Vol. XIV No. 10 — October 1936
A curiosity of Freemasonry is her choice of patron saints — just why the Sts. John should be in the positions in which the Craft places them, when she has four (or perhaps nine!) of her very own, may only be accounted for by the fact that when the Sts. John became identified with the two parallel lines bordering the point in a circle, her early leaders had forgotten, if they had ever known, the Four Crowned Ones of ancient days.
It is interesting to note that on this point, Freemasonry and the Church of Rome saw eye to eye — indeed, up to the time of the Reformation, at least, there was a day (November Eighth) when Catholic prayers were to be said for the souls of the Four Crowned Martyrs which Freemasonry claims for her very own!
Did the Four Crowned Ones ever live? Were they martyred? Were they stonemasons in our sense of the word, or artists, carvers in precious metals? To answer one needs to be wise enough to untangle fact from fancy. It is the history of all legends of which the sources are lost in the mists of time, that passing the story from tongue to tongue, year by year, century to century, often confuses the original facts, adds decorations, substracts verities, until the student has a hard time digging down through this literary patina of the ages to the hard metal of truth beneath!
However, the legends of the Four Crowned Ones — for there are more than one — are not dependent on one source alone for the telling. Several Latin and Greek manuscripts; and at least eight histories of martyrs, ranging in date from A.D. 400 to A.D. 894, tell the tale — or tales. Then there are the Brevieries, principal among which is that of Rome, dated 1477, but evidently compiled from earlier sources.
All record different versions of two distinct stories which in the course of time, have been confused, interwoven, merged, disentangled, again mixed. In brief, four officers of the Roman Army were executed, and five sculptors, artists or stonemasons, were martyred, all for their faith in Christianity. The murderer was the Emperor Diocletian. The names of the five artists were in time forgotten; it was then ordered that all nine should be commemorated under the title Four Crowned (or Holy) Martyrs. Later the missing names were recovered, but by this time, a church having been consecrated to the Four Crowned Ones, and years having passed, the pleasant fiction was continued and the Nine are still the Four!
Thus, in all strangeness, four soldiers of Rome became the patron saints of early builders, instead of the five sculptors who should have been, although their trade or profession persisted under the names of the four! To make it still more confusing the names of two are also those of two other martyrs with whom these original victims have no connection.
Masonically, thirty-eight lines from the Regius poem (oldest known document of Freemasonry, dated approximately A.D. 1390, sometimes called the earliest Constitution although strictly speaking it is not a Constitution at all) commemorate the Four Crowned Ones in old English words which are extremely difficult to understand. Somewhat modernized the verse runs:
Pray we now to God almight, (almighty) And to his mother Mary bright, That we may keep these articles here, And these points well all y-fere, (together) As did these holy martyrs four, That in this craft were of great honour; They were as good Masons as on earth shall go. Gravers and image-makers they were also. For they were workmen of the best, The emperor had to them great luste; (liking) He willed of them an image to make That might be worshipped for his sake; Such monuments he had in his dawe, (day) To turn the people from Christ's Law. But they were steadfast in Christ's lay, (law) And to their craft without nay; (doubt) They loved well God and all his lore, And were in his service ever more. True men they were in that dawe, (day) And lived well in God's law; They thought no monuments for to make, For no good that they might take, To believe on that monument for their God, They would not do so. though he were wod (furious) For they would not forsake their true fay (faith) And believe on his false lay. (law) The emperor let take them soon anon. And put them in a deep prison; The more sorely he punished them in that place. The more joy was to them of Christ's grace. Then when he saw no other one, To death he let them then gon; (go) Whose will of their life yet more know. By the book he might it show In the legend of sanctorum (holy ones) The names of quatuor coronatorum (four crowned ones) Their feast will be without nays (doubt) After Hollow-e'en the eight day.
The meaning of these lines is plainer after reading some of the Church's accounts of the men who died for their faith. Summarized, these may be set forth as follows:
Four ingenious artists, sculptors, workers in metal, by name Claudius, Castorius, Nicostratus and Simphorianus, employed or worked with an artisan called Simplicius, Simplicious had a bad habit of breaking his tools. Admiring the skill of the four Masters, he begged their help to so sharpen his tools that they would not break. Claudius held the tools in his hands and prayed: "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, be this iron strong and proper for work."
The prayer succeeding and the tools not thereafter breaking, Simplicious asked if the Roman God Zeus was not responsible, whereupon Claudius said to him: "Repent, my brother, for you have blasphemed God, who has created all things, whom we acknowledge; but we do not acknowledge as God, him whom our hands have made."
The four were secretly Christians and they converted Simplicious to that faith; and this was an evil age for the followers of the Carpenter of Nazareth.
The Emperior Diocletian, worshiping the gods of his day and age, commanded the five to carve him a statute of the god Aesculapius. When they repeatedly refused, the angry Emperor had them first scourged, them immured alive in sealed coffins and cast into the river. Later, one Nicodemus, a Christian, raised the coffins.
