Broached Thurnel

Arthur Edward Waite

Masonic archaeology is divided on the significance of this now exploded term. One question is whether it means the Rough or Perfect Ashlar. Lexicography has intervened, however, and pointed out that in Scotland the Broaching Thurmal or Thurmel is a chisel used for the execution of broached work. To broach is to rough-hew, and broached work is the stone in its rough-hewn state. In the early part of the eighteenth century the Immovable Jewels of a Lodge are said to be (1) the Tarsel or Trasel Board, (2) the Rough Ashlar and (3) the Broached Thumel. It is said further that “the Rough Ashlar is for the Fellow Crafts to try their jewels on”—presumably the square, level and plumb; “and the Broached Thurnel for the Entered Apprentices to learn to work upon." In this case, it was neither the Rough nor Perfect Ashlar, while as it was something on which work was to be done, it was not the chisel, which is a working tool. It would appear therefore—by a process of exhaustion—that it was the stone as brought from the quarries, absolutely untouched, and delivered as such to the Entered Apprentices, who went to work thereon and produced the Rough Ashlar. This was passed to the Fellow Crafts, by whom it was measured and tried. If these tentative inferences are correct, it follows (1) that the early Lectures were confused as to the proper meaning of the term Broached Thurnel and (2) that no Perfect Ashlar figured among their jewels. In 1853 Dr. George Oliver got into a confusion which was very natural under such circumstances and identified the Broached Thurnel with the Rough Ashlar, the early Lectures notwithstanding. In 1871 Dr. A. G. Mackey followed in America and remembering the Lectures maintained that the Broached Thumel was the Perfect Ashlar; but—as we have seen—the Lectures were against him. On our part we are left to take a choice between the stone unhewn and the chisel, accordingly as we prefer to abide by the Lectures or lexicographers. I observe, however, that Clement E. Stretton, the exponent of modern Operative Masonry, once affirmed as follows: (1) That any Mason of the Operative Society knows what the Broached Thurnel is; (2) That it was a familiar term in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries; (3) That it is in fact the double square or octagon, or alternatively—for the statement is confused—it is a square superposed on an octagon; (4) That broaching is cutting the facets. It is obvious that this corresponds to nothing understood by the early Lectures and to nothing signified by the Scottish use of the term. It stands therefore at its value, having no evidence to support it and—as it seems to me—no inherent probability. An American author, Mr. Frank C. Higgins, writing in The New Age—the official organ of the Scottish Rite in its Southern Jurisdiction, U.S.A.—points out (1) that Broche signified a skewer and a knitting-needle; (2) that skewer in Greek is Obeliskoi, a name given to Egyptian monoliths, of which Cleopatra's Needle is an example ; (3) that Thurnel comes from the old French Tournelle, meaning a turret or little tower. On this basis he proceeds to affirm (1) that the Broached Thurnel belongs to the Obelisk family; (2) that the base is a perfect cube ; (3) that it has no direct relationship with Ashlars ; (4) that with its pyramidon top it is in correspondence with the Masonic Apron, with the flap turned up. With all this may be compared the finding many years since of Parker's Glossary of Terms in Architecture, which cites the same etymology in respect of Thurnel but says that Broach is an old English term for Spire, whence the author concludes that the Broached Thurnel was a "Spired Turret." It is certain that apprentices neither would nor could be set to work upon a Spired Turret or a perfect cube on which a pyramidon was superposed, so I shall continue to think that the Broached Thurnel was a virgin stone from the quarries, until there is better evidence to the contrary. My speculation is at least in harmony with those early Lectures, from which is derived our main knowledge of the term in Emblematic Masonry.

The New Encyclopædia of Freemasonry. Vol. I pp. 75-6. 1970