The Holy Saints John



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.