Table of Contents
Legend Of Strasbourg Cathedral
Out on the quiet midnight air,
The thrilling summons swells,
As on the eve of loved St. John,
Peal out the solemn bells;
A city unawakened lies
Beneath the mournful sound,
Down street and avenue and lane,
A silence reigns profound.
But up from vault and mouldering crypt
Arise a silent band,
Once the true builders of that pile,
The guardians of their land;
And silently each takes his place;
Masters, well robed, are there —
Craftsmen, Apprentices, and each
With gavel, compass, square.
Then the old Masons meet again,
Where once their work was known,
Where in sweet music petrified,
Stands each well-chiselled stone:
With silent presages of love
Each doth his brother cheer:
Time-honoured salutations pass
Among Companions dear.
Then on the weird procession moves,
Through the dim lighted nave,
Adown the long and columned aisles,
Where mystic banners wave.
Over the gleaming marble floor,
Past the old Knights that keep
Their watch and ward with cross and sword,
The shadowy Masons sweep.
But near the spire, one female form
Floats, white-robed, pale and cold,
Mallet and chisel, damp with age,
Her slender fingers hold.
Loved daughter of the Master, she
Aided each heavy task;
Beside her father, morn and eve,
No respite did she ask.
Bread for the hungry Craftsmen, she
Duly prepared and wrought,
And words of Faith, and Hope, and Love
She to the workmen brought.
Thirsting, she cooled their parching lips;
Wearied, she heard their sighs;
Fevered, she fanned their throbbing brows;
Dying, she closed their eyes.
Ghost-like and pale, the once strong men
Glide over each known spot,
And from the memories of the past,
Awaken scenes forgot.
No mortal being hath caught the sound,
Or grasped the palsied hand,
Of they who thus fraternally
Sweep round each column grand.
Thrice round the olden building, then
They take their mystic way;
"Happy to meet," they converse hold,
Till the first dawn of day.
Then down in each sepulchral bed,
The Masons take their rest,
Till next St. John's loud midnight bell,
Stirs through each phantom breast.
This is the legend; but far down
A solemn lesson lies
For all who would their work should stand
Before the Master's eyes:
A voice from Heaven strews words of hope
Round grave, and vault, and sea,
"From labours freed, their works remain;
They did it unto me."
We don't know if the author of this poem was a Mason or not. That the legend could only be found in Masonic periodicals, and also the reference to the points of fellowship, suggest it's likely; the book it was taken from did not include any other poems with Masonic content, however.
St. John's Eve
A Legend Of Strasbourg Cathedral
[The story runs that once in every twelvemonth, on the Eve of St. John, when the quiet burghers of Strasbourg are wrapt in peaceful slumber, and when the hour of midnight clangs out from the loud-tongued bell which hangs in the old Cathedral tower, the spirits of the stone-masons, by whose hands the sacred pile was erected, arise from the tomb, and once more revisit the scene of their former labours.]
The city sleeps; the watchman treads the sadly silent street,
And lingers long in eager hope some comrade he may greet;
From yonder gable-ended house a lanthorn dimly flings
Its pallid light, the while the Watch each hour till daylight sings.
No sounds of mirth or revelry disturb the slumbering town;
Alike on Emperor and boor the twinkling stars look down;
The lusty burghers sleep the sleep of virtuous men and just —
No sounder will they sleep, I ween, till all are changed to dust.
Midnight! The witching hour's proclaimed by every steeple-clock —
Fit time for elves, and fays, and ghosts in grim array to flock —
The time for incantations weird, and gloomy sounds and sights,
The play-hours for the changeling crew and mischief-making sprites.
The first stroke of the midnight hour rings in the watchman's ears;
With shuffling steps he hastens on, a prey to doubts and fears;
For well he kens the story old, heard at his mother's knee,
That on the Eve of good St. John strange visions you may see.
Where the Cathedral dimly looms, the trembling shadows fall,
And he who stands within the pile — as black as funeral pall —
May see such ghostly sights and hear such ghostly sounds and sighs
As when, amid night's gloom, the soul from out the body flies.
Along the crypt, along the nave, along each columned aisle,
Across the gleaming marble floor there come in serried file
The spirit-shapes of men of eld, in olden fashion dressed —
A fearsome sight is that to all, who see those shadows blest.
