MASONIC SYMBOLISM and St. ANDREW’S CHURCH

MASONIC SYMBOLISM and St. ANDREW’S CHURCH

The original St Andrew’s church is a large and historic Presbyterian church, erected as the Church of Scotland congregation in the Town of York in 1830 with the original church located at the south-west corner of Church and Adelaide (East) Streets. The original building eventually proved too small, and the church moved to its current location on the south-east corner of King and Simcoe Streets in 1876. This new building was designed by Toronto architect William G. Storm, and St Andrew’s became the central Presbyterian church in Toronto.

William G. Storm was a noted architect, and also designed the main building of Victoria College, St James cathedral and the easterly extension of Osgoode Hall. When one stops to appreciate the beauty of this church, several symbols become apparent on its external façade, most notably the Square and the Compass. The date of its design gives more hints to the careful observer, as the church was erected and completed in 1876.

This was a time when Masonic influence was noticeable on the Gothic and Romanesque buildings in Toronto (classical buildings such as cathedrals and universities designed in these styles and dated around the late 1800’s carry considerable chances of having similar symbols carved on them).

Why do these beