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St. John the Evangelist and St. John the BaptistHistory & Purpose of the St. John's Day Banquet

In Freemasonry, our two patron saints are St. John the Baptist, and St. John the Evangelist; the latter of whom is celebrated with this evening’s festivities. Originally, a banquet was held for each of the Saints Johns annually. St. John the Baptist day is celebrated on the summer solstice, June 24. On June 24, 1717, the first recorded St. John's Day Banquet was to celebrate the formation of the Grand Lodge of England and the installation of its first Grand Master. It was at this time Freemasonry become known to the world. There was a great feast, now known as the Feast of Holy Saint John, on this occasion. The menu was as follows:

  • 9 dishes of fowl, three in a dish (2 roasted and 1 boyled with oyster sauce)
  • 3 Yorkshire Hams
  • 6 Geese, two in a dish
  • 3 Turkeys
  • 3 Chines
  • 3 Dishes of Tongues and Udders
  • 6 Dishes of Tarts
  • Wine: 12 Gallons of Red Port and 4 Gallons of White Port.

Although some Lodges still hold a feast in honor of St. John the Baptist, the majority of Lodges hold a banquet in honor of our other patron saint, St. John the Evangelist.

St. John the Evangelist is less known than St. John the Baptist, but is written about in the New Testament under the names John the Epistle, John the Divine of Patmos, and as disciple of Jesus. He is also thought to have authored the book of Revelation. The feast of St. John the Evangelist was held on the winter solstice originally, but moved to its current date of December 27. St. John the Evangelist is believed to be a Patron Saint of Freemasonry, because he wrote much about the interconnection of God, the Word, and Light; all pillars of Masonry.

A prime example of his writing and its commonality with Freemasonry reads, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was the life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and darkness comprehended it not."

St. John the Evangelist is thought to be the most loyal disciple to Jesus. He wrote much on the importance of brotherly love and Fellowship. So who started the feast in his honor (or the other St. John for that matter)? Scholars' debate where the tradition originates, but it is believed it may likely come from the Knights Templar, who held St. John with greater admiration than other namely Saints of the Catholic Church, Peter and Paul. When the Catholic Church tried to remove the Templars (along with their wealth and influence), the Knights Hospitallers (actually called the Knights of St. John) took in property of the Knights Templar and, many Templars became Hospitallers. Even before they joined, a common thread between the two groups was their reverence for the Saints Johns. In 1737, it was written that the close relationship between the Hospitallers and Freemasons resulted in many Hospitallers becoming Freemasons.

When the first St. John's Day feast truly took place, we will never know. What we do know is that the feast of the Evangelist is an important event in Freemasonry, and is celebrated every December 27th – the beginning of the Masonic year. It is on that day newly elected officers begin their term. While often not on December 27th, our feast serves as an occasion to honor those who have served our Lodges for the previous year, and to celebrate the newly elected lodge officers.