The recorded history of the early ancestors of our Guild date back to 55 BCE in Rome and the national foundations of the guild appeared with the arrival of the Romans in England in the 5th century CE.
The Guild in its present form has its beginnings in the 936 gild moot when craftsmen were ordered by King Athelstan to meet at regular intervals. The Guild was dedicated to St. Stephen in 1089, having previously being dedicated to The Four Crowned Martyrs, as is still the case in much of Germany.
Athelstan - meaning noble stone - was the grandson of Alfred the Great who, in his childhood, spent time in Rome and at the Frankish court and would have been well aware of the Latin/Roman rule guilds of Lombardy and their importance to a fledgling nation.
In the late 11th century, guild members were involved in the work starting on Norwich Castle and Cathedral.
Owing to the itinerant nature of stonemasons, the guild fluctuated in size and importance over the years, with the amount of stonemasonry being carried out in the city. There are records of masons in our guild lineage moving between Norwich and Cambridge around 1460 and others working at York Minster around 1505.
The Guild of St Stephen was abolished with most other religious, trade and craft guilds due to the suspicion of Roman Catholic sympathisers in 1545. Shortly after this, our Guild Court members joined with the Norwich Civic Guild of St. George, which itself escaped abolition by linking with the municipal offices of the city of Norwich.
In Norwich in 1622, the ordinances for crafts enacted that the trades, mysteries and occupations used in the city should be divided into twelve grand companies, and one of these twelve comprised the merchants, tilers, dyers, worsted sherman, masons and lime burners.
The Guild of St George was finally dissolved in 1732.
An International Guild Master
Our Master Mason is an international Guild Master, one of only twelve such in the world. His geographical area of responsibility covers England, Normandy, Southern Italy, North Africa and part of present-day Turkey and Syria. To be a Guild Master one has to have a PhD/ThD as well as a minimum of thirty years of top-level experience and continuous work as a stonemason. Our Guild Master holds a Blue Riband for his work at Stoneleigh Abbey, was the Master at Windsor Castle in 1999 and is widely regarded as the finest English Baroque carver in the world. He has a waiting list of several years for top clients.
His guild, the European Guild of Master Masons (EGMM), was founded in 1096 and his expertise is therefore founded on the accumulated knowledge of a continuous line of Masters he can name back to the founding Master, Robert de Bessie, in 1080.
The EGMM formed amongst others as part of the craft arm of the first crusade to support the knights and their followers. Around this time they became closely linked with the orders of monastic knights, in particular the Knights Templars, which explains some of the ceremonies and titles still in use.
Originally formed across twelve city and national boundaries, there remain twelve companies within the Guild still known by their original names: Normandy, Holy Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Leon and Castile, Burgundy, Aragon, Catalonia, France, Zaragoza, Brittany, Venice and Navarre. These are states that, in one way or another, were involved with the initial venture.
The traditions and practices come from Jewish, Catholic, Orthodox, Christian, Muslim, and Protestant religions and all races and nationalities of Europe, the near and Middle East. The Guild is also linked to civilisations such as Greece, Assyria, Mesopotamia and Egypt through the Roman rule which was followed by the majority, of course, at this time.
Throughout the turbulent history of Europe, The EGMM has kept its head below the parapet carrying on quietly with its work. This has allowed the organisation to continue for nearly 1,000 years virtually unmolested. Rather than giving a little help to the many, the ethos has always been to give total help and support to a few.
An exceptional court of all Guild Masters and other Masters was held, first in Greenwich and then Milan, where it was decided our Guild Master would be charged with the re-establishment of a Collegiate Guild. He would oversee the training of 40 craftspeople, 40 mates and start the formation of a great collection and library to be used at his discretion for the purposes of education. This collection and library would be left in the hands of his successor to be held and increased by the Guild of St Stephen and St George.
Work towards the reestablishment of the Guild of St Stephen and St George began in 2006 by our Guild Master, the Assistant Clerk of the EGMM.
The Guild Master first arrived in Norwich in 2014, after a year of meeting local people and assessing likely court members. The Court of Founders first held a limited Common Hall in late March of the same year and the Guild of St Stephen and St George was reborn on Easter Monday 2015, with Prime Warden Reverend J. Burton, Clerk Mr C. Howey, Upper Warden Dr C. Hill and Guild Master, known in the Guild as Dr L’Normand, as Head Master.