St John's Day
By Brother Manny de Freitas
Published in the 2016 GLSA Southern Division Spring Ball Magazine
The internationally accepted establishment of modern Freemasonry has been set as 24 June 1717 when the Grand Lodge of London emerged. However, there is extensive historic proof, in the form of many preserved documents that Freemasonry existed long before that. The first recorded use of the words “Free Masons” is reflected in the City of London Letter-book H of 9 August 1376. Celebrated English politician, astronomer and student of alchemy Elias Ashmore wrote that he was a Free Mason and in 1686 referred in his diary to the “Fellowship of Free Masons”.
The significance of 24 June is of particular importance. The feast day saint for 24 June is taken by the Church as St John the Baptist. Historically and traditionally, every Freemason considers the day of St John the Baptist as a special day. The other day that members of the Order venerate is 27 December, that of St John the Evangelist.
There are no proper recorded explanations as to why operative Masons adopted these two saints in particular when St. Thomas, the Patron Saint for architecture and building was already in common use. We do not have exact dates as to when the Saints John were selected as patrons of Freemasonry, but manuscripts indicate that St John the Baptist was selected by Scottish, and later British, Lodges long before the Evangelist, who appears in Masonic documents for the first time in the 17th century.
In the Middle Ages craftsmen considered themselves under the protection of a particular Saint of the Church. For example, tilers chose St Barbara, stonecutters chose the Four Crowned Martyrs and astronomers chose St Dominic.
Although it remains unclear why St John was picked at the Order’s patron, studying the character of this saint clearly illustrates just how appropriate St. John the Baptist is to be the Patron of our Order. St. John the Baptist was known as a just man, a man of strength, uncompromising with anything evil but yet also courageous, humble and magnanimous.
Writings indicate that John was a well-informed (wisdom), strong (strength) and handsome (beauty) man. On 24 June the northern hemisphere observes the festival of the summer sun, or the summer solstice. The opposite to John the Baptist, namely John the Evangelist, celebrated on 27 December commemorates the winter solstice, when the sun is at its furthest point, a symbol of the attainment of wisdom and goodwill towards men.
Freemasonry adopted these festivals and although the Christian names have been retained, the Christian dogma has been taken away and made their observance universal for all men of all beliefs.
The first Grand Lodge was organised in England in 1717, on the Festival Day of the Baptist. The United Grand Lodge of England was created in 1813 on the Festival Day of the Evangelist. The day of St John the Baptist is truly symbolic of a day of beginnings, while the day of the Evangelist is symbolic of endings.
Brethren in the Masonic order understand the constant beginnings and endings that one experiences, through rituals, labouring together and constant discoveries. This makes the festivals of the St Johns very significant.