“Erected to God and dedicated to the Holy Saints John” –
these are familiar words known to every Freemason. The “Holy Saints John”
are, as we know, John the Baptist (also known as “St. John the Precursor”)
and John the Evangelist (sometimes known as “St. John the Divine”).
There is no proof, of course, that either of these men were ever
functional Patrons of our Fraternity, and they most certainly were not
Operative or Speculative Masons, but it is a fact that Freemasonry has
adopted them as Patron Saints for several centuries. We know, for example,
from the New Testament, that John the Baptist was born six months before
Jesus, so tradition has set his birthday as June 24th. Legend has set
December 27th as the Evangelist's “birthday”. These two men were exact
opposites in temperament: The Baptist was an extrovert and man of action,
while the Evangelist was an introvert and a man of thought, meditation,
John the Evangelist was a Galilean, and the cousin of Jesus. In his
early years, he was impulsive, impetuous, and vindictive as evidenced by
the time he wanted to call down fire from Heaven. During that period of
his life, the Christian Master called him and his brother, James, the
“Sons of Thunder”. In his later years, his disposition mellowed, and he
became known as the Disciple of Love or, in Masonic terminology,
It is known that John the Evangelist wrote one Gospel and
three Epistles. For those that are members of the Eastern Star, it is
interesting to note that his Epistles were written to an “Elect Lady” who
later became Electa in our Eastern Star ritual. Many Masonic scholars hold
that the Gospel of St. John is of vital importance to all Freemasons – not
for its Christian theology -- but for the lessons of Brotherly Love that
are contained therein.
The original reason for the choice of these particular Patron Saints
has been obscured by the passage of time. We cannot determine exactly why
our ancient Brethren chose them rather than St. Thomas, a stonemason.
An old Latin document of our Order deposited with a Lodge at Namur,
France, includes a proclamation of the Masons of Europe assembled at
Cologne in 1535. It declares that Masons were called, "Brethren dedicated
to St. John, first among the stars of the morning.” It further tells us
that prior to 1440, the Fraternity was called the “Joannite Brothers”
(John’s Brethren). It was about at that same time that we began to be
known by the name, “Free Masons”.
There is a third St. John in Freemasonry, although he is not
mentioned in our Missouri ritual. He is St. John the Almoner, to whom the
Order of Knights Hospitalers was originally dedicated. He is included as a
Patron Saint in several overseas Grand Jurisdictions. He was a native of
the island of Cyprus, who in the year 608 became Patriarch of the wealthy
Church of Alexandria. He caused a list of the poor of his See to be
compiled, and his first official act was the distribution of 80,000 pieces
of gold to the indigent and to various agencies for their betterment and
relief. This was an immense sum, worth almost $30,000,000 in today's
money. He continued this systematic giving until his death. His charity
and beneficence won him universal admiration, and he was enrolled among
the Saints of the Western as well as of the Eastern Church.
The Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity – normally
represented as the top three rungs on Jacob’s Ladder in Christian
religious art -- are mentioned in our catechisms. John the Baptist is
represented by Faith, John the Evangelist by Hope, and John the Almoner by
Thomas Paine, a Freemason, wrote the following in his book entitled,
“Origin of Freemasonry”: “The high festival of the Masons is on the day
they call St. John's Day, but every enlightened Mason must know that
holding their festival on this day has no reference to the person called
St. John, and that it is only to disguise the true cause of holding it on
this day that they call by that name. As there were Masons many centuries
before the time of St. John, the holding their festival on this day refers
to a cause totally unconnected with either of the Saints John.”
