Among American Freemasons there are two festivals in the Masonic calendar. The Feast of St. John, the Baptist, is celebrated on June 24th and the Feast of St. John, the Evangelist, on December 27th.
The two dates fall at the time of the summer and winter when the sun attains its greatest north or south declination when it apparently stands still for a short time before turning in its course. These are know as the summer and winter solstices.
Why is it that Masonry has chosen these two men as patrons? Why are Masonic lodges dedicated to them? Why do Masons hold celebrations in their honor each year? Were the Saints John Freemasons?
Before answering these questions, let us review a bit of ancient history. Before the days of Christianity the early Greeks and Romans dedicated their temples and sacred things to some god. To the ancients the sun was the source of power. They observed the course of the sun through the year and knew that at one period the sun brought them warmth, new vegetation, bountiful crops and with it all, a new source of energy and hope. Then the sun, after a fruitful season, left them and they felt the cold, the grains in the field failed to flourish, and all nature seemed to sleep. The ancients knew that, after due time, the friendly sun in its cycle would come back to them bringing again light, warmth, food and hope.
Is it any wonder that these people worshipped the sun as a god? Even today people the world over, revere the sun and welcome its warmth, and even travel to follow it during the cold and dark winter months.
It is significant to note that the two festival days of the Saints John fall at these two seasons - first when the sun is nearest, and second, when the sun has reached its northern-most summit and again turns toward the south.
People in the early ancient days had their organizations and guilds even as we do today and dedicated them to a pagan god for protection.
The worshipping of the sun or other deities had so permeated mankind that when Christianity was introduced to the world the church found it was impossible to stop the people from such pagan celebrations. It was natural to feel the need for adopting some patron for protection. The church therefore consecrated its churches to God and wisely substituted the names of its saints as patrons. Other societies and organizations followed the same practice.
St. John, the Baptist
Why did the Freemasons choose St. John, the Baptist, as patron? One would suppose that they would name some outstanding person. But, St. John, the Baptist, was a humble man, a plain man who held, above all, his obligations to God and, with almost unbelievable steadfastness, met martyrdom. He continually preached repentance - and virtue - and humiliation.
Yes, the early freemasons chose well in selecting such a man as St. John, the Baptist, as a patron of Freemasonry!
St. John, the Evangelist
For a long period only St. John, the Baptist, was patron saint of Freemasonry. It was not until after the 16th century that St John, the Evangelist, was also adopted as a patron. The "Old Charges" of Freemasonry speak of St. John, the Evangelist, as a "Saint of the Craft." He was constantly admonishing the cultivation of brotherly love. Of all the gospels, The Gospel of St. John is the most Masonic for the central theme is LIGHT. It portrays God as "the Light of the World."
Lodges Dedicated to the Holy Saints John
Lodges then came to be dedicated to the Holy Saints John and it is interesting to note that the early Masons were called "St. John's Masons" or "St. John's Men."
It matters not whether the two Saints John were actually members of the Masonic fraternity. But they have been called the patrons of the fraternity down through the ages because they have exemplified the principles of Freemasonry in their daily lives by their deeds and their words. These two humble men did not engage in any of the pomp and glory of the world.
It is because Masonry regards the character and internal qualifications of a man - not the exterior appearances - that these two men are fittingly called the patrons of this great fraternity. They possessed those internal qualifications that made the TRUE MAN. Masonry honors them above all others for they were the living examples of the Golden Rule, the practice of virtue, love for their fellow-men and love for their God.