Some Patron Saints of Masonry

W. BRO. GORDON P. G. HILLS, P.M. Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No.2076 (E.C.)

Published in The Treasury of Masonic Thought, Dundee 1924

Looking back to the mediæval guilds through whose usages we may trace the descent of our present Speculative Craft, we find that the Patron Saints associated with various callings and trades had usually been chosen on account of some affinity, often more or less remote, with the pursuits of the members. Some cases in which the reason for this association baffles ex­planation are really to be accounted for by the accidental grouping together of several callings under a patron properly belonging to one in particular, or through a purely practical consideration dictated by convenience, which decided that the members should attend a church dedicated to a Saint whose history had no special relation to the Craft in question. Many Saints, owing to several different incidents in their lives, were claimed as Patrons by a large number of callings which had no Craft associations with one another.

An invocation of the Holy Trinity always formed the religious foundation of such guilds, and to this might be added the names of Saintly Exemplars, but, in many cases the Triune Mystery stood alone as the title of the guild — God Himself was the Patron of the fraternity, and this seems to have been the case in the Fifteenth Century with the Masons’ Company of London. More than one cause may have been a factor in this particular choice, as the Company had special relations with the Priory of the Holy Trinity at Aldgate, whilst the idea of the Great Master Craftsman of the World, so familiar to us, was also present to the minds of those days. Illustrations contemporary with the connection I refer to, and also of much earlier date are extant, in which The Great Architect Of The Universe is represented creating the World, as was described by Milton[i] when be wrote how

the Omnific Word
took the golden compasses, prepared
In God’s eternal store, to circumscribe
This universe, and all created things.
One foot He centred, and the other turned
Round through the vast profundity obscure,
And said, “Thus far extend, thus far thy bounds,
This be thy just circumference, O world.”

Turning then to the consideration of the earthly Patron Saints of Masonry, and dismissing the names of those the exact reason of whose connection with the Craft is uncertain, we are left with three remarkable legends relating to St Thomas the Apostle, 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 three stories alike are coloured, more or less, by such influences, and are calculated, by means of allegory and symbol, to lead the Operative Craftsmen to the contemplation of the highest principles of piety and virtue.

Let us briefly review the leading particulars of these legends in this light: — When St Thomas was at Caesarea, Our Lord appeared to him and said, The King of the Indies, Gondoforus, hath sent to seek for workmen well versed in the science of Architecture, who shall build for him a palace finer than that of the Emperor of Rome. Behold now, I will send thee to him. The Apostle went on his mission, but whilst the King was absent in a distant country, instead of building a palace, he distributed all the treasures which the King had accumulated to the sick and poor. When the King returned he was full of wrath and cast St Thomas into prison to await a fearful death. Meanwhile a brother of the King died, but after four days he returned to life and warned the King — The man whom thou wouldst torture is a servant of God, and told him that in Paradise angels had shown him a wondrous palace of gold and silver and precious stones which Thomas the Architect had built for the King. The Saint was loosed immediately from his bonds, and exhorted the King, 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 thee thither.

It is in allusion to this legend that, in all devotional representations which are not prior to the thirteenth century, St  Thomas cames as his symbol the square or builder’s rule, and that he is claimed as the Patron Saint of Architects and Builders.

I venture to fancy that an old-time Operative seeing an English Worshipful Master's apron of to-day would, in its T square emblems, expect to find a reference to St Thomas.

The point of view reminds one of St Laurence and his production of the sick and poor as the treasures of the Church.

The beauty and significance of the allegory will be appreciated by those whose craft it is to build a spiritual edifice in their hearts.

Saint Barbara was the daughter of an Eastern Noble, a pagan who dwelt in Heliopolis. The father, fearing that her beauty would lead to her being sought in marriage, and that so he would lose his only and beloved child, confined her in a high tower. There contemplating the stars of heaven in their courses, the future Saint apprehended the Omnipotence of a Power vastly superior to the idols of the heathen; to her mind so prepared came tidings of the true faith, and her conversion followed. Her directions to the builders to put three instead of two windows in her chamber, brought the knowledge of her conversion to her father. His love changed to fury, which event­ually led him to be himself the instrument of her martyrdom.

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. Her emblem in this connection is a Tower.

The legend seems to have originated in Eastern Christendom and to have been brought by the Crusaders to Western Europe, where the Saint acquired great popularity, in mediæval times; as the Patroness of the Knight and man-at-arms.

