Patron Saints of Masonry
Medieval Guilds through whose usages we can trace the descent of our present Speculative Craft to that of the Operative Freemason, usually adopted as Patrons those Saints whose affinity was often associated with their peculiar craft or calling. All the London Guilds ranged themselves under the banner of a particular saint especially one who bore a special relation to their profession. In this way St. Peter became regarded as the patron saint of fishmongers, lead workers chose St. Sebastian and doctors chose St. Luke. St. Thomas, St. Barbara and the Four Crowned Martyrs because of their peculiar relation to the building trades became adopted patrons of Freemasons Guilds and their main characteristics may be aptly described as being respectively mystical, symbolical and historical. Surprisingly, neither of the two St. John’s who figure so prominently in Freemasonry bear any striking relation to the Medieval Guilds or Operative Masons in particular and so they must be examined separately from the other three Patrons to understand its allegorical connection.
Before turning our attention to the two St. John’s we will first examine the legends relating to St. Thomas, St. Barbara and the Four Crowned Martyrs. Each of these legends illustrates a somewhat different point of view, and their main characteristics may aptly be described as being respectively mystical, symbolical and historical. All of these legends lead the Operative Craftsman by means of allegory and symbol, to the contemplation of the highest principles of piety and virtue. Let us now go over each of these three legends in this light:
According to the tradition, St. Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, came to India in 52 A.D. He preached the Gospel to the Brahmin families of Kerala, on the Malabar Coast, many of whom received the faith. These Christians became the foundation of the Church in India and are known as St. Thomas Christians.
It was whilst preaching in India that the apostle, who was a good architect, was entrusted with building a magnificent palace for the local king of Gondoforus. St. Thomas accepted the assignment but whilst the king was absent in a distant country, he distributed all the money intended for the building on the sick and poor. On his return, the furious monarch imprisoned St. Thomas to await a fearful death. At this same time a brother of the king apparently died, but returned to life after four days and implored the king not to execute the architect for he had seen with his own eyes the magnificent palace which Thomas the architect had built for the king in heaven. The Saint on being brought before the king exhorted him with these words. ‘knowest thou not that those who would possess heavenly things, have little care for the things of this earth? There are in heaven rich palaces without number, which were prepared from the beginning of the world for those who purchase the possession through faith and charity. Thy riches, O King, may prepare the way for thee to such a palace, but they cannot follow you there.’
It is in allusion to this legend that St. Thomas, even as early as the thirteenth century, carries as his symbol the square or builder’s rule, and thus he is claimed as the Patron Saint of Architects and Builders. The beauty and significance of the allegory in this legend will be appreciated by those who have been taught as Freemasons to build a spiritual edifice in our hearts.
St. Barbara was the daughter of a pagan noble man Dioscorus who lived in Nicomedia in Asia Minor. Her father fearing that her beauty would attract suitors for marriage without his consent confined her in a high tower. There contemplating the stars of heaven in their courses, the future Saint realised the omnipotence of the Supreme Being above the idolatry of the heathens and she was converted to the Christian faith. She therefore directed the builders to erect three windows in her chamber in reverence to the Holy Trinity. When her father realised the changes undertaken he was furious, however, her revelation that she had converted to Christianity ultimately led to her martyrdom at the hands of her own father whom he beheaded. On his way home Dioscorus was struck by lightning and his body consumed.
Saint Barbara lived and died about the year 300 A.D. She was venerated as early as the seventh century. The legend of the lightning bolt which struck down her persecutor caused her to be regarded as the Patron Saint in time of danger from thunderstorms, fires and sudden death.
When gunpowder made its appearance in the Western world, Saint Barbara was invoked for aid against accidents resulting from explosions--since some of the earlier artillery pieces often blew up instead of firing their projectile, Saint Barbara became the Patroness of the artillerymen.
In association with the Tower and its Builders St. Barbara is claimed as the Patroness of Architects and Builders, and more especially in connection with castles, fortifications, and the military arts. There were two towers named after St. Barbara along the Spanish lines one of which was blown up by the British expeditionary force during the Great Sortie in 1781.
Saint Barbara is therefore usually represented standing by a tower with three windows, carrying the palm of a martyr in her hand. Often, too, she holds a chalice and a sacramental wafer and sometimes cannon are displayed near her. The feast of Saint Barbara falls on December 4th and is traditionally recognized by a formal Dining-In or military dinner, often involving the presentation of the Order of Saint Barbara.
For Freemasons St. Barbara is associated in particular with the Higher Degrees where candidates are taken to a mystical tower where Truth is to be found. The Rose Croix, Royal Order of Scotland and the Irish Knight Masons all make use of such a figurative tower in their ritual.
The legend of the Four Crowned Martyrs in actual fact commemorate nine Saints in total comprising two separate groups, a company of five excellent Masons – four friends soon joined by another – and a fellowship of four soldiers. The events which led to their martyrdom were as follows:-
When the Emperor Diocletian went to Panmonia to visit the stone quarries he found, among the craftsmen there employed, four skilled above all others in the stone-squarer’s art. Their names were Claudius, Castorius, Sempronianus and Nicostratus; they were secretly Christians, and believed their great skill was motivated by their belief in the one true God. Another Craftsman, Simplicius, inspired by their example also embraced the Christian faith.
By declining to make a statue of the heathen god Aesculapius they were sentenced to death by the Emperor. Each martyr was fastened to a leaden coffin and cast into the river. The bodies however were recovered by other Christians and buried in secret.
