Why Saints John?

Discussion in 'Masonic Education' started by Blake Bowden, Apr 6, 2011.

  1. Blake Bowden

    Blake Bowden Administrator Staff Member


    What is a “Saint?†According to the dictionary, the word comes from a 13th century Latin word, sanctus, meaning: One officially recognized, especially through canonization, as preeminent for holiness; or one known for piety or virtue. A “Patron Saint†is taken to mean: A saint to whose protection and intercession a person, a society, a church, or a place is dedicated; or it can also mean an original leader or prime exemplar. The word “apostle†comes form the Old Latin word, apostolus, which means: To send. The dictionary meaning is thus: One sent on a mission; or a person who initiates a great moral reform or who first advocates an important belief or system.

    Freemasonry, evolving from the trade guilds of the Middle Ages, and like every other trade guild, adopted one or more Patron Saints to represent their guild. Remember, that even though these may have been deeply religious men, they were also highly superstitious as were most people living in that day and age – hence, their need to rely on Saints and other supernatural benefactors for aid and assistance.
    Both tradition and our lectures tell us that, originally, all Masonic Lodges were consecrated to the Great Architect of the Universe, and dedicated to King Solomon as the mythical founder of Craft Masonry, and its first Grand Master.

    Legend also holds that from the building of the First Temple at Jerusalem, to the Babylonian Captivity, Masonic Lodges were dedicated to King Solomon; from that point until to the coming of the Great Teacher, they were dedicated to Zerubbabel, the builder of the Second Temple. From the time of the Carpenter from Nazareth to the final destruction of the Temple by Titus, Lodges were dedicated to St. John the Baptist.

    However, because of the many massacres and disorders which attended the final destruction of the Temple, Freemasonry sank into decay, and at a general meeting of the Craft, held in the city of Benjamin, it was decided that the principal reason for the decline of Masonry was due to the lack of a Grand Master to patronize it.

    Masonic leaders of the day then deputed seven of their most eminent members to call upon St. John the Evangelist, who was at that time Bishop of Ephesus, requesting him to take the office of Grand Master. He responded that, although he was well advanced in years (being upward of ninety) yet, having been in the early part of his life initiated into Masonry, he would accept the office. He, therefore, completed by his learning, what St. John the Baptist had completed by his zeal, and thus drew what Freemasons term “parallel lines.†Since that time, Masonic Lodges in the United States have been dedicated to the Holy Saints John.

    Most of this is, of course, pure myth, regardless of how logical it might sound.

    Lodges in the United States are dedicated to St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist. Thus, in every well-regulated Lodge, there is exhibited a certain point within a circle bordered by two perpendicular parallel lines representing these two Saints. In English Lodges, the parallel lines are said to represent Moses and Solomon. The United Grand Lodge of England adopted this change in 1812 to eliminate any charge of sectarianism.

    The origin of this custom is not difficult to trace, and it is widely believed that it stems forth from the Ancient Mysteries of pagan nations.

    In the Operative Masonry of the ancients, these days were celebrated as returning eras in the existence of the great source of light, and the object of their worship. Our ancient Brethren adopted the custom, while abandoning the idolatrous principles that were connected with these dates, and confining their celebrations exclusively to their astronomical importance. But as time passed, Christianity came to mingle its rays with the light of Masonry, and our Christian ancestors, finding that the church had appropriated two days near these solstice periods to the memory of two eminent saints, incorporated these festivals in the Masonic calendar, and adopted the Holy Saints John as patrons of our Order.

    St. John the Baptist, by announcing the approach of the Redeemer, and by the mystic lustration by water to which he subjected his disciples, might well be considered as the true founder of the Roman Church. At the same time, the mysterious and emblematic nature of the Apocalypse (Revelations) was very similar to the Masonic mode of teaching by the use of symbols and allegories adopted by St. John the Evangelist.

    Although there are references to the Holy Saints John in various Lodges centuries ago, Masonic historians generally believe that only when the Mother Grand Lodge was formed in England in 1717 were Freemasons found to hold festival meetings on either or both June 24th and December 27th.

    And, while those 18th century Brethren might have reflected on mankind’s past practices, there are probably few Freemasons today who reflect on primitive man’s observances of a special day in winter and another in mid-summer. Those ancients had special reason to be happy. They had fire on the year’s shortest day, and they were thankful for the benefits of the sun on the longest day of the year.

    One Masonic scholar noted that, “Saint John the Baptist was the original Saint of Freemasonry and when a candidate was raised, he underwent a Masonic Baptism. This act was common in the operative Lodges before Speculative Lodges were formed.â€

    He wrote, “As the years passed there was discussion on this practice of a heated nature. Many Masons claimed it was an imitation of the Christian sacrament, and because of their ignorance, that part of the ritual was struck out for all time. However, had they known the true origin and antiquity of purification by water, they would have realized that the act of baptism was in existence long before John the Baptist or Christianity.â€

    Later he wrote, “With the dropping of the ceremonies of baptism in Masonry the symbolism of the White Apron was born and part of the Masonic baptism was transferred to the Apron. At this time, Saint John the Evangelist was also added as being symbolic of the ‘brotherhood of man’.â€

    Thus, he concludes, “Saint John the Evangelist was the Patron Saint of the fellowship and brotherly love, while John the Baptist was the Patron Saint of a newly raised Master Mason, symbolic of not just a new member, but a new Brother dedicating himself to God and the Fraternity.â€

    We know that John the Evangelist (? -AD 101) was one of the Great Teacher’s 12 original disciples. He was also known as St. John the Divine, St. John the Theologian, St. John of Charity, and St. John the Apostle, and he first became a disciple of John the Baptist, and then of Jesus of Nazareth, who made him an Apostle. He was the son of Zebedee, and the brother of St. James the Great, who together were known as the “sons of thunder.†He came to be called the "beloved disciple," and he was the only one of the Twelve that did not forsake the Great Teacher at the hour of His death. It was there that the Great Teacher made him the guardian of His Mother.

    His later life was passed chiefly in Jerusalem and Ephesus. He founded many churches in Asia Minor, and later became the Patron Saint of Asia Minor. He lived to an extreme old age, surviving all his fellow apostles, and died about the year 101 A.D. The "beloved disciple" died at Ephesus, where a stately church was erected over his tomb. It was afterwards converted into a beautiful Muslim mosque.

    But St. John is also linked to the Winter Solstice, the time of year in the northern hemisphere when the noon sun appears to be farthest south, is the day when there is less actual sunlight than on any other day of the year. The Winter Solstice occurs around December 21st, and marks the beginning of the winter season in the northern hemisphere.

    In his old age, when unable to do more, he was carried into the assembly of the Church at Ephesus, and his sole exhortation was, "Little children, love one another." When asked by his parishioners for another lesson, he remarked that if they practiced this simple commandment that was enough.

    In Christian art, the Evangelist is represented holding a chalice from which issues a dragon, as he is supposed to have been given poison, which did him no harm. Also, as an Evangelist, his symbol is an eagle.

    St. John is known as the disciple that Jesus Loved. He is the only Apostle who was not martyred. St. John was exiled to the island of Patmos. He authored of the Gospel according to John, three letters and the Book of Revelation. St. John is also recognized by the Roman Church as the Patron Saint of Booksellers and Painters.

    By history, custom, tradition and ritualistic requirements, the Craft holds dear the days of St. John the Baptist on June 24th, and St. John the Evangelist on December 27th. Any Lodge that forgets these important Masonic observances forfeits a precious link with the past, and loses an important opportunity for the renewal of allegiance to everything in Freemasonry that is symbolized by our Patron Saints.