From oriel windows, where the moon shines on the pictured shapes
Of Men-at-arms, and holy Saints, and Nuns in sombre capes,
And effigies of gallant Knights who fought in the Crusades,
There streams, while yet the hour-bell rings, a train of elfin shades —
A band of handicraftsmen skilled — a rare masonic band,
The masters holding compasses and rules in each thin hand;
The craftsmen with their plumbs and squares and levels all bedight,
The 'Prentice-lads their gavels bear among the pillars white.
Hand grasping hand, breast clasped to breast, friend silently greets friend;
Before the altar, the devout most reverential bend;
And some enraptured linger there where stands the holy pyx,
Whilst others bow the knee before the blessed Crucifix.
The deep-mouthed bells' far-sounding notes betoken that the day,
With all its cares, and joys, and hopes, and fears has passed away;
And as the last notes tremble high and softly die in air,
The shadowy throng sweep fast along the choir and belfry-stair.
The fleeting train of Shadows glides around the building thrice —
No need the obstacles to clear — they pass them in a trice;
Old Erwin proudly leads the way — his comrades follow fast —
The sculptured Saints look down in love on those defiling past.
But strangest sight of all this night — most beautiful, I wis —
Is that fair form that floats above where Mary Mother's kiss
Meets hers when others may not see, when others may not hear,
And when the only visitants are Seraphs hovering near:
Sabina, Erwin's lovely child, clad in angelic white,
With maul and chisel, smiles on all, the guardian of the night;
Around the spire, around the tower, around the oriels red,
She flits, and all gaze eagerly and watch her fairy tread.
For chisel sharp and mallet dull symbolic e'er will be
Of that rare craft and brotherhood yclept Masonry;
And Erwin's daughter represents, with all the shadowy band,
Those who today, as yesterday, in love walk hand-in-hand.
But now the eastern window shows a trace of red and gold,
The spirit-shapes they fade, and fall beneath the marble cold;
And when the hour for Matins comes, and all is prayer and praise,
Those will be few who do not give a thought to olden days.
This is the story as 'twas told to me in Strasbourg town,
One summer night, when moon and stars refulgently shone down;
And when the Rhenish wine was drunk, and fairy smoke wreaths curled,
I took this loving glance into the Mediaeval world.
from Way-Side Sketches In Prose And Verse, pp.55-59
The following description of the story was repeated verbatim in several Masonic magazines between c.1863-1880, but the author was never attributed.
Legend Of Strasburg Cathedral
There is a quaint old tradition, which comes down to us from ancient times, tottering under its load of age, and replete with the superstitions of the past. On the borders of Alsatia, there lies a great city, dating its foundation far back, to the old Roman days, and rich in those architectural relics of the olden time which are ever so dear to the antiquary.
"Quaint offspring of centurial years, the town of Strasburg stands:
Rich in the lore of a mighty past, in legend and in story.
Rich in high hearted, honest sons, a country's truest glory.
Rich in its old Cathedral Church, with clustering ivy spread,
The Santa Croce of the land, where sleep her noble dead."
The story runs that once in every twelve-month, on the eve of St. John, when the quiet burghers of that ancient city are wrapt in peaceful slumber, and when the hour of midnight clangs out from the loud-tongued bell which hangs in the old Cathedral tower, that the spirits of the stone masons, by whose hands the sacred pile was erected, arise from the tomb and once more revisit the scene of their former labors. Up from the dark and gloomy crypt, along the columned aisles and vast dim nave, across the white-gleaming marble floor, checkered with ghostly shadows that stream from pictured oriels, past the stone carved statues that keep watch and ward with their swords and sceptres, comes the long train of death-like, night-wandering shadows. Clad in their quaint old mediaeval costume, the Masters with their compasses and rules, the Craftsmen with their plumbs, and squares and levels, the Apprentice lads with their heavy gavels, all silently greeting their companions, old and dear, with time honored salute and token as of yore.
While the last note of the deep-mouthed bell is still trembling in the air, reverberating from arch to arch and dying away amid the frozen music of the traceried roof, — forth from the western portal streams the shadowy throng. Thrice around the sacred edifice winds the waving, floating train; brave old Erwin himself, leading the way, while far above, up above the sculptured saints who look down upon the sleeping city, up where at the very summit of the feathery fairy-like spire the image of the Queen of Heaven stands, there floats a cold, white-robed, female form, the fair Sabina, old Erwin's well-beloved child, whose fair hands aided him in his work. In her right hand a mallet, in her left a chisel, she flits among the sculptured lace-work of the noble spire, like the Genius of Masonry.
