The Holy Saints John and Masonry

THE HOLY SAINTS JOHN AND MASONRY

By Laurence Healey, Past Grand Master, British Columbia (1956)

The question as to why our Lodges are dedicated to the Holy Saints’ John is one that often puzzles the Masonic student. It becomes even more involved when it is realized that in the Grand Lodge of England the Lodges are dedicated to King Solomon, and Grand Lodge is opened and closed “in the name of the “Royal Solomon;” who is described as, “an eminent Patron of the Craft.”

The Biblical record of the lives of the two Saints named John does not throw much light on the subject, nor produce any evidence of Masonic connection.

St. John the Baptist was the son of Zacharius and his wife, Elizabeth, who was a cousin of the Virgin Mary. He was a Priest of the Order of the Temple Service at Jerusalem, and no doubt his son was trained to follow his father’s hereditary calling, and given the benefit of such educational advantages as were available at that time.

When John was thirty years old he began preaching in a section of the Jordan valley Just north of the Dead Sea, not as the wild fanatic which he is sometimes depicted, but rather as an inspired messenger with a background of education and culture going forth to proclaim the coming of the Messiah of Israel, the Prince of Peace, as foretold by the prophet Isaiah some three hundred years before. His stern denunciation of the evil character and immoral conduct of Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch of Galilee, led to his imprisonment and untimely death. By a strange parallel this was brought about as the result of an evil conspiracy involving three ruffianly characters, Herodias the Queen, her daughter Salome, and Herod.

St. John the Evangelist was the younger son of Zebedee who operated a commercial fishing business on the Sea of Galilee in partnership with two other men, Andrew and Peter, who were destined later to play a very important role in the events of that time. His mother, Salome by name, was a sister of the Virgin Mary. Thus the two Saints’ John were not only related to one another by close maternal ties, but also to the Master, Whom they loved and served. The youthful John became the most courageous and faithful, as well as the most beloved, of the Master’s disciples. It was he who went in with Him to the trial in the palace of Caiaphas, the High Priest, and in Pilate’s court, while Peter stood outside and denied Him, after all the rest had fled. He was the only one of the Apostles present at the Crucifixion, where at the last he received from the dying one the charge to act the part of a son to the bereaved mother. This was a clear indication that Joseph her husband was deceased, and that Mary was then a widow. Thus John was the one apostolic witness to the final act in that Great Cosmic Drama of the Ages, “The Tragedy of the Widows Son.” His inspired writings, up to the time of his death on the rocky Isle of Patmos, contain, above all else, the predominating evangel of Brotherly Love (the first great principle of Masonry), as taught in the words of the Master Himself, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples if ye have love one to another”. But nowhere, in the record of the two Saints’ John, is there anything to indicate even a remote connection with the operations of the building craft of Masonry of that day. There is, however, a well-established legend, to which some credence may be given, that the Master and the majority of his disciples were members of the “Order of the Essenes”, a secret society which existed at that time, and, it is said, had many rites and ceremonies similar to those of our present day Freemasonry. But even though the Bible contains no references there are other sources from which information on the subject may be obtained. It was the custom among the early mediaeval trade Guilds in England to adopt Patron Saints, usually chosen on account of some affinity, often more or less remote, with the trades or callings of the members. The early Guilds of Operative Masons adopted St. Thomas as the “Patron of Architects and Builders.” Their choice was, no doubt, influenced by the ancient legend that St. Thomas was an architect and operative craftsman, and that the Lord appeared to him in a vision and directed him “to go to the King of the Indies, Gonaoforus and build for him a palace finer than that of the Emperor of Rome.” In this connection it may be noted that in all representations of St. Thomas prior to the 12th century he is depicted as holding a “T” Square and Builders Rule. It may be recalled that of all the Apostles he was the most difficult to convince as to the reality of supernatural things. His mind trained in the practical application of geometrical principles, apparently could not accept as reality that which he could not measure or handle. Thus, it may be his background education and training which gave to history the well known term “doubting Thomas,” During the 13th century St. Thomas appears to have been superseded as the Patron Saint of Masonry by the “Four Crowned Martyrs”, or in the Latin term “Quatuor Coronati”, from which the famous Lodge of Research, No. 2076, in London derives its title. This gradual change was, no doubt, influenced to some extent by the number of Masons who came over from the Continent of Europe during that period to work on the great ecclesiastical structures then under erection, such as York Minster, Fountain’s Abbey at Ripon, and the early Gothic Cathedrals. These traveling workmen, in all probability, were familiar with the historical legend of the four skilled craftsmen: Clauaius, Castorius, Sempronianus, and Nicostratus, who were converts to Christianity and by their refusal to make a statue to the heathen god Aesculpius incurred the wrath of the Emperor Diocletian, who ordered them to be entombed alive in leaden coffins and cast into the river Tiber. The Church of the Quatuor Coronati on the Caelian Hill in Rome, which still exists, though rebuilt, was erected and dedicated to their memory about twenty years after their martyrdom which occurred in A.D. 302. Both in England and on the Continent of Europe the Four Crowned Martyrs were widely recognized as the “Patron Saints of the Masons’ Craft,” and were generally depicted as carrying the usual emblems of their calling, The simple story of how these Christian workmen, labouring in their Master’s Name, were faithful unto death carried a profound appeal to workmen of all classes, and especially to those who practiced the same craft. There are no authentic records available to fix with any certainty the time when St. John the Baptist was adopted by the Operative Lodges, but an old Latin document in the archives of a Lodge in Namur, Belgium, purporting to be a proclamation by the Masons of Europe in annual Assembly at Cologne in 1535, states that “Masons are called Brethren dedicated to St; John, first among the Martyr Stars of the Morning; “It states further that prior to 1440 “The Fraternite was called the Joannite Brethren,” but about that time “it became known by the name of Freemasons”. Though Masonic scholars doubt that it is genuine, in the 16th century in England St. John the Baptist, alone, was regarded as the particular Patron Saint of Masonry. Amongst the reasons advanced for this change of patrons are some which have their roots back in Druid and pre-Christian times. In those days the Sun, the “Amen Ra” of the Egyptians of an earlier era, was the object of veneration. Measurements of time were taken from the solstices, and these turning points were occasions for great festivals of rejoicing, the summer solstice for growth and the fruits of early harvest, the winter solstice for the return of light and the rebirth of life in the earth.

