The patron saints of Freemasonry are St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist. In Masonic ritual they are referred to collectively as the Holy Saints John.
We have included some links to more information on our Masonic Education page but here are some articles about the Masonic view of the Holy Saints John.
“THE TWO SAINTS JOHN
[Some of you have noticed that we have posted an event – the Festival of Saint Andrew on this Facebook page and have asked why Saint Andrew?
We believe that every Grand Lodge in the world acknowledges Saint John as their Patron Saint. This is not the case in respect of the Grand Lodge of Scotland. Below is an attempt to explain why… – Ed.]
The Scottish Reformation of 1559-60 swept away the Roman Catholic form of Christianity and ushered in was the new Protestant religion, which had a very different view of how God was to be worshipped. Gone were the Catholic form of worship (such as the Mass), images of saints, Catholic symbols and other church paraphernalia. That which replaced it was quite different; simpler, plainer and all this took place within a generation of the Schaw statutes (1598 and 1599) being written. William Schaw, the man who many now acknowledge to the father of modern Freemasonry, for it was he who began the process which led to Freemasonry as we know it today.
Many Lodges are named after a particular saint (quite often saints well known locally) and we frequently hear of references to the Saints John within Freemasonry. Some might be familiar with the symbol of the point within a circle, supported (to the right and left) by two parallel lines (see image). If, however, the country’s religion was so completely changed at the Reformation why do signs of the previous faith still linger within the modern craft by reference various saints?
Why these two particular saints, St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, are regularly referred within Freemasonry is the purpose of the short paper. However, it is not the religious faith or the theological aspect that are for discussion here (that is for another time). Once that has been done, then we shall be in better position to consider the religious reasons why these saints are still with us in Freemasonry today.
The Edinburgh Register House MS (1696) is the oldest known Masonic ritual in the world, and it is in an equivocally the Scottish – that is clear from the rhetoric, spelling and syntax etc.). This ritual and others very similar to it (for example, the Airlie MS (1705) and the Chetwode Crawley MS (c.1710)) are also Scottish and these have been described and analysed elsewhere (see: The Airlie MS in Vol. 117 of AQC – the annual journal of Lodge Quatuor Coronati, No.2076)). The first mention of a Saint John, and I shall reveal which one in a moment, is contained within the obligation (which is in itself extremely significant) these earliest of rituals. Part of the obligation calls on the candidate to say: ‘I swear by St John, and the square and compasses…’ This means that 140 years after the Reformation (c.1559), Saint John was still being ‘sworn by’ stonemasons during their ceremonies and that this saint was on a par with the Square and Compasses.
Before discussing why St John’s Freemasonry is described as such I want to turn to our pre-Reformation stonemason forbears to try and understand what they were doing and what place, if any, St John played in their activities.
In the middle ages most trade(s), especially those with some economic power formed guilds (in the Scotland they were usually known as Incorporations). Without going into great detail, trades such as Baxters (bakers), Wobsters (weavers) etc. where allowed to participate to a limited extent in town council activities. Although they had little power they at least a voice, no matter how small, in the town establishment. This was useful wen matters relating to their craft, stonemasonry, were debated. For example, the incorporation could negotiate working hours and wages and other conditions of employment with the city council. In return for the small amount of political representation the incorporations in return had to agree to accept certain responsibilities. For example, they had had to agree to control their apprentices, and had to agree accept responsibility for improving their morals! The pre-Reformation church had played a much bigger part in people’s lives. The day was structured around the timing of church rituals, holy days etc. It was common for groups such as merchants to combine to pay for the upkeep of part, or occasionally all, of a particular church. Rich individuals occasionally took sole responsibility for a particular place in a church. These ‘particular parts’ of a church were usually side aisles dedicated to a saint where prayers would be offered to the saint. When stonemasons attained the status of an incorporation in Edinburgh, in 1475, they were given the responsibility for maintaining the aisle of Saint John the Evangelist within the St Giles Cathedral. This meant that they had to keep the aisle all clean and tidy, in good order, repair any damage and make an annual donation of candle wax. This in use every day and more during mass. The cost was considerable over the course of a year. In other words, stonemasons met there regularly, not only to hear prayers being said for the souls of deceased stonemasons but also discussed manners relevant to their craft. It naturally followed that, because the aisle was dedicated to Saint John the Evangelist, whose feast day is the 27th December that became the annul date that all, stonemasons would gather together. It was sensible therefore to use the period after the religious ceremonies had been completed, they conduct business relevant to the craft of stonemasonry – settle accounts, pay annual fees, plan for the future, suggest and agree changes in rules and regulations, and most importantly: Initiate prentices and make Fellow Crafts. The 27th December remains the principal day in the calendar of Scottish Freemasonry. It is for this reason that today, that most Scottish Lodges continue to celebrate the 27th December and not the 24th of June – the feast day of Saint the Baptist. After the Reformation, many of the religious elements relating to saints, including aisles dedicated to them, were abolished and that meant stonemasons no longer religious responsibilities such as maintaining ‘their’ aisle within St Giles cathedral. However, they still needed to conduct their annual business and logically they continued to hold their Annual General Meeting (AGM) on 27th December each year. This can be seen from written records (including those of Edinburgh City Council for example), where this date is recorded as a regular meeting date of stonemasons before and after the Reformation.