On his return to Rome the Emperor directed a temple to be made to Aesculapius in the Baths of Trojan and on its completion ordered all Roman soldiers and city militia to offer incense before the image of the god. Four Christian soldiers refused the order. Their names were Severus, Severianus, Carpophorus and Victorinus. They were scourged to death with leaden-weighted thongs and their bodies thrown to the dogs. Their bodies too were recovered and laid to rest with the other five Saints. Twelve years later a church was founded under the Caelian Hill and named the Four Crowned Martyrs but dedicated to all nine Saints who suffered death rather than betray their faith. The Church of the Quator Coronati still exists today and the premier lodge of research in the United Grand Lodge of England ‘Quator Coronati’ Lodge No. 2076 was named in their honour.
The Four Crowned Martyrs have been widely recognized as the Patron Saint of the Masons’ Craft as it shows a striking resemblance between the unshaken fidelity of the Master Craftsman Hiram Abiff and those nine saints who chose death before betraying the sacred trust reposed in them. It is the Patronage of this group of Saints that is most easily understood and appreciated by the Operatives of the Craft and which connects with our own legend of dedication and sacrifice.
So where does this leave the two important figures of St. John as figures of veneration and patronage in our Craft? In reality, the three legends already mentioned are no doubt Christian in origin and may trace its root back to the Medieval Ages and the Operative branch of Freemasonry. The two St. Johns however remain an enigma in this respect as they do not relate in any significant way with the Operative Craft, nevertheless they were still adopted by many of the Trade Guilds in the Medieval Ages as their particular Patron. Their connection with Freemasonry is therefore hardly tangible but they still precede in seniority even a figure such as St. Thomas the acknowledged Patron Saint of Architect and builders. In true Masonic allegory the two Saints were adopted purely in consequence of the two important feast days they were assigned in their honour rather than their particular relationship with the Craft in general.
By history, custom, tradition and ritualistic requirements, the Craft holds in veneration the Festival Days of St. John the Baptist on June 24th, and St. John the Evangelist on December 27th. The Lodge of St. John holds its annual installation on or as close to June 24th as possible and in the days when Masters where elected on a six month basis installations where carried out on both these dates by all Masonic Lodges who would later as we can discover from our old Minute Books send deputations of its members to bring fraternal greetings to the newly Installed Master, Officers and Brethren of other Lodges meeting in other locations throughout Gibraltar. Hundreds of years ago, Scottish Lodges were referred to as Saint Johns' Lodges. Therefore, when a Brother referred to himself as coming from a Lodge of the Holy Saints John at Jerusalem, he meant only that he came from a Scottish Lodge. In the Royal Order of Scotland, the Craft ritual is still referred to as St. John’s Masonry in allusion to this fact.
On June 24th, we observe the festival of the summer sun and on December 27th, we observe the festival of the winter sun. The June festival commemorates John the Baptist and the December festival honours John the Evangelist. These two festivals bear the names of Christian Saints, but ages ago, before the Christian era they bore other names. Masonry adopted these festivals and the Christian names, but has taken away Christian dogma, and made their observance universal for all men of all beliefs. St. John's Day, June 24th, symbolically marks the summer solstice, when nature attains the zenith of light and life and joy. St. John's day in winter, December 27th, symbolizes the turn of the sun's farthest journey - the attainment of wisdom, the rewards of a well-spent life, and love toward one's fellow man.
Before the Christian era these two dates represented the legend of Adonis the god of vegetation and of corn, oil and wine in particular whose symbol was the sun. His consort Astarte represented the moon and the perambulation in our ritual as well as the depiction of the Junior and Senior Wardens as representations of the sun and the moon is in allusion with his legend. As a result of his untimely death Adonis was required to spend half of the year in the confines of the underworld and the event was marked with the reaping of the corn harvest on June 24th. He would re-appear on December 27th under the glow of the five points of the Bright Morning Star another symbol of Astarte to once again unite with his waiting lover and impregnate her once again, only to suffer death once again the following June. In this way he would be re-born every year and for this reason Adonis was known to the Ancient Syrians as the ‘son of the widow’ and Astarte as the widow who would annually lose her husband in summer and who would re-incarnate as her son the following winter. The representation of a weeping woman holding a sprig of acacia in her hand and leaning over a broken column is in fact a depiction of Astarte weeping over the broken body of her lover Adonis. This legend and the Masonic legend of Hiram Abiff form a parallel which holds the key to the Hiram mystery and the true purpose of King Solomon’s Temple. This is explained in much greater detail in my lecture entitled ‘Who was Hiram Abiff’ which I recommend to all students of ancient Masonic history. This lecture notes all the points of reference between these two characters and the true secret of our 3rd degree ritual.
To the Operative Masons their adopted Patrons always bore at least a symbolic resemblance to their particular craft or trade. Therefore the Sts. Thomas, Barbara and the Four Crowned Martyrs have particular connections with the Operatives of the building trades. The two St. John’s as Christian icons have no obvious connection as far as their particular patronage are concerned, nevertheless both remain central in our teachings as the two parallel lines touching a point within a circle from which Masons cannot err. There is little doubt in my mind that the fundamental link between the legend of Adonis and Hiram Abiff is what has in effect elevated the two St. John’s to such an exalted position of honour as Patron Saints of Freemasonry worldwide. In the two Saint John’s we receive the patronage of the Master Builder himself, Hiram Abiff the architect who oversaw the building of the Great Temple at Jerusalem, and who lost his life in consequence of the sacred trust reposed in him. It is for this reason that St. John is revered so highly among Freemasons well above any other.
WBro. Keith Sheriff