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Masonic History

Quator Coronati: Four Crowned Martyrs

The Four Crowned Martyrs

The legend of the Four Crowned Martyrs should be interesting to Masonic scholars, because it is one of the few instances, perhaps the only one, in which the church has been willing to do honor to those old workers in stone, whose services it readily secured in the Medieval ages, but with whom, as with their successors the modern Freemasons, it has always appeared to be in a greater or less degree of antagonism. Besides, these humble but true-hearted confessors of the faith of Christianity were adopted by the Stonemasons of Germany as the patron saints of Operative Masonry, just as the two Saints John have been since selected as the patrons of the Speculative branch of the Institution. Dr. Christian Ehrmann, of Strasbourg who for thirty years had devoted his attention to this and to kindred subjects of Masonic archeology, has supplied us with the most interesting details of the life and death of the Four Crowned Martyrs. The Roman Church has consecrated November 8 to the commemoration of these martyrs, and yearly, on that day, offers up the prayer:

"Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that as we have been informed of the constancy of the glorious martyrs in the profession of Thy faith, BO we may experience their kindness in recommending us to Thy mercy-."

The Roman Breviary of 1474 is more-explicit, and mentions them particularly by name. It is, therefore, somewhat remarkable, that, although thus careful in their commemoration, the Missals of the Roman Church give us no information of the deeds of these holy men. It is only from the Breviaries that we can learn anything of the act on which the commemoration in the calendar was founded. Of these Breviaries, Ehrmann has given full citations from two: the Breviary of Rome, published in 1474, and the Breviary of Spire, published in 1478. These, with some few extracts from other books on the subject, have been made accessible to us by George Kloss, in his interesting work entitled, Freimaurerei in ihrer wahren Bedeutung, or Freemasonry in its true significance.

The Breviarium Romanum is much more complete in its details than the Breviarium Spirense; and yet the latter contains a few incidents that are not related in the former. Both agree in applying to the Four Crowned Martyrs the title of quadratarii. Now quadratarius, in the Latin of the lower age, signified a Stone-squarer or a Mason. This will remind us of the passage in the Book of Rings, thus translated in the authorized version:

"And Solomon's builders and Hiram's builders did hew them, and the stonesquarers. "

It is evident from the use of this word quadratarii in the ecclesiastical legends as well as from the incidents of the martyrdom itself, that the four martyrs were not simply sculptors, but stone-cutters and builders of temples: in other words, Operative Masons. Nor can we deny the probability of the supposition, that they were members of one of those colleges of architects, which afterward gave birth to the gilds of the Middle Ages, the corporations of builders, and through these to the modern Lodges of Freemasons. Supposing the legend to be true, or even admitting that it is only symbolical, we must acknowledge that there has been good reason why the Operative Masons should have selected these martyrs as the patron saints of their profession.

Now let us apply ourselves to the legend. Taking the Roman Breviary as the groundwork, and only interpolating it at the proper points with the additional incidents related in the Breviary of Spire, we have the following result as the story of the Four Crowned Martyrs. In the last quarter of the third century Diocletian was Emperor of the Roman Empire. In his reign commenced that series of persecutions of the Christian church, which threatened at one time to annihilate the new religion, and gave to the period among Christian writers the name of the Era of Martyrs. Thousands of Christians, who refused to violate their consciences by sacrificing to the heathen gods, became the victims of the bigotry and intolerance, the hatred and the cruelty, of the Pagan priests and the Platonic philosophers; and the scourge, the cross, or the watery grave daily testified to the constancy and firmness of the disciples of the prophet of Nazareth. Diocletian had gone to the Province of Pannonia, that he might by his own presence superintend the bringing of metals and stones from the neighboring mines of Noricum, wherewith to construct a temple consecrated to the sun-god, Apollo. Among the six hundred and twenty-two artisans whom he had collected together for this purpose were four-by name Claudius, Castorius, Symphorianus, and Nichostratus -said to have been distinguished for their skill as Stonemasons. They had abandoned the old heathen faith and were in secret Christians, doing all their work as Masons in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Breviary of Spires relates here an additional occurrence, which is not contained in the Breviary of Rome, and which, as giving a miraculous aspect to the legend, must have made it doubly acceptable to the pious Christians of the fifteenth century, upon whose religious credulity one could safely draw without danger of a protest. It seems that, in company with our four blessed martyrs, there worked one Simplicius, who was also a mason, but a heathen. While he was employed in labor near them he wondered to see how much they surpassed in skill and cunning all the other artisans. They succeeded in all that they attempted, while he was unfortunate, and always breaking his working tools. At last he approached Claudius, and said to him: "Strengthen, I beseech thee, my tools, that they may no longer break." Claudius took them in his hands, and said: "In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ be these tools henceforth strong and faithful to their work." From this time, Simplicius did his work well, and succeeded in all that he attempted to do. Amazed at the change, Simplicius was continually asking his fellowworkmen how it was that the tools had been so strengthened that now they never broke. At length Claudius replied:

"God, who is our Creator, and the Lord of all things, has made His creatures strong."

Then Simplicius inquired Was not this done by the God Zeus?" To this Claudius replied:

"Repent, O my brother, of what thou hast said. for thou hast blasphemed God, our Creator, whom alone we worship, that which our own hands have made we do not recognize as a God."

With these and such sentences they converted Simplicius to the Christian faith, who, being baptized by Cyrillus, bishop of Antioch, soon afterward suffered martyrdom for his refusal to sacrifice to the Pagan gods. One day Diocletian issued an order, that out of a piece of marble should be constructed 3 noble statue of Apollo sitting in his chariot. And now all the workmen and the philosophers began to consult on the subject. and each one had arrived at a different opinion. And when at length they had found a huge block of stone, which had been brought from the Island of Thasos, it proved that the marble was not fit for the statue which Diocletian had commanded, and non began 3 great war of Lords between the masters of the work and the philosophers. glut one day the whole of the artisans, six hundred and twenty-two in number, with five philosophers, came together, that they might examine the defects and the veins of the stone, and there arose a still more wonderful contest between the workmen and the philosophers. Then began the philosophers to rail against Claudius, Symphorianus, Nichostratus, and Simplicius, and said:

"Why do ye not hearken to the commands of our devout Emperor, Diocletian, and obey his will?"

Claudius answered and said:

"Because we cannot offend our Creator and commit a sin, whereof we should be found guilty in His sight "

Then said the philosophers:

"From this it appears that you are Christians."

Claudius replied:

"Truly we are Christians," thereupon the philosophers chose other masons, and caused them to make a statue of Esculapius out of the stone which had been rejected, which, after thirty-one days, they finished and presented to the philosophers, These then informed the Emperor that the statue of Esculapius was finished, when he ordered it to be brought before him for inspection. But as soon as he saw it he was greatly astonished, and said:

"This is a proof of the skill of these men, who receive my approval as sculptors."

It is very apparent that this, like all other legends of the church, is insufficient in its details, and that it leaves many links in the chain of the narrative to be supplied by the fancy or the judgment of the readers. It is equally evident from what has already been said, in connection with what is subsequently told, that the writer of the legend desired to make the impression that it was through the influence of Claudius and the other Christian Masons that the rest of the workmen were persuaded that the Thasian stone was defective and unfit for the use of a sculptor; that this was done by them because they were unwilling to engage in the construction of the statue of a Pagan god; that this was the cause of the controversy between the workmen and the philosophers; that the Latter denied the defectiveness of the stone; and, lastly, that they sought to prove its fitness by causing other masons, who were not Christians, to make out of it a statue of Esculapius. These explanations are necessary to an understanding of the legend, which proceeds as follows: As soon as Diocletian had expressed his admiration of the statue of Esculapius, the philosopher said:

" Most mighty Caesar, know that these men whom your majesty has praised for their skill in Masonry, namely, Claudius, Symphorianus, Nichostratus, and Castorius, are Christians, and by magic spells or incantations make men obedient to their will."

Then said Diocletian:

"If they have violated the lawns and if your accusations he true, let them suffer the punishment of sacrilege."

But Diocletian, in consideration of their skill, sent for the Tribune Lampadius, and said to him:

" If they refuse to offer sacrifice to the sun-god Apollo, then let them be scourged with scorpions. But if they are willing to do so, then treat them with kindness."

For five days sat Lampadius in the same place, before the temple of the sun-god, and called on them by the proclamation of the herald, and showed them many dreadful things, and all sorts of instruments for the punishment of martyrs, and then tie said to them:

" Hearken to me and avoid the doom of martyrs, and be obedient to the mighty prince, and offer a sacrifice to the sun-god, for no longer can I speak to you in gentle words."

But Claudius replied for himself and for his companions with great boldness:

"This let the Emperor Diocletian know: that we truly are Christians, and never can depart from the worship of our God."

