THE FREEMASON’S SAINTS
ALL the old crafts and guilds, both English and Continental, had their patron saints; and for hundreds of years freemasons have been holding their festivals on saints’ days. Masonic writings make frequent mention of saints, and the Masonic Year Book shows that saints give their names to about four hundred lodges in England alone. The saints in greatest regard among masons are St John the Baptist, St John the Evangelist, St Thomas, St Barbara, St George, and the Four Crowned Martyrs, often known by the Latin form, Quatuor Coronati.
St John the Baptist
June 24, the traditional birthday of St John the Baptist, was and is a great Church festival; but at one time it was the saint’s day of martyrdom, and not his birthday, that was celebrated, a pulpit being erected in the open air and decorated with boughs and green candles, fires being lit in the open-the ‘blessing fires’-and houses dressed with green boughs and flowers. The saint’s birthday was at one time a day of heathen rejoicing, and how it ever came to be associated with either operative or speculative masonry is not known, for neither of the Saints John is believed to have had any special connexion with building or masonry. It is possible, however, that both of these saints have been confused with the Byzantine St John of Jerusalem, known as St John the Almoner, there being some shadowy idea that the charitable organization of St John of Jerusalem had some influence on the building craft. But freemasons have no monopoly of St John the Baptist, for it may be noted that every Master of the Merchant Taylors Company takes his oath on the day of the Saint and invokes his assistance. Possibly going back as far as the seventeenth century, English masons have been called ‘St John’s Men’ or ‘St John’s masons.’ Even today, particularly in the North of England, the annual festival, or installation meeting, is frequently referred to as ‘St John’s.’ Why is not known, nor is the origin of the connexion of craft masonry throughout Scotland with the name of St John.
St John the Evangelist
Many ancient lodges had their summer festival on St John the Baptist’s Day and their winter festival on St John the Evangelist’s Day, December 27. This second St John was traditionally regarded as the son of Zebedee and Salome (the latter supposed to have been the sister of the Virgin Mary), and is said to have died at the age of nearly a hundred after an eventful life, but with no particular connexion with masonry or architecture. There seems good ground for assuming that the two saints’ days were originally days of heathen rejoicing, being the summer and the winter solstices, cleverly appropriated by the Early Christian Fathers and by them fastened on the two Saints John. We find that the emblem of wheel is common to both of the festivals, although chiefly associated with that of winter. A wheel used to be rolled about to signify the sun, which at the June festival occupies the highest place in the Zodiac. In some festivals it was taken to the top of the hill, straw was tied around it and set on fire, and the wheel was then set rolling down to the valley, It appearing “at a distance as if the sun had fallen from the sky” The people imagine that all their ill-luck rolls away from them together with this wheel.”
Reproduced from the Freemson’s Guide and Compendium by Bernard E Jones