Once William Schaw (c.1550 – 1602), the father of modern Freemasonry, reorganised Scottish Lodges and Lodge records show that the 27th December continued to be the date of their annual meeting. We now call these meetings ‘Installations’ (usually on or about 27th December) as this is when the new Master of a Lodge was elected and installed in the chair of the Lodge.
It is clear therefore that St John the Evangelist was the patron saint of Scottish stonemasons but the question remains as to why he was chosen? There are some possible religious and theological reasons but these must be the subject of a later discussion. However, the thought does occur to us that there may be a very simple reason. When the stonemasons became an Incorporation it may be that the church simply selected the next available vacant aisle which was that dedicated to St John the Evangelist! If this is true then it was the church which ‘allocated’ this saint to them rather than there being a religious reason for stonemasons to select him as their patron saint.
What then of St John the Baptist and St Andrew, both of whom figure with modern Freemasonry – albeit not so prominently within Scottish Freemasonry? When the Grand Lodge was established in London it was already known that ‘St John’ was ‘the’ patron saint. There was no doubt about this but there was doubt as to which one – the Evangelist or the Baptist? When setting up a new organisation, such as a Grand Lodge and there is a choice between a day in the depths of winter, when the days are dark, short, cold and often wet, or a day in the middle of summer, which are warm with long hours of sunlight, which day would you choose? Our English brethren may have simply automatically assumed that no one would be crazy enough to chose the 27th December, or if they did know that Scotland used the feast day of St John the Evangelist they ‘turned a blind eye’ on that inconvenient fact and chose Saint John the Baptist whose feast day is at the height of summer – 24th of June annually.
When Lodges in Edinburgh decided that Scotland should also have its own Grand Lodge they paid particular attention to the procedures used to establish the formation of the Grand Lodge in London, and also adopted St John the Baptist’s feast day. Unfortunately, those organising the Grand Lodge of Scotland, had not taken into account the traditions of Scottish stonemasons, including their Patron Saint – John the Evangelist. The main effect of this was that the majority of stonemasons’ lodges in Scotland did not take part in the formation of the new grand Lodge as they believed it would be quite wrong to overturn centuries for tradition and adopt a new patron saint and one that seemed to have been chosen ‘for them’ by English Masons.
The new Grand Lodge of Scotland had got itself into a real pickle. If it persisted with St John the Baptist Day on which to hold its main annual meeting and installation of the Grand Master Mason, it would offend all the operative, stonemasons’, lodges it was so anxious to bring under the wing of Grand Lodge. Likewise, if it opted for Saint John the Evangelist it risked upsetting all the speculative Lodges which had been so involved in organising and supported its creation from the beginning. It would also have been seen to have got a fundamental fact about Freemasonry completely wrong. Whichever Saint John it chose it was going to upset one group or another. In a typical Scottish pragmatic move a compromise was reached – it adopted neither John the Evangelist or John the Baptist! Instead it for the Patron Saint of Scotland – Saint Andrew. This is why, although Scottish Craft Freemasonry is known as Saint John’s Freemasonry, the Grand Lodge of Scotland uses neither saint! Instead Saint Andrew’s feast day, 30th November, is the date of the Installation of the Grand Master Mason of the Grand Lodge of Scotland’s which is followed by the Festival of St Andrew.”
(Source: Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of Scotland – Facebook post, September 2017)
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