A mystical tower where Truth is to be found is a symbol not unknown to some of our Brethren.

We now come to the legend of the Four Crowned Martyrs which really commemorates Nine Saints comprising two separate groups, a company of Five excellent Masons — four friends soon joined by another — and a fellowship of Four Soldiers.

When the Emperor Diocletian went to Pannonia 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, Sempronianu, and Nicostratus; they were secretly Christians, and the motive of their good work was that it was all done in the Name of their Lord. To these was joined by their example a fellow crafts­man, Simplicius, who also embraced their faith. By declining to make a statue of the heathen god Æsculapius they forfeited the favour of the Emperor, and eventually were done to death by being fastened up alive in leaden coffins and cast into the river. Thence a fellow Christian raised the poor remains and carried them to his own house. On his return to Rome the Emperor directed a temple to be made to Æsculapius in the Baths of Trojan, where some time later on, on its completion, the soldiers, and more especially the City Militia, were ordered to present themselves and offer incense before the image of the god. Four Christian soldiers refused to sacrifice to the idol: they were scourged to death with leaden-weighted thongs, and their bodies, thrown to the dogs, were recovered by their friends and laid to rest with other Saints. Twelve years later the Bishop founded a church on the Cælian Hill, under the title of the Four Crowned Martyrs, dedicated to commemorate these nine Saints all equally to be accounted winners of the Martyr’s Crown Celestial. Later on the names of the soldiers were given as Seyerus, Severianus, Carpophorus, and Victorinus.

The Church of the Quatuor Coronati has survived through many vicissitudes and re-buildings to the present day, and the legend, too, has passed through many parallel stages, but as regards the main points, it is agreed that the story rests upon an historical foundation, and some of the difficulties and discrepancies, which I cannot now enter into, have only served to confirm the general credibility of the legend.

The relics of the Martyrs were not deposited in the church until many years had elapsed since their Martyrdoms, which in the case of the Five Worthy Masons may be dated on November 8th, A.D. 302, and as regards the Four Soldiers in the year A.D. 304.

There was a special significance in this case in the title Coronati, beyond its aptness to apply to all Saints, for the soldiers might have gained the distinction denominated ‘crowned’ in the Roman Army, yet they chose the Heavenly Crown. Crowning, too, would have, in the minds of mediæval guilds­men a familiar association with some election ceremonies as maintained in the London City Companies to these days.

Both in England and on the Continent the Four Crowned Martyrs were widely recognised as the Patron Saints of the Masons’ Craft, but as the representations of them show, the memory of the military element seems to have been largely eclipsed by the commemoration of the Masons who appear grouped alone with the usual emblems of their calling. These symbols, which were easily recognised, and the simple story of how the Saints worked worthily in the Name of their Master, and were faithful even unto death, made a direct appeal easily understood by folk of all classes, and, no doubt, most of all appreciated by those who were practising the same craft.

The historical legend of the Quatuor Coronati was essentially the legend of the Operatives. That of St Barbara contains in its symbolism elements of romance and chivalrous associations; whilst the mystical allegory relating to St Thomas has clearly a savour of the cloister. We know that the building operations of the middle ages necessarily involved special relations between the clergy and the craftsmen in ecclesiastical work; there must have been a very analogous association between military experts and craftsmen with regard to castles and works of fortification, and I think it is to such influences that we owe the association with building of these two legends, which both appeal to builders in general, but in each case have a particular interest in addition, either for the soldier or the priest.

We of the Speculative Craft have a very real bond of union with the martyred Masons in that our labours, like theirs, are always undertaken under the Divine Invocation, and we have also, besides actual associations past and present, a symbolic link with the Soldier Saints. For, as the material building is exposed to the war of the elements, so in the moral sphere combat is the necessary accompaniment of building, and so it will ever behove all worthy Masons to labour trowel in hand and sword by side, as did the ancient craftsmen at the building of the Holy Temple, until the designs laid down by the Great Architect Of The Universe on the Tracing Board of His Divine Providence are brought to perfect completion in the Grand Lodge above.

We are told that the great purpose of Freemasonry is to build character. What is character but a reflection of God? The trouble with Freemasonry is that it is not understood. The need of the world to-day is a better setting forth of the object and the principles of this fraternity, a need for keener analysis of that which is behind the teachings of this great society in the hope that men may be brought to realise the function and purpose of life.

Illinois Freemason, February, 1923.

 

 

         

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