No satisfactory explanation has yet been advanced to
explain why operative Masons adopted these two particular Christian saints,
when, for example, St. Thomas, the patron of architecture and building, was
already in wide use.
Regardless, Freemasons agree that the choice of these
two ancient Brethren was, indeed, wise. No other two great teachers, wise
men, or saints could have been found who better exemplified through their
lives and works the sublime doctrine and ageless teachings of Freemasonry.
It was a common custom in the Middle Ages for
craftsmen to place themselves under the protection of some saint of the
church. All the London trades appear to have ranged themselves under the
banner of some saint and if possible they chose one who bore fancied
relation to their trades Thus, the fishmongers adopted St. Peter; glove
makers chose St. Crispin; guards chose St. Matthew; tilers chose St.
Barbara; tailors often chose Eve; lawyers selected St. Mark; lead workers
chose St. Sebastian; stone cutters chose the Four Crowned Martyrs; doctors
chose St. Luke; astronomers chose St. Dominic; and so on.
Eleven or more medieval trade guilds chose John the
Baptist as their Patron Saint. Even after exhaustive research by some of the
best Masonic scholars, no one can say with any certainty why Freemasons
adopted the two Saints John, or why they continue to celebrate feast days
when they once held a far different significance. However, the
appropriateness of the two Johns is obvious in our system of Great Moral
Teachings, if we consider the spiritual suggestion of their lives.
St. John the Baptist was a stern and just man,
intolerant of sham, of pretense, of weakness. He was a man of strength and
fire, uncompromising with evil or expediency, and, yet, courageous, humble,
sincere, and magnanimous. A character at once heroic and of rugged nobility,
the Greatest of Teachers said of the Baptist: "Among them that are born of
woman, there hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist."
What do we know about John the Baptist? John was a
Levite. His father Zechariah was a Temple priest of the line of Abijah, and
his mother Elizabeth was also descended from Aaron. The Carpenter from
Nazareth and John the Baptist were related. Their mothers, Mary and
Elizabeth, were cousins. John the Baptist was born 6 months before the
Nazarene, and he died about 6 months before Jesus. The angel Gabriel
separately announced the coming births of the Great Teacher Christ and John
the Baptist. Zechariah doubted the prophecy, and was struck dumb until
John's birth. John lived in the mountainous area of Judah, between Jerusalem
and the Dead Sea. John's clothes were made of camel's hair, and he had a
leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.
John had a popular ministry. It is generally thought
that his ministry started when he was about the age of 27, spreading a
message of repentance to the people of Jerusalem. John's ministry became so
popular that many wondered if he was the Messiah prophesized in the ancient
Hebrew teachings. We are also told that John the Baptist baptized Jesus
after which he stepped away and told his disciples to follow Jesus. It would
seem logical that these two would combine their ministries. Oddly enough,
however, they apparently never met again.
Descriptions from various historical sources seem to
indicate that John was a strong, handsome, well-formed man, and there is
every indication that he was attractive to the opposite sex. However, we
know that he never married, and chose to devote his life to his ministry. In
addition to being concerned with the spiritual reformation of the people of
the Hebrew nation, John was also interested in the affairs of state.
John's ministry and life ended when he admonished
Herod and his wife, Herodias, for their sinful behavior. John was imprisoned
and was eventually beheaded. Saint Jerome wrote that Herod kept the head for
a long time after, stabbing the tongue with his dagger in a demented attempt
to continuously inflict punishment upon John. After he was murdered, John's
disciples came and buried his body, and then went and told the Great Teacher
all that had happened. The Carpenter responded to the news of John's death
by saying, "John was a lamp that burned and gave Light, and you chose for a
time to enjoy his Light."
On June 24th, we observe the festival of summer sun
and on December 27th, we observe the festival of the winter sun. The June
festival commemorates John the Baptist and the December festival honors John
These two festivals bear the names of Christian
Saints, but ages ago, before the Christian era they bore other names.
Masonry adopted these festivals and the Christian names, but has taken away
Christian dogma, and made their observance universal for all men of all
St. John's Day, June 24, symbolically marks the summer
solstice, when nature attains the zenith of light and life and joy. St.
John's day in winter, December 27, symbolizes the turn of the sun's farthest
journey - the attainment of wisdom, the rewards of a well-spent life, and
love toward one's fellow man.
The Festivals of the Saints John bear the names of
Christian Saints, but ages ago, long before the Christian era, they bore
other names. Freemasonry adopted these festivals and the Christian names,
but has taken away Christian dogma, and made their observance universal for
all men of all beliefs.
St. John's the Baptist's Day, June 24th, marks the
summer solstice, when nature attains the zenith of light and life and joy.
St. John's the Evangelist's, December 27th, symbolizes the turn of the sun's
farthest journey, which is symbolic of the attainment of wisdom, the rewards
of a well-spent life, and goodwill toward men. The Catholic Church observes
the birth of the Baptist as a hallowed event. Interestingly, they have no
such commemoration for the birth of any of the other Saints.
In addition to being the initial Patron Saint of
Freemasons, the Baptist was also considered to be the Patron Saint of the
following: Bird dealers, convulsions, cutters, epilepsy, furriers,
hailstorms, Knights Hospitaller, Knights of Malta, lambs, Maltese Knights,
monastic life, motorways, printers, spasms, and oars.