Many of Freemasonry’s most knowledgeable scholars believe that
the real explanation of Freemasonry's connection with the Holy Saints John
Festival Days is not to be found in the history of the Craft – but,
rather, in the history of ancient religions. These festival days are as
old as the ancient systems of worship of fire and Sun. If we travel
backward in time and imagination to an unknown date when the world of men
was young, we would see a time when knowledge did not exist, and the
primal urges of all humanity were divided between the satisfaction of
bodily needs -- hunger, thirst, warmth, light, and the instincts of
self-preservation, mating, and the love of children. The men of that
far-off age did not understood why the wind blew, what made the rain, or
from whence came lightning, thunder, cold, and warmth. They had no
conception of why the Sun climbed the heavens in the morning and
disappeared at night.
All primitive people tried to explain these “mysteries” in terms of
their daily lives. When angry, their emotions resulted in loud shouts and
a desire to kill. What could be more natural than to think thunder and
lightning were the anger of an Unknown Deity who held very their lives and
well-being in His hands? What would be more logical to these primitive
people than to think that the wind, the rain, the cold, and all other
elements were a manifestation of an angered Unseen Presence?
The greatest manifestation of nature known to our ancient
ancestors was the Sun. It was always present during the day, and its near
kin, fire, warmed and comforted them at night. Under its gentle rays,
crops grew and rivers rose. The Sun kept away the wild beasts by its
light. Sun worship and fire worship were just as natural for men just
struggling into understanding, as was the breath they drew. Early man must
have observed the Sun's slow movement from north to south during the year
and back again as the seasons waxed and waned. Therefore, Midsummers’ Day,
the longest in terms of Sunlight, became a festival; it was the harbinger
of life, just as the Winter Solstice was significant of the end of the
slow decline of the Sun.
Technically, we now know that the seasons of the year are caused by the
23.5º tilt of the Earth's axis. Because the earth is rotating like a top
or gyroscope, it continuously points in a fixed direction toward a point
in space near the North Star. However, the Earth is also revolving around
the Sun at the same time. During half of the year, the Southern Hemisphere
is closer to the Sun than is the Northern Hemisphere. During the rest of
the year, the reverse is true. At noontime in the Northern Hemisphere, the
Sun appears high in the sky during Summer and low in the sky during
Winter. These two extremes are referred to as a “solstice.” Primitive man
did note the change in the Sun’s movement as evidenced by astronomical
observatories, such as Stonehenge on the plains of southern England.
"Solstice" is derived from two Latin words: "Sol" meaning, “sun”, and
"sistere" meaning, “to cause to stand still”. The lowest elevation occurs
about December 21st and is the Winter Solstice -- the first day of winter
when the nighttime hours (darkness) are at a maximum and the period of
sunlight is at its minimum. The Winter Solstice for 2002 will occur at
exactly 7:14 pm CST on December 21st.
In ancient Egypt, for example, the god Osiris died and was
entombed on December 21st and reborn on December 25th. In the earliest
days of Ancient Greece, a man was selected to be a representation of the
god Dionysus during the Feast of Lenaea (Festival of the Wild Women). It
was on that day of the Winter Solstice that Dionysus died and was then
resurrected on December 25th. During the festival, the man being “honored”
was literally torn to pieces, and the pieces were then eaten by the women.
Many Master Masons today will attest to the fact that that practice is
still included in the Eastern Star’s initiatory ceremonies (joke).
By classical times in ancient Greece, the human sacrifice had been
replaced by the killing of a goat. The goat later became the symbol for
Capricorn. In Astrology, December 27th, St. John the Evangelist’s Festival
Day falls under the zodiac sign of Capricorn (December 22nd – January
Capricorns are said to be practical, prudent, ambitious, disciplined,
patient, careful, and humorous. These independent, rocklike characters
have many sterling qualities.
How many of you Brethren were born under the sign of Capricorn? (Note:
Ask for a show of hands).
Well, the choice of a goat to represent those born under the
sign of Capricorn must have been a good choice, because I have heard more
than one wife refer to the “old goat” -- and I can only assume they were
referring to some of you Brethren (Joke).
On a more serious note, Capricorn is said to govern the knees, bones,
and skin, so those born under the sign of Capricorn are subject to
fractures and strains of the knees and other defects of the legs.
