Return to main page

Masonic History

The Quator Coronati or
The Four Patron Saints Of The Order Of Masons

By Bro. C. Purdon Clarke, England

We are indebted to Brother D. D. Berolzheimer, a member of Johnkeer Lodge No. 865, Yonkers, N. Y., for the manuscript of the following address delivered before that lodge by Brother Clarke, a Past Master of Quatuor Coronati Lodge, while he was director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

IT would be superfluous to enter into the details of the evidence in favor of the history of the four sculptors who, with their recently received apprentice or associate, suffered for their faith a year before the commencement of the last great persecution of the Christians under the Emperor Diocletian.

Bro. Gould's magnificent research in his History of Freemasonry establishes the general acceptance of the story at a period within a few years of their martyrdom and, moreover, shows that in an age when the Christian Church was becoming a dominant power and able to honor openly those who had fallen in her cause, very marked distinction was, for some peculiar reason, bestowed upon the memory of those four humble craftsmen, although their trials and sufferings do not appear to justify their elevation over many of their comrades in the noble army of martyrs, who had equally been faithful unto death during the many persecutions of the preceding two hundred and forty years.

The solution of this problem which formed itself in my mind was that the popularity of the craftsmen martyrs was due, in some measure, to a democratic undercurrent which had from its commencement been furthering the cause of the Christian religion. Any one who glances, however slightly, at the records of the social and political condition of Rome after the death of Julius Caesar and the break-up of the Commonwealth cannot but realize how welcome the new faith was to the great industrial classes, who found in it a creed representing everything that the better part of their natures felt was good, and a priesthood free from the obviously corrupt practices of the spiritual and temporal upholders of their time-serving and decayed religion.

Romeos first period under martial kings lasted two hundred and fifty years; then a Consular Government was established which, however, was but an oligarchy and involved a constant struggle between the military patricians and the commercial plebians which latter only succeeded after one hundred and twenty years agitation and several civil wars in obtaining a representative from their own ranks. During this second period Rome became a colonizing power and wars for defense became wars of aggression, and, although these are generally attributed to the ambition of popular leaders or the national desire for glory and plunder, it is more probable that they were but the inevitable results of extended commerce.

Victorious commanders returning from time to time in triumph brought back to the Capital the wealth of the then known world, and became in the eyes of the masses heroes who were more to be trusted than the politicians of whose wrangling they were heartily tired. Rome was, therefore, ripe for a change when the Imperial purple was offered to Julius Caesar and afterwards secured by Augustus, but the succeeding three hundred years of military despotism caused a reaction, which paved the way for the introduction of the new cult.

It is to be regretted that Roman history does not record sufficiently the succession of events from the point of view of the burgher or craftsman. The historians either belonged to the patrician casts and did not care to chronicle other events than those in which their class played an important part, or, when the writers were plebians, "the histories of their times were falsified through fear," or written to please the powers who could regard flattering services.

With such scanty materials to help us we can only assume that as Christianity had permeated none but the artisan classes to any great extent, their ecclesiastics would naturally glorify the martyrs belonging to the industrial plebeian class, who were moreover bound to them by co-fellowship of the Collegium Fabrorum.

The four sculptors must of necessity have been members of the trade society established in the city in which they worked. How far this Collegium was in connection with, or affiliated to, similar Collegia in other towns I cannot say, but of one thing I am sure, and that is, that at the period to which they belonged, where was a dead uniformity of style and ornamentation in building work executed by the Fabri, at places so remote from each other that the only explanation which could be offered is that of a central controlling body, or even more, a central school in which a single style was taught complete in all its parts, whether technical or artistic.

As an illustration I offer mosaic floors, one from Sussex, the second from Carthage, on the north coast of Africa, the other from Balkeish on the Tigris above Baghdad. All might have been designed and executed by the same hand. Wherever the Romans colonized and built in their enduring method, the remains of their walls present the same features and show how little local styles interfered with their established system.

Therefore it may be assumed that our four craftsmen belonged to an important trade organization which at that time extended from Persia to Great Britain, in which latter country alone there were fifty-three important cities each with its Collegium Fabrorum. This connection with a powerful society probably accounts for the extreme leniency and patience with which these sculptors were treated by Diocletian, who only ordered their destruction after their commission of "lese-majeste" by refusing to make the statue of the Assculapius when ordered by their Emperor.

