I found myself wondering where did the A.L. dating come from and why is it relevant to Freemasonry. I wanted to find out what the infamous Masonic dating we so often see following an exaggerated date such as 6010 A.L. meant. Maybe I just didn’t pay attention one day, or maybe I looked away from the page of a book at the wrong moment, but for the life of me, I could not recall the significance or meaning of the A.L. dating used in Freemasonry.

Bishop Ussher

In doing a little poking, what I found what that A.L. translates into “Anno Lucis”, which is a Latin phrase that translates into “Year of Light”. Having gone though many different spellings, A.L. was tied to the date 4004 B.C.E. as determined by Bishop Ussher in 1650-54 as the “creation of the world”. Bishop Ussher was Anglican Archbishop of Armagh, in Northern Ireland, and Primate (first Bishop) of All Ireland between 1625-1656, and of whom the dating of 4004 B.C.E. is attributed. The 4004 B.C.E. date the Bishop came up with was his analysis of historical (in 1650) documents and records, along with shrewd analysis of the bible and other religious documents. His study produced the work Annales veteris testamenti, a prima mundi origine deducti (“Annals of the Old Testament, deduced from the first origins of the world”), which appeared in 1650 and its continuation, Annalium pars postierior in 1654. In this work, he famously claimed, that the Earth was created at nightfall preceding 23 October, 4004 B.C.E.

So what about the year 4004 B.C.E.? Well, if you add that to the present year, you end up with the years since the year of light. 4004 + 2006 = 6010 A.L. or six thousand and ten years since the year of light. The dating is obviously debated today by modern scholarship, but for the time, many of Ussher’s dates correspond to what modern study of past events has today been determined accurate.

But how this worked its way into Freemasonry is a bit of a mystery. Ussher’s date, accepted by the church, worked its way into Genesis, through the margins of the King James edition of the Holy Bible, which helped spread it into the common knowledge of the time.

The ‘first use’ in Freemasonry doesn’t appear until 1777 in a certificate issued by the Grand Lodge of England to the Lodge of Alfred (closed in 1790), which had made six well-known Grand Officers members of their lodge. Prior to that, ‘A.L.’ appeared with varying translations such as Anno Lithotomorum (Lap) (year of labor) Anno Lapidariorum (year of movement) and Anno Laotomiae (year of release), all of which appeared in some form on different documents relating to the craft. Also at the time, A.M. appeared, as the “Year of Masonry” as another form of dating the fraternity. But from 1777, “Anno Lucis” appears in more and more documents until, eventually, it’s believed it was adopted and further spread into common usage as masonry coalesced into an organized body with orthodox ritual and rites.

Today, we see A.L., Anno Lucis, as a common date delineator to many corner stones placed around the world. But this did lead me to another interesting thought. If the origin of the date to Freemasonry is unclear, the date is very specific to the presumed start of creation. Perhaps like so much else in Freemasonry, this is a metaphor that we can observe and say that it speaks more in metaphysical creation, rather than physical.
Historically we can look back in time and see that approximately 4004 B.C.E. is the beginning of civilization in the appearance of the Sumerians. Just some of their accomplishments over the centuries of their society were a developed written language of which we have records today, a belief in divine gods beyond their physical space, sin (punishment for good and bad behavior), beliefs in ownership of land, and divisions of wealth and power. Their also existed education, war and dissent within its populace. This is the earliest form of civilization that we can look back to as an early incarnation of the civilization we exist in today.

Maybe we can look back and see the year of light…

Phoenix Masonry
Grand Lodge of British Colombia

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~ by Greg on September 27, 2006.

One Response to “ANNO LUCIS”

  1. I always wondered what Masons were all about. Interesting.

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