Two years later four officers of the army, by name Severus, Severianus, Carpophorus and Victorinus, refused to worship Rome's idols and false gods. Again by order of Diocletian they were beaten to death with whips armed with lead balls, and their bodies thrown into the streets for the dogs, where they lay five days. The names of these soldiers who died for their faith were lost for many years: then (according to legend) they were recovered by a direct revelation from heaven.
These two legends, two sets of martyrs, and two dates of martyrdom, in time became confused one with the other. Sometimes it is the four soldiers who were artists and cast into the river in coffins, sometimes it is the five who suffer death by whipping. Sometimes they die on the same day, sometimes eleven months, again two years apart. Sometimes it is five, then it is four, who first suffer. In one version, one set of names is lost; in another the second set is recovered by a revelation from heaven. What's common and agreed upon in almost all accounts is that nine men were put to violent deaths for faith in Christ and refusal to worship images, that their names were lost and recovered, and that all, by order of Pope Melchiades (A.D. 310) became known as the Four Crowned Ones.
The Craft has commemorated the Four Crowned Ones in a way known to all students; the great Research Lodge in London, Quatuor Coronati, is named in their honor. It carries a good little picture, or sketch of the Four Crowned Ones, taken from a decoration or illumination of a page in the Isabella Missal (dated about 1497), on the first page of all its monumental Transactions (now in their forty sixth year). The Lodge published, as the first of its priceless reproductions of old Masonic documents, the Regius Poem which connects the Four Crowned Ones directly with Masonry.
From very early days, the Four Crowned Ones became the patron saints of builders, first in Italy, later in Germany and elsewhere. Statues of the Martyrs were placed in niches in churches, as in the exterior of the northern wall of the Church or San Michele, church of the trade guilds of Florence. The German Constitutions of Strassburg (1459) open as follows: "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and of our gracious mother Mary, and also of her blessed Servants, the Crowned Martyrs of everlasting memory." Flemish Guilds of operative Masons were known as Vier Ghecroonde or Quatuor Coronati. In A.D. 619, a church is Canterbury was dedicated to the Four Crowned Martyrs. As late as 1481 an Article for the regulation of craftsmen in London (Masons Company) reads: "That every freeman of the Craft shall attend Christian church (within Aldgate) on the Feast of Quatuor Coronati, to hear Mass, under penalty of 12 pence.'
Why did the Four Crowned Ones, (whether four, or five, or nine) at once, seemingly, become famous in the annals of craftsmen? During the early centuries a succession of cruel men ruled in Rome: Christians were persecuted, burned, thrown to the lions, tortured, martyred. A noble company and large — why should these four (or five or nine) have been celebrated in Roman church, in story, song, missal, brevity, statue and legend, above others equally as deserving, equally as brave, equal in suffering and death?
No certain answer can be given. But it seems a reasonable guess that Christianity, starting among the poor and lowly, the "underprivileged" as we should call them, spread much more rapidly among the humble than among the patrician. The guilds of workmen, the collegia of Rome, the associations of workers, would normally become Christians far sooner than the rulers, the nobles, the patricians, the wealthy class. It is universal in history that the stronger the persecution, the greater becomes the strength of associations of melt and the more tenaciously they hole to the bond which unites them. If the four (or five, or nine) who died for their faith, were members of the craftsman's guild or collegia, their fellows would at once think of them as heroes; not only men who died for their faith, but as craftsmen who upheld the honor and dignity of their order.
Whatever the reason, the fact of their fame and its spread is as undoubted as is the confusion which reigns among the many accounts given of their martyrdom.
Equally as puzzling as their fame, is the sinking into obscurity of names and reputation. In England, when the builders chose a patron saint, they picked first one, then the other Sts. John, instead of those ancient martyrs who were craftsmen all. No manuscript Constitution after the Regius mentions the Four Crowned Ones, which leads students to believe that the copyist who set down the old poem had source material not known to the makers of the other manuscript Constitutions. English Masons, of course, lost sight of the Regius until about 1840. But what became of the reputation of the four during the Middle Ages up to the time of the Reformation, that Masons should neglect heroes whose story is so close — at least in its courage and its sacrifice — to the great legend of the Master in Freemasonry?
No one may say why — the fact exists and that is all we know. But cast not the tale aside, thinking that because Freemasonry gave to the Four Crowned Ones no place in ritual and degree, therefore the story is of little importance. To historians and students who delve into the curious bypaths of Masonic lore which permeate the past, the tale of the Four Crowned Ones is one of the great romances of the Craft. To the average Craftsmen it should be far more than a mere entertaining tale of olden times and forgotten men.
The Four Crowned Ones died rather than betray their God. The Hiramic Legend has been an inspiration to countless millions. Whether true in the sense of having been actual happenings, or true only in the sense of recording man's aspiration, it can hardly be by chance alone that the tragedy of the Master Builder of King Solomon's Temple, and the martyrdom of the Four Crowned Ones should have echoed down the ages in the ears of Masons for century piled on century.
He who would keep memory of those who died so bravely in the long ago for the faith that was in them, may recall the words of another great Roman soldier:
For how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds
For the ashes of his fathers
And the temples of his gods?
So be it a hit of the holy fire is kept alight in Craftsmen's hearts, the Four Crowned Ones died not in vain!