The barbarous execution of four members of a corporate body, which was connected, at least by the bond of common interests, with the other trade societies, must have at that peculiar period made a deep impression on the minds of their fellows, and, as it was but eighteen years later that the Emperor Constantine openly favored the Christian religion, the memory of the martyrs was then still preserved by men who had known them and they became the favorite saints of the solid industrial classes whose wholesale conversion to Christianity had alone made it possible for the Emperor to forsake the old religion and, within another ten years, order the destruction of all the heathen temples.

The connection between these Roman Collegia which we know to have existed in all the countries between England, Spain and Persia and the trade gilds of medieval Europe, may never be satisfactorily proved. Similarities in organization would naturally arise from the requirements of similar circumstances, but it is certain that in all portions of the great Roman Empire, however completely the tidal wave of barbarian removed the traces of that marvelous, complex civilization, the impress of Roman customs and Roman laws remained deeply and securely rooted in many centres, to spring up into life, little by little, through the dark ages, until culminating in the great period of the Renaissance, which commenced the history of modern civilization.

Nothing could throw more light on the connection between the Roman Collegia and the medieval Gilds, so far as England is concerned, than the discovery of some earlier history of the Church of the Four Crowned Martyrs at Canterbury, and the mention by Bede of its existence in A. D. 619, at the time of the great fire which nearly destroyed the city and only stopped when this church was reached.

I cannot pass over the inference that this church withstood the fire better than the other buildings and churches owing to its having been built in Roman times in either brick or stone, whereas the rest more probably belonged to the period of wholesale building of churches and monasteries which followed the conversion of the Saxons in A. D. 597, and were principally constructed in wood.

If this supposition be correct, the Church of the Quatuor Coronati at Canterbury had survived the destruction of everything Roman- British, after the defeat of Vortimer by Hengist at Crecanford, in Kent, in 457. Such an escape is possible and can well be accounted for when we consider that after the Saxons landed in Thanet in A. D. 449 they dwelt on friendly terms with the Britons for five or six years, during which time they would naturally avail themselves of the services of craftsmen, and probably prefer to spare them for their usefulness at the time of the general massacre of the Britons a few years later. Such an incident is not uncommon in the histories of barbarous invasions.

It must also be conceded to the Saxons that they possessed a sufficient amount of civilization to appreciate the value of the workers in iron, brass and wood, the potters, weavers and others who inhabited these polytechnic cities. In their own countries they had already become acquainted with the productions of the Roman craftsmen, who were attached to the military colonies and actually formed part of each legion. The cruel devastation of the country after their first great success against the British was, in their eyes, justified by necessity, as they, the great founders of the AngloSaxon race, had not as yet acquired the patience which is so necessary in dealing with Celtic races.

It is also beyond doubt that members of the Collegia Fabrorum in the British towns had, for a hundred years before the Saxon invasion, become Christians and that, therefore, the Church of the Quatuor Coronati, the popular Saints of several trades, was more likely to have been built at the time when Canterbury possessed a large community of Christian craftsmen than to have been founded by St. Augustine immediately after his arrival, in 597, although the church may have been desecrated during the one hundred and forty years which had elapsed since the destruction of the British rule in Kent.

From the date of Bede's record of the existence of this church in Canterbury in A. D. 619 until the foundation of a fraternity of sculptors and masons in Rome in 1406, we find, at various intervals of time, references to the history of the original Basilica, founded in memory of the Quatuor Coronati by Pope Melchiades within twelve years of the date of their martyrdom. About the same time as the fire at Canterbury the Roman Basilica was rebuilt by Honorius I (in A. D. 622) and in A. D. 847 the Cardinal titular of the Basilica, who had become Pope, rebuilt it with greater magnificence. In the year 1116 it was again rebuilt by Paschal II, who added a palatial residence to it, and when the Lateran Palace was destroyed in A. D. 1308, the Popes for some time made it their residence. Then in the 15th century we find that in "the very ancient Oratory of St. Sylvester, in the portico of the Basilica, was the Chapel of the Confraternity of Sculptors and Masons founded in the time of Innocent VII, 1506 A. D. 'under the invocation of the Holy Quatuor Coronati and the other five Holy Martyrs who had followed the profession of sculptors:' The members of the Confraternity wore a dress of red with blue sashes."

Here we arrive at the foundation of a medieval gild with the nine martyrs as their patron saints and, moreover, a mention of their livery or distinctive clothing.

A few years later, the Gild of Smiths, Carpenters and Masons (l'Arti dei Fabbri e Legnaioli) in Florence instructed Nanni di Banco, an amateur sculptor, to execute a memorial niche for or San Michele, the Church of the Trade Gilds of that city. This building had been constructed in the previous century as the Gildhall, and, in 1339, two years after the laying of its foundation stone, the Gild of Silk Merchants were allowed to undertake the decoration of one of the niches with the statues of their patron saint, St. John the Evangelist.

