facade of Freemasonry’s head office can be found the largest public display Masonic badges to have been staged in the UK.
Many of us wear badges, whether to indicate support for a cause, a political action, or just to express a personal fandom for a musician or venue — and masons are no different.
They wear badges as well, but being masons, their badges are more bling than the average, and look more like impressive medals than the plastic buttons you pick up at a pop concert.
But the thinking behind them is the same – to show solidarity with other people wearing the same badge.
Despite their glistening appearance, most are made of humble metals and enamels, but some on show has incorporated fragments of other objects as well, such as a piece of Cleopatra’s Needle or stone from Jerusalem.
As Lodges got richer, some showed off by out-blinging the other Lodges, but in 1910, the Grand Lodge laid down some rules that reined in the more extravagant excesses.
It’s an exhibition that would not look out of place in a military setting – lots of round medallions on ribbons, but here for freemasonry rather than soldiery.
Not just English Freemasons either, as there are examples from the former Yugoslavia, Iran and Egypt. Elsewhere some show how Freemasons strove to wear their badges under the most difficult of conditions – such as the jewel made from the remains of a bus during WW2 by prisoners of war in Singapore.
But also look for the Black Cat, and its mysterious inscription A.O.M., which no one has yet managed to decipher.
The exhibition, Bejewelled: Badges, Brotherhood and Identity is open until August 2019 and entry is free.
The Library and Museum of Freemasonry is open Monday to Saturday 10am until 5pm, and is just around the corner from Covent Garden.
The exhibition is housed in the museum, which is also free to visit, and while, of a certain taste, is certainly worth a visit to see aspects of Freemasonry rarely seen outside the Lodges themselves.
While you’re there, they also offer free tours of the Grand Temple, on the hour from 11am-4pm. Just ask at reception, although tours are not always possible on Saturdays.