The Holy Saints John From Bernard E. Jones - Freemasons Guide and Compendium 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 to-day, 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. Here is a salutation taken from an irregular publication of 1725: Q. From whence came you? A. I came from a right worshipful Lodge of Masters and Fellows belonging to Holy St John, who doth greet all perfect Brothers of our Holy Secret, so do I you, if you be one. Q. I greet you well Brother, God's Greeting be at our Meeting. From another publication of much about the same date comes the following: Q. What Lodge are you of? A. Of the Right Worshipful Lodge of St John's. 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." The two St John days are sometimes referred to as 'The Two Great Parallels.' The phrase 'a line parallel' appears in one version of the legendary story of how the two Saints John came to be commemorated by the masonic order. In the ancient days, we are told, a general meeting of the Craft held in the city of Benjamin deputed seven members to beg St John the Evangelist to become Grand Master. He answered that "though well stricken in years (being upwards of ninety) yet, having been in the early part of his life initiated into Masonry, he would take upon himself that office; he thereby compleated, by his learning, what the other (St John Baptist) had begun by his zeal, and drew a line parallel, ever since which Free Masons' Lodges have been dedicated both to St John the Baptist, and to St John the Evangelist." Symbols of the first of these saints are a camel-hair garment, small rude cross, and a lamb at his feet; of the second, an open book, and a dragon or serpent emerging from a chalice, while in the background may be a young man with eagle. Thus the presence in a few lodges of a carved eagle may suggest that the lodge was dedicated to St John the Evangelist, as a great many lodges were, or may possibly indicate that a Royal Arch ceremonial was worked at one time. The first Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge was elected and installed on St John the Baptist's Day, 1717, and for eight years afterwards his successors were installed on that day; but in most of the following years for a quarter of a century the date was altered to suit the convenience of the Grand Master, a course that offended many masons and in later days gave the 'Antients' opportunity for criticism.
Copyright: The Skirret, 2015