Other gilds followed, and the fourteen niches which were evenly spaced around its external walls, were allotted to the Companies representing the Professions, Merchants and Artizans of Florence.

The Company became so wealthy after the plague of 1338, owing to legacies and rich gifts, that they resolved to convert the Loggia, or Gildhall, into a Church, which was finished in 1359, but the filling of the niches was not completed for two centuries later. That of the Smiths, Carpenters and Masons, was finished about the middle of the fifteenth century. This niche does not occupy a symbolical position, but is the second of four, counting from the west on the north front. Two excellent photographs, by Alinari Brothers, of Florence, show the whole niche with the statues of the Four Martyrs in a group in ancient Roman costume, with an under panel representing three of them working as medieval sculptors, whilst a fourth is constructing a wall; in the background, conspicuously placed, are the plumb rule, level, compass and square. A cast from this panel is in the South Kensington Museum in London.

From Italy the fashion for adopting the Quatuor Coronati as patron saints spread to Germany and France, but in the latter country a single individual of the four became a popular saint in a manner to the exclusion of the others.

The "Martyrology" of Du Saussay stated that the bodies of the five Martyrs Claudius, Nicostratus, Simphorianus, Castorius and Simplicius "were afterwards brought from Rome to Toulouse and placed in a chapel which was erected in their honor in the Church of St. Sernin. Subsequently the greater part of the relics of St. Claudius were taken from Toulouse to the FranceComte. In 1049 these relics were honored in the Church of Maynal, one of the oldest in the Jura. When Pope Leo IX came to the Council of Rheims in 1049, he confirmed the Archbishop of Becancon, Hugh the First, in possession of this domain. Also in his Bull, dated 14th of November, he mentions the Church of Maynal 'where reposes the body of St. Claudius. . .' The most ancient traditions of Maynal attest that St. Claudius was always honored there as a martyr. He is represented on the parochial banner in the attitude of a man invoking heaven, with his face brightened with a ray of light; he holds a chisel in one hand and in the other a hammer, and by his side is shown a bust of which the white color imitates marble. It is evident that the painter intended thus to represent one of the five sculptors who, according to the old legend, worked with great perfection, invoking the name of Jesus Christ." "This martyr Saint was generally named St. Clod, or Cloud which is the name under which he is generally designated in various documents relating to the Parish of Maynal."

Du Saussay further states that "a chapel was also built in honor of St. Claudius by the monks of Ilay upon the summit of a rock near the village of Denezieres where some portion of his relics was placed, having been taken from the Church of Maynal. The surrounding territory from this time was named 'Terre. de St. Cloud' and it is under this title that it is designated in several charters of the 12th century." The Palace of St. Cloud, near Paris, does not owe its name to St. Claudius the Martyr, but to St. Cloud the grandson of Clovis.

It should be noted that in DuSaussay's account no mention whatever is made of any connection between St. Claudius and the other martyrs with any Craft Gilds, nor does he mention that they were in any way patron saints of the Crafts. This strengthens Bro. Gould's statement that there is no authority for any connection between the Quatuor Coronati and the European Trade Gilds until the 15th Century.

I have nothing to add to the list of German Cathedrals, Churches and Breviaries which are mentioned by Bro. Gould in connection with shrines and other memorials of the Martyrs, but during a visit to Brussels I found a very interesting representation of these martyr sculptors in a large picture belonging to the Municipal Museum, in which they are depicted as masons rather than sculptors. This picture is of great interest to those studying the manner of operative work amongst medieval craftsmen; and I noticed a peculiarity of dress which distinguished the sculptors from the burgesses and others shown in the picture. They are dressed in very short tunics and tight hose whereas the other people are in long gowns.

I must give a few details of the Societies of Builders which exist in some parts of the East and probably throw some light upon the inner working of the Roman Collegia and the craft gilds of medieval Europe.

In various forms craft gilds are to be found in all the principal cities of Asia, and there is evidence that the various trades have been accustomed to form themselves into societies for mutual protection and for the proper regulation of their commerce. These gilds vary considerably in their organization and powers and, generally, do not openly take any part in municipal government for the very good reason that in the East countries are ruled by officials, created by the Sultans or the Padishas, who again appoint subordinate officers, generally men who have been able to buy from them the position and right to get as much as they possibly can out of the people, in the same manner that they, the upper officials, pay the Sultan for the privilege of retaining their posts. There is, therefore, little similarity between the trade gilds of the East and the free Roman Collegia, and less so with the medieval gilds of Europe of the period when municipalities obtained great political powers.