With the first faint blush of dawn, the vision fades, the phantom shapes dissolve and the old Masons return to their sepulchres, there to rest until the next St. John's eve shall summon them to earth.
The following article is edited from Wikipedia, with some added speculation by the present author.
Sabina von Steinbach
Sabina von Steinbach was a legendary sculptor in the 13th century, responsible for the South Portal group of statuary in the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg.
Although construction lasted from 1176 to 1439 the main structure was begun in 1225 and completed in 1275; but some of the most striking features, including the entrance portal and the tower, were begun in 1277 when the famous architect and master builder Erwin von Steinbach took over; and his daughter, Sabina, being a skillful mason, played a major part in the construction.
Stonemasons often traveled to distant sites for work that might be decades in construction and would naturally have taken their wives and children with them. Wives were admitted to membership in the majority of the medieval craft guilds, but membership in a guild did not carry with it the right of being apprenticed, although it implied that a female member might share in all its benefits, pious and pecuniary; and in the event of her husband’s death, he being a Master, might carry on his trade. Usually this was done with the help of a managing journeyman, and provision was made for the journeyman's promptly acquiring the master’s rights by marrying such a widow.
Some contend that Sabina personally took over the contract on her father's job at Strasbourg after the master builder died in 1318 and brought that phase of it to completion. Others maintain that she merely assisted her father. It is commonly agreed, however, that Sabina was responsible for the statues personifying the Church and the Synagogue, which are located near the south portals of the cathedral.
Von Steinbach's employment of his daughter Sabina among the Strasbourg stonemasons was not merely an irregularity perpetrated by a provincial lodge, lax in the proper guild observances. Until the capture of the city by France in 1681, the headquarters of the German stonemasons was in Strasbourg — even as late as 1760 the Strasbourg lodge still claimed tribute from the lodges of Germany. Indeed, Albert Mackey, in his Encyclopedia cites the theory "which places the organization of the Order of Freemasonry at the building of the Cathedral of Strasbourg, in the year 1275." Thus, as "Master of the Masons" of Strasbourg, Sabina would not just have been the equivalent of a Master Mason of today, but of a Worshipful Grand Master.
It is interesting to note that the statue of St. John the Evangelist holds a scroll that reads in Latin: "Thanks to the bold piety of this woman, Sabina, who has given me form from this hard stone."
The following is not about the Strasbourg Cathedral, but a more humble one in Scotland, the "Muckle Kirk" or "Great Church" of Elgin, which was in ruins even before this poem was written about 1830. These verses are cut and rearranged from a longer poem to highlight the similarity with the Strasbourg legend, although this was written for a festive occasion and intended as a light-hearted song. Is the Sinclair here related to the Sinclairs (St.Clairs) of Rosslyn Chapel? The legend gives no clue...
The author of this poem was a successor to Robbie Burns as Poet Laureate of Canongate-Kilwinning Lodge #2 of Edinburgh.
Legend Of The Muckle Kirk Of Elgin
Say, Bellman, for I wot
Full often you could tell, Sir,
What scenes you've seen at night,
When you went to ring the bell, Sir.
Strange sounds, and stranger sights,
That might set the soul a-hobblin'
Of any mortal man
Not used to ghost or goblin.
When sheeted ghosts were seen
Each on his coffin sitting,
And a dim, unearthly light
Along the Kirk was flitting;
While in the pulpit stood
A ghostly parson giving
A sermon — just as good
As we get from the living.
But who is she who sings,
In rapture upward borne, Sir?
Who tosses round her head
Like a filly at her corn, Sir?
'Tis Madame Sinclair sure, —
What sky-larking, and what shaking, —
Like owls that love the night, she sets
The very ghosts a-quaking.
Gone is the Muckle Kirk,
With them that did adorn her, —
The subject of my song,
Some twenty years ago, Sir,
Thus future times shall know
What a glorious Kirk we had, Sir,
And Elgin's sons may learn
How pious were their dads, Sir.