The first Grand Lodge organized in England in 1717, on
the Festival Day of the Baptist. The United Grand Lodge of England was
created in 1813 on the Festival Day of the Evangelist. The day of St. John
the Baptist is truly symbolic of a day of beginnings, while the day of the
Evangelist is symbolic of endings.
In the English catechism of the early eighteenth
century, the following three questions and answers were included as an
explanation of why Lodges were dedicated to the Holy Saints John:
Why to John the Baptist?
In him, we have a singular instance of purity, of
zeal, simplicity of manners, and an ardent wish to benefit mankind by his
example. To him we are indebted for the introduction of that grand tenet of
our institution, which it is our glory to support: Peace on earth, good will
Did John the Baptist have any equal?
To carry into execution this grand tenet; and to
transmit to future ages so valuable a doctrine, an equal has been selected,
John the Evangelist, in whom we find talents and learning alike conspicuous.
Hence, it is to him we pay due allegiance as the patron of our art.
In what is he considered the equal of John the
He is considered to be equal to the former in this. As
the personal influence of John the Baptist could not extend beyond the
bounds of a private circle or so effectually defuse the benefits of the plan
he had introduced, an assistant was necessary to complete the work he had
begun. In John the Evangelist, therefore, we discover the same zeal as John
the Baptist, and superior abilities displayed to perfect the improvement of
man; copying the example of his predecessor we view him arranging and ably
digesting, by his eminent talents, the great doctrine which had been issued
into the world; and transmitting by his writings, for the benefit of
posterity, the influence of that doctrine to which the zeal of his
predecessor had given birth. As parallels in Masonry, we rank these two
patrons and class them as joint promoters of our system; to their memory in
conjunction with Solomon, we are taught to pay due homage and veneration.
Thus, we define the two great characters to whom we
owe the establishment of our tenets, and the improvement of our system;
while, in the ceremony of dedication, we commemorate the virtues and
transmit them to latter ages, we derive from their favor, patronage and
The Volume of Sacred Law tells us that when the
multitudes asked of the Baptist, "What shall we do", John responded, thusly:
"He that hath two coats, let him give to him that hath none; and he that
hath meat, let him do in like manner." To the tax collectors, he enjoined
then not to exact more than the rate of taxes fixed by law. To the soldiers,
who served as the police of those times, he recommended not to do violence
to any man, nor falsely to denounce anyone.
St. John the Baptist was a man of character and
integrity, and someone we would all do well to emulate. John was a humble
man, in the best sense of the word. John preached a message of repentance.
Repentance means more than just saying that, "you are sorry." The Greek word
"metanoia," from which the word "repentance" comes literally means, "to turn
around." In other words, John urged his followers to literally turn around
and move in a new direction, i.e., to move toward God instead of away from
God. - mere lip service was not enough because actions speak louder than
words. John wanted his followers to live lives that demonstrated their
orientation toward God. Moreover, he preached this message not only with his
words, but through his actions as well.
John the Baptist was simply a man who lived in one
particular historical moment. Yet, his message of repentance, humility,
devotion and love of God transcends time and culture. It is a message that
is just as urgent and just as true today as it was 2,000 years ago. It is a
message that was illustrated by John's daily life. Moreover, it is a message
that underscores so many of the values that Freemasons today exalt as ideals
for the living of a moral life.
Our ritual speaks of a Lodge of the Holy Saints John
at Jerusalem. Many Brethren take this to refer to a Lodge at Jerusalem when
it actually only refers to the Holy Saints John as being at Jerusalem.
Hundreds of years ago, Scottish Lodges were referred to as Saint Johns'
Lodges. Therefore, when a Brother referred to himself as coming from a Lodge
of the Holy Saints John at Jerusalem, he meant only that he came from a
When were the Holy Saints John selected as patrons of
our Order? We do not have exact dates, but our ancient manuscripts indicate
that St. John the Baptist was selected by Scottish, and later British,
Lodges long before the Evangelist who appears for the first time in any
Masonic documents in the 17th century.
We may never know the truth about John's historical
relationship with Freemasonry. We may never find out if he was a member of
our Fraternity, although it is highly unlikely that he was. The truth is
that it really does not matter if he was a member of our Ancient Craft.
Freemasonry honors the humble man who came to be known as St. John the
Baptist because his entire life exemplified duty to God through his faith,
his religious practices, and through the very living of his life.
It is regrettable that we note an apparent increasing
disinterest on the part of Lodges and our Brethren to honor the two Patron
Saints of our Order. It is not that these two Saints need to be honored
based on any ancient rituals and tradition. Rather, by holding an annual
celebration in their honor, we recall to ourselves the great moral lessons
each taught, and the example of piety and devotion to Deity they exhibited
throughout their lives.
The imminent Masonic scholar, Joseph Fort Newton,
wrote, "Righteousness and Love -- those two words do not fall short of
telling the whole duty of a man and a Freemason." And Freemasons around the
world could do no better in their choice of a Patron Saint and a model for
living than they have in John the Baptist - a man whose life continues to
shine as an example to us all - Mason and non-Mason alike!