The present condition of the builders' gild in Persia. has beep enquired into by General A. H. Schindler, who has spent nearly thirty years in the country and is the best living authority in all matters concerning it. He informs us that a trade gild is called "Senf," and possesses a Chief, or "Syndic" named the Ra'is, who represents the gild in matters concerning municipal regulations, payment of taxes, etc. It is not necessary that the Ra'is should be a master of the craft of his gild. The ordinary term for a master craftsman is "Ustad"; for an apprentice, or pupil, "Shagird." In the building trades the names "Ma'mar" and "Bana" stand indiscriminately for architect, builder and mason, but a superior Bana a master builder is called a Ma'mar, and a superior Ma'mar affects the title of "Ma'mar-Bashi," the latter being a Turkish title denominating a Chief or Head. The title "Ustad" has not the same value as master in Europe, but is applied to the master- builder in charge of the building of a palace, as well as to a man who cannot correctly put half a dozen bricks in a line. As far as can be ascertained at present, no ceremonies are used in accepting a new comer into a craft. Any boy may become a "Shagird," but good builders will only accept him upon the condition of his agreeing to remain a certain number of years. Other "Shagirds" do not bind themselves, but receive daily wages from the beginning. When the Ustad starts on his own account he becomes a "Bana," or builder, but as there is nothing to prevent anyone calling himself a master builder you may meet with men who are known as Ustad, Bana, who cannot do more than construct a mud hut. These, however, are not recognized as members of the gild, and are seldom seen in towns. Sometimes masters of the craft are restricted to certain quarters of a town and are not allowed to work outside of the quarter in which they reside.

In the winter of 1894 I showed General Schindler a large collection of Persian architectural drawings, which I had purchased from the State Architect in Teheran; on his return to Persia in 1895 he made many efforts to obtain some but without success. When asking for some technical terms and their explanation, he found the men exceedingly reticent respecting them and he concluded that they regarded these matters as secrets which they were obliged to keep to themselves.

In a recent paper read by Yoshitaro Yamashita, Chancellor to the Imperial Japanese Consulate in London, before the Japan Society, he mentions the "Hiden" (secret tradition), the "Hijutsu" (secret art), and the "Okugi" (inner mysteries) as terms in common use and applied to nearly every undertaking, and he goes on to explain that there is nothing absolutely mysterious or supernatural about them, and that these terms are used with respect to valuable secrets which are carefully guarded by Professors on account of the peculiar benefit they receive for imparting them to their pupils.

Here we have arrived at the key note of the bond of fellowship in operative gilds in all periods. Their secrets have always been valuable possessions requiring every protection to prevent them becoming common property. Then, to prevent undue competition, the interest of the community of a gild was placed before that of its individuals, and lastly, in its relations with the Government, the gild was better able, especially when supported by the gilds of other crafts, to secure an equitable adjustment of taxation as a strong united body.

It is on these grounds that I form the conclusion respecting the origin of the popularity of the Quatuor Coronati as the patron Saints of the Masons and Sculptors. The early Christian Church consisted principally of members of the industrial classes, all of whom were of necessity "magistri" or "operarii" of their respective trade Collegia. The four sculptors and their associate were not only martyrs to the new faith, which by that time was professed either openly or in secret by the bulk of their fellow-craftsmen, but were regarded as victims of tyrannical interference with the privileges of the Collegia which most probably possessed powers to deal with all matters relating to the due execution of the work of each craft.

Either from jealousy or fear, several of the Roman Emperors had already attempted to suppress the Collegia both in Rome and in her colonies, and even the just and broad-minded Trajan objected to the trade gilds and charitable benefit societies upon the ground that they became turbulent and factious. Christianity was first brought to his notice as still another of these societies forming in a distant colony, and was duly reported upon by Pliny in the same manner as when he was requesting direction from the Emperor in dealing with a volunteer fire brigade and a society for old age pensions.

The gilds of medieval Europe were similarly disliked by arbitrary rulers of all kinds, whether Popes, Emperors, Kings or Republican Governments, and in our own times the greatest gilds in the world, those of the City of London, have not been free from molestation from the would-be tyrants of the hour.

But these attempts to destroy Institutions which form the backbone of civic liberty, like the war waged on Freemasonry by the Roman Church, could but end in the discomfiture of the attacking powers. These societies are the outcome of the practical side of human nature, in its hard-headed and sober desire to do its best to obtain freedom to work for due reward, to live in peace and harmony with its neighbors and to combine for mutual protection when the necessity arises.

- Source: The Builder November - 1919

more quator coronati

more masonic history