Thereupon the Tribune Lampadius, becoming enraged. caused them to be stripped and to be scourged with scorpions, while a herald, by proclamation, announced that this was done because they had disobeyed the commands of the emperor. In the same hour Lampadius, being seized by an evil spirit, died on his seat of judgment. As soon as the wife and the domestics of Lampadius heard of his death, their ran with great outcries to the palace. Diocletian, when he had learned what had happened, ordered four leaden coffins to be made, and that- Claudius and his three companions being placed therein alive-they should be thrown into the river Danube. This order Nicetius, the assistant of Lampadius, caused to be obeyed, and thus the faithful masons suffered the penalty and gained the crown of martyrdom. There are some books of legends which give the names of the Four Crowned Martyrs as Severus, Severzanus, Carpophorus, and Vidorinus, and others again which speak of five confessors who, a few years afterward, suffered martyrdom for refusing to sacrifice to the Pagan gods, and whose names being at the time unknown, Pope Melehiades caused them to be distinguished in the church calendar as the Four Crowned Martyrs: an error, says Jacob de Voragine, which, although subsequently discovered, was never corrected. But the true legend of the Four Crowned Martyrs is that which has been given above from the best authority, the Roman Breviary of 1474. "On the other side of the Esquiline," says Mrs. Jameson in her Sacred and Legendary Art (volume ii, page 0324), "and on the road leading from the Coliseum to the Lateran, surmounting a heap of sand and ruins, we come to the church of the 'Quattro Coronati,' the Four Crowned Brothers.

On this spot, some time in the fourth century, were found the bodies of four men who had suffered decapitation, whose names being then unknown, they were merely distinguished as Coronati, crowned-that is, with the crown of martyrdom." There is great obscurity and confusion in the history of these men. Their church, Mrs. Jameson goes on to say, is held in particular respect by the builders and stone-cutters of Rome. She has found allusion to these martyr masons not only in Roman art, but in the old sculpture and stained glass of Germany. Their effigies she tells us, are easily distinguished by the fact that they stand in a row, bearing palms, with crowns upon their heads and various Masonic implements at their feet- such as the rule, the square, the mallet, and the chisel. They suffered death on the 8th of November, 987, and hence in the Roman Catholic Missal that day is dedicated to their commemoration. From their profession as Stonemasons and from the pious firmness with which they refused, at the cost of their lives, to consecrate their skill in their art to the construction of Pagan temples, they have been adopted by the Stonemasons of Germany as the Patron Saints of Operative Masonry. Thus the oldest Regulation of the Stonemasons of Strasbourg, which has the date of the year 1459, commences with the following invocation: "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and of our gracious Mother Mary, and also of her Blessed Servants, the Four Crowned Martyrs of everlasting memory." Such allusions are common in the German Masonic documents of the Middle ages. It is true, however that the English Freemasons ceased at a later period to refer in their Constitutions to those martyrs, although they undoubtedly borrowed many of their usage's from Germany.

Yet the Regius .Manuscript of the Constitutions of Freemasonry, the oldest of the English records, which is supposed to have been written about the year 1390, under the title of Ars Quatuor Coronatorum gives a rather copious detail of the legend (lines 497 to 534), which is here inserted with only those slight alterations of its antiquated phraseology which are necessary to render it intelligible to modern readers, although in doing so the rhyme of the original is somewhat destroyed: Pray we now to God Almighty And to His .Mother, Mary bright That we may keep these articles here And these points well altogether, As did those holy martyrs four That in this Craft were of great honor. They were as good Mason as on earth shall go Gravers and image makers they were also, For they were workmen of the best, The emperor had them in great liking He willed of them an image to make, That might be worshiped tor his sake; Such idols he had in his day To turn the people from Christ's law, But they were steadfast in Christ's law And to their Craft, without denial; They loved well God and all his lore, And were in his service evermore. True men they were, in that day, And lived well in God s law They thought no idols for to make, For no good that they might take; To believe on that idol for their god They would not do so, though he were mad, For they would not forsake their true faith, And believe on his false name. The emperor caused to take them at once And put them in a deep prison. The sorer he punished then in that place, The more joy was to them of Christ's grace. Then whet e saw no other one To death he let them then go. Who so will of their life more know, By the book he may it show, In the legends of the saints The names of the four crowned ones. Their feast will be without denial, After All Hallows, the eighth day. The devotion of these saints, which led to the introduction of their legend into an ancient Constitution of Freemasonry, shows how much they were reverenced by the Craft. In fact, the Four Crowned Martyrs were to the Stone-cutters of Germany and to the earlier Operative Masons of England what Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist became to their successors, the Speculative Freemasons of the eighteenth century. From them the famous literary Lodge-the Quatuor Coronati, of London, England-has been so named.

- Source: Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry

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