    No satisfactory explanation has yet been advanced to explain why Operative Masons adopted two Christian saints when St. Thomas, the Patron Saint of architecture and building, was available. There were also several other Saints that might well have been used. For example:

    St. Clement I (2nd century): He was the third pope, when the Emperor banished him from Rome, and was forced to work in the stone quarries of Russia. It is said that during an acute water shortage in the mines, St. Clement caused a spring to flow forth from the earth in order to quench the prisoners’ thirst. As punishment, he was martyred when thrown into the Black Sea with an anchor tied to him. He is also the Patron of marble workers.

    St. Barbara (4th century): She was a pious young woman whose pagan father locked her in a tower when he was on a long journey. Within the walls, she converted to Christianity, and had three windows built to signify the Holy Trinity. When her father returned home, he was so furious that he turned her over to the local magistrate for punishment. After being subjected to the most heinous torture, the magistrate ordered her father to kill her. Atop a mountain, her father slew her, and then he was immediately struck dead by a bolt of lightening. St. Barbara is the Patron Saint of stonecutters, architects and builders as well as for fire prevention (which is probably handy for anyone that has been struck by a bolt of lightening).

    St. Reinhold (10th century): Reinhold was a monk, and jealous stonemasons murdered this overseer for laboring more diligently than they were willing to work. He, too, is a Patron Saint for stonemasons and overseers of the work (i.e., Master Masons).

    St. Stephen (1st century): After denouncing the idolatrous practices of the city government, he was stoned to death upon their order. He is also the patron saint of bricklayers and deacons as well as stonemasons.

    Four Crowned Martyrs (3rd century): Castorius, Claudius, Nicostratus, and Simpronian were skilled carvers who declined to sculpt a pagan stature for the Roman Emperor. They were weighted down with lead, and then drowned in the river. They are also the Patron Saint of sculptors and stonemasons.

    St. John the Evangelist apparently came into our fraternal system somewhere towards the close of the sixteenth century; at least, we find the earliest authentic Lodge records’ reference to St. John the Evangelist in Edinborough in 1599, although earlier mentions are made, such as "The Fraternity of St. John" that existed in Cologne in 1430.

    "St. John's Masonry" is a distinctive term for Scotch Lodges, many of the older of which took the name of the saint. In its early records, the Lodge of Scion and Perth is often called the Lodge of St. John, and the Lodge possesses a beautiful mural painting of the Saint on the east wall of the Lodge room.

    The real explanation of Freemasonry's connection with the Holy Saints John is not to be found in the history of the Craft, but in the dim and remote history of religion. For the festival days of the two Saints John are as old as the ancient systems of worship of fire and sun.

    Early recognized facts must have been the sun's slow travel from north to south, and back again as the seasons waxed and waned. And, so mid-summers day, the longest, became a festival; it was the harbinger or harvest, the birthday of new life, and as the winter solstice was significant of the end of the slow decline of the sun, the beginning of a new time of warmth and crop and happiness.

    Through countless years, in a thousand religious, cults, mysteries, in a hundred climes and lands, priests and people celebrated the solstices. We know this not only from history and the records of ancient peoples, often cut upon stone, but also from myths and legends.

    Ancient custom is taken away from a people with great difficulty. Even today, we retain customs the origin of which is lost to most of us. We speak glibly of Yuletide at Christmas, without thinking of an ancient Scandinavian god, Juul. The small boy avers truth "By Golly!" not knowing that he offers his hand (gol) if he speaks not the truth. Those who think it "bad luck" to break a mirror only continue a savage belief that a stone thrown in water which mirrors the face of an enemy will break his heart even as the reflection is broken. We even end our prayers with a reference to a pagan god – Amen – or, more correctly, Amen-Ra, the ancient Egyptian sun god.

    If such ideas persist to this day, imagine how strenuously a people would resist giving up a holiday celebration which their fathers' and their fathers' fathers before them had kept for untold ages.

    So it was when Christianity came to the world. Old feasts and festival days were not lightly to be given up, even by those who put their faith in this new religion. Hence, clever men in the early days of Christianity turned pagan festivals to Christian usage, and the old celebrations of summer and winter solstice became the Saints Johns' Days of the Middle Ages.