The pagan peoples were unwilling to part with these festivals, and so to facilitate their conversion to Christianity the fathers of the early church instituted festivals to the saints and martyrs to coincide with the popular ceremonies. Thus St. John the Baptist Day (June 24th), replaced the great festival of “Beltane” which commenced at the summer solstice (June 21st). This old festival is, even still observed in parts of Scotland and Ireland with bonfires, dancing and general celebration. It is especially observed in the Scandinavian countries as the festival of “Mid-Summer” or the “Midnight Sun” likewise “Yule-tide”, literally the festival of “Yule” (the Sun), became Christmas, replacing the great “Feast of Saturnalia” an occasion for rejoicing at “Natalus Invicti Solus” or, the “Rebirth of  the unconquerable Sun”, which commenced at the winter solstice (December 21st). This is the time which, according to students of nature and biology, marks the beginning of the germination of life and growth in the earth in northern latitudes.  It may be readily understood that, when building operations of the Middle Ages necessarily involved close relationship between the clergy and the craftsmen in ecclesiastical work, the adoption of St John the Baptist as the Patron Saint of the summer festival as “St John’s Day in Harvest,” and later of St. John the Evangelist for the festival of “St. John’s Day in Winter”, should follow as a natural consequence. The allusion to the two parallels of the Holy Saints’ John in the old English rituals, and in the present Monitor of the American work, as illustrated by the two parallel lines, between which is a circle sometimes marked with a central, point representing Divinity” can be easily recognized as a later interpretation of the ancient symbol depicting the “Sun” between the lines of the two solstices, as marked on the map by the Tropic Cancer to the north, and The Tropic of Capricorn to the south, of the Equator.

Have a wonderful day & God Bless You and Yours                     Norm