Capricorns are also subject to skin diseases, ranging from rashes and
boils to leprosy as well as anemia, Bright's disease, deafness, rheumatism
and rickets. The only thing I would suggest at this point is that you
NEVER, EVER forget to make your medical insurance payments!!!
Ancient Rome had dozens of gods for every purpose imaginable. By 300
BCE, the Roman Empire had combined the festivals for those gods under the
name of “Dies Natalis Solis Invicti” ("Birthday of the Unconquered Sun").
This was a weeklong festival commencing on December 21st and ending on
December 27th with the main feast day taking place on December 25th. It
was a feast honoring the renewal of the Sun at the Winter Solstice. It
included feasting, dancing, lighting bonfires, decorating homes with
greens, and the giving of gifts – much like the traditions of our
present-day Christmas season. Virtually all of the so-called ancient pagan
religions included the nativity, death, and rebirth of a “man-god/savior”,
and then the ascension of the resurrected to “heaven” where he watched
over his flock while they were here on Earth. It was, in fact, the story
of the nativity, death, and resurrection of the Christian Master – and it
was thousands of years old before the birth of the Christian religion.
This ancient legend can be traced back to at least 6500 BCE.
The early Church wanted these pagan festivals stopped, but
they were very popular with the people. The solution to the problem was
simple; substitute Christian meanings and Saints for pagan gods on these
holidays and continue to celebrate the same ceremonies on the same dates –
but under a different name. The Church felt that including this holiday
into Christian observances would eventually convert those who followed the
“Olde Way”. The selection of December 25th as a Christian holiday was first
recorded in scholarly texts in 325 AD, although the actual practice was
first decreed in 274 A.D. by the Emperor Aurelian. Since non-Christians
viewed this date as the rebirth of the Sun, it made perfect sense for the
Church to also mark this period as the celebration of the nativity of
Yeshua ben Nazareth (Jesus). If the Church could not replace pagan
holidays and celebrations, it would simply adopt them and incorporate
so-called pagan symbology into its own.
Therefore, the celebration of the Summer Solstice became the Festival
of Saint John the Baptist and the celebration of the Winter Solstice
became the Festival of Saint John the Evangelist. The High Festival Day of
the Romans became the birth date of the Christian Master.
However, it took centuries for the tradition of St. Johns’
Days and Christmas to catch on. For example, it was adopted in Ireland in
the 5th century AD; the 7th century in Eastern Mediterranean countries;
Austria, England and Switzerland adopted them in the 8th century; and the
Slavic countries in the 9th and 10th centuries.
St. John the Evangelist teaches us to subdue our passions, one of the
first lessons every new Freemason learns in Lodge. When we examine the
writings of St. John the Evangelist, we see a major transformation of a
young man. He goes from being a hot-tempered young radical to one who
exhibits peace in his old age. He goes from being intolerant of others to
working with others by sharing his theology of a “better way of life”.
Above all things, John was loyal. He was the only Disciple to attend the
trial of Jesus as well as being at the foot of the cross for the
crucifixion. When he heard about the empty tomb on that eventful Sunday
morning, he was the first Disciple to arrive. Moreover, it was he that
took Mary, the mother of Jesus, into his home and cared for her until her
We know from the writings of St. John the Evangelist that his
message is simple and straightforward -- that to know and love God is to
obey His law, that the essential mark of grace is Brotherly Love, and that
the ideal life is to live in fellowship with others.
It does not matter that there is no, nor never was, a Lodge of the Holy
Saints John at Jerusalem. It does not matter whether the two Saints John
were actually members of the Masonic Fraternity. They were selected as our
Patron Saints because they exemplified the basic principles of our ancient
Fraternity in their daily lives through their words and deeds. It is
because Freemasonry regards the character and internal qualifications of a
man that the two Saints John are fitting Patrons. Freemasonry honors them
because they were living examples of the Golden Rule and their practice of
love for their fellowmen, and their love of their Creator.