    As the slow years passed, those who celebrated thought less and less of what the days had originally commemorated, and became more and more convinced of their new character. Today, hardly a Freemason gives a thought to the origin of St. John's Day in Winter, or knows his celebration of St. John's Day in midsummer preserves a link with our ancestors from ions ago.

    St. John the Baptist was a stern, just man; intolerant of sham, pretense, weakness of spirit; a man of strength and fire, uncompromising with evil, and with a courageous, humble, sincere, magnanimous disposition. A character at once heroic and of rugged nobility, the Great Teacher said: "Among them that are born of woman, there hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist."

    Of St. John the Evangelist, the disciple whom Jesus loved, a thousand books have been written, and student has vied with minister, teacher with historian, in order to find words sufficient to describe the character of this gentle writer.

    St. John the Evangelist is recognized the world over as the apostle of love and light, the bringer of comfort to the grief-stricken, courage to the weak, help to the helpless, and strength to the falling.

    The question, "From whence come you?" and the answer, "From a Lodge of the Holy Saints John at Jerusalem,†has puzzled many Masonic scholars.

    There is certainly no historical evidence that either of the two Saints were ever members of the Craft. But, as they were adopted as Patron Saints, there came the idea of a sacred Lodge in the Holy City, presided over by the Saints John. No such Lodge ever existed in reality, and yet it is not entirely fiction. It is simply an ideal, and without such ideals our lives would, indeed, be dim and drab. The basis of the question and answer, then, is that we come from an ideal or Dream Lodge into this actual work-a-day world, where our ideals are to be tested daily.

    Although the entire writings of St. John the Evangelist would fit into a very small booklet, ancient legends persist and include the following:

    Emperor Dometian had him brought to Rome, beaten, poisoned, and thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil, but he stepped out unharmed and was banished to Patmos instead.
    When John was en route to preach in Asia, his ship was wrecked in a storm; all but John were cast ashore. John was assumed dead, but 2 weeks later the waves cast him ashore alive at the feet of his disciple Prochoros.

    When John denounced idol worship as demonic, followers of Artemis stoned him; the rocks turned and hit the throwers.

    He prayed in a temple of Artemis, and fire burst forth from Heaven killed 200 men who worshipped the idol. When the remaining group begged for mercy, he raised the 200 from the dead; they all converted and were baptized.

    Drove out a demon that had lived in a pagan temple for 249 years.

    Aboard ship, he purified vessels of seawater for drinking.

    Ceonops, an evil magician, pretended to bring 3 dead people come to life; the "people" were actually demons who mimicked people so the magician could turn people away from the Great Teacher. Through prayer, John caused the magician to drown and the demons to vanish.

    Once a year his grave is said to give off a fragrant dust that some believe will cure the sick.

    When we stop to consider that each of the Carpenter from Nazareth’s 12 original apostles carried a slightly different message to the world, and all were martyred, with the single exception of the Evangelist and his simple message of Brotherly Love, should we accept that as an omen or sign of what the Great Architect of the Universe really wanted mankind to know, understand and practice? Is the importance of that message so strong that it has served as the very footstone of Freemasonry for all of these countless centuries?

    Each Freemason must find his own answer to those important questions – but in your search for answers, Brethren, remember the Worshipful Master’s benediction at the closing of every Masonic Lodge:

    “May Brotherly Love prevail, and every mora and social virtue cement us.â€

    Source: Phil Elam, Past Grand Orator Grand Lodge of Missouri
  2. Beathard

    Beathard Premium Member

    Wow Blake. Thanks for posting this.
  3. MikeMay

    MikeMay Premium Member

    Great post...had to take a nap in the middle...but outstanding post!! ;-)
  4. Brent Heilman

    Brent Heilman Premium Member

    I was just looking through the June/July issue of Oklahoma Mason and there was an article about the Holy Saints John. This thread was specifically listed as a reference online to check out for further reading. Just thought I would throw it out as an FYI type thing.

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