Saints John; Saint John
St. John or St. John's has always been a popular and much used name among Freemasons and has come to be employed so frequently and in so many different ways as even to cause some confusion. There are St. John the Baptist, St. John the Evangelist, the Holy Saints John, St. John Lodges, St. John Masons, St. John Masonry, and St. John Days, to which, of course, are added the many lodges with St. John as their proper name.
St. John Lodges and Masons
These names were applied to those Masons who had belonged to the Fraternity prior to the organization of the premier Grand Lodge and who did not affiliate with the new order after 1717. That name seems not to have been used in that sense in Scotland and it is not certain that it applied to all the Old Masons or lodges in England. The Four Old Lodges were not so-called, because they were attached to the new Grand Lodge from the first. Some name had to be applied to the Masons in England whose connection with the Fraternity long antedated the admissions of the large number that were entering the Society in the 1720's and 1730's. Their legitimacy was not questioned, nor was the new regime so different from the old as to exclude them from the lodges. They visited the new lodges as they desired and their names are found on the registers of lodges, sometimes as Old Mason and sometimes as St. John Mason. The pre-Grand Lodge lodges were nominally Trinitarian Christian in doctrine, while the New Grand Lodge adopted a neutral or noncommittal position on that subject. There was something about St. John or the Saints John in the working of the old lodges so that the name came to identify the regular but unaffiliated Masons.
Not only the Gothic Constitutions but also the exposed rituals which began to be published in 1723 and are supposed to display much of the pre-Grand Lodge work, emphasized Christian doctrine. The exposure of the catechetical rituals began in 1723 with A Mason's Examination, which contained the following: "Q. What Lodge are you of? A. I am of the Lodge of St. Stephen's." This is exceptional; all others to response to similar questions give the reply: St. John's. The Grand Mystery of Free-Masons Discover'd of 1724 says: "Q. How many Lights? A. Three; a Right East, South and West. Q. What do they represent? A. The Three Persons, Father Son and Holy Ghost." The Whole Institution of Free-Masons Opened of 1725 contains the question and answer: "What Lodge are you of? Answer - St. John." But the Lights are 12: "Father, Son, Holy Ghost, Sun, Moon, Master Mason, Square, Rule, Plum, Line, Mell and Cheisal." The Grand Mystery Laid Open of 1726 said: "Where sat King John in the morning when he assembled the Society? He sat in the East Window of the Temple in a Chair of Marble waiting the rising Sun. Where sat he in the Evening when he dismissed it? At the West End of the Temple in the same Chair waiting the setting Sun. Why was St. John called King? Because he was head of all the Christian Lodges, and from his superior knowledge of the wonderful art of Masonry." The Mystery of Free-Masonry of 1730 has this: "Q. To what Lodge do you belong? A. The Holy Lodge of St. John." Prichard's Masonry Dissected of 1730 says: "Q. From whence came you? A. From the Holy Lodge of St. John's."
Freemasonry has seldom, or for long, been consistent on religion and such is illustrated by this early example: whereas the Grand Lodge eliminated all Christianity as it thought, nevertheless it was organized and held its Annual Assembly and Feasts on St. John the Baptist's Day and held one of its Quarterly Communications on St. John the Evangelist's Day.
The Holy Saints John; Lodge of St. John at Jerusalem
The Gothic Legends related back to the building of King Solomon's Temple, approximately 1000 years before there was a St. John but, nevertheless, the first legendary lodge was said to be that of St. John, presumably meaning a lodge at Jerusalem dedicated to St. John the Baptist. That St. John was the energetic forerunner of Christ and baptized him in the River Jordan. In some places St. John the Evangelist, also called the Mystic, was deemed more to be revered and was substituted. In other places, or most places, it was not known which was right and it was not known why there should be any necessity for a choice, so that both were adopted as the Patron Saints and lodges came to be dedicated to the Holy Saints John and were supposed to be replicas of some Lodge of the Holy Saints John at Jerusalem.
Since the exposed catechetical rituals are the earliest Masonic rituals known and speak only of the St. John's Lodge without reference to the Solomonic Lodge presided over by the supposed three first Grand Masters, it is probable that the Lodge of Solomon and the two Hirams is a ritualistic device of later production, possibly arriving at the same time or as part of the Legend of Hiram. It is said that the first ritualistic reference to the Saints John known in America occurs in Webb's Monitor of 1797. In the 18th century, it was not unusual for letters and communications between lodges to begin: "From the Lodge of the Holy Saints John of Jerusalem, under the distinctive name of ___ Lodge No. ___
St. John as a generic term and as a Lodge Name. The name, St. John, came to be used for what is sometimes called Ancient Masonry or Pure Masonry or Craft Masonry, meaning that which had not been despoiled by innovations, particularly those of the high degrees. In the 18th century, many lodges, possibly most lodges, had no names, only numbers, names often being attached to them by common usage. In that way, some lodges were called St. John to indicate that they were of the Craft type, working the three degrees of St. John Masonry. This did not mean pre-Grand Lodge lodges and Masonry as it once had but, just the opposite, it meant the regular and ordinary working of lodges under the Grand Lodges. Then, having been generally called St. John, a lodge might adopt that name. Later writers have not always observed that fact and have sometimes assumed that a lodge referred to as a St. John's lodge bore that title as a proper name. This usage appears in the Constitution of the Grand Lodge of Scotland as late as that of 1848, where, in Chapter II, it declares that that body practices and recognizes no degrees of Masonry but those of Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason, denominated Saint John's Masonry. In its proceedings and declarations, it customarily describes itself as working St. John Masonry and, in fact, claims to be the only Grand Lodge in the British Isles that can make that boast. The working in the United States resembles that in Scotland more than it does that in England.
St. John has also been frequently adopted as the proper name of lodges all over the world. In that sense, there is scarcely a jurisdiction that does not have among its older lodges at least one and sometimes several named St. John or St. John's. The United Grand Lodge of England has 3 of them and 3 others with some qualifying words in London alone. In the rest of England there are about a score and overseas about the same proportion. Scotland has over 50 St. John lodges in that country and about 10 overseas. Indeed, that name seems to be used more than St. Andrew's. The comparatively small state of Connecticut has 5 St. John lodges and in the smaller state of Rhode Island, there are two St. John Lodge No. 1, but, fortunately, one is located in Providence and the other in Newport.
In the ebb and flow of religion that has characterized the Masonic rituals, Christianity was pretty well restored by the middle of the 18th century, the Bible and, in the United States, the altar being instituted in the lodges and the Point within the Circle and the Parallel Lines representing the Holy Saints John occupying a regular place in the Preston and Webb working. Then, at the Union of 1813 between the two Grand Lodges of England (both of which had indulged in many innovations), the rituals of the United Grand Lodge were revised to eliminate all Christianity and lodges became dedicated to King Solomon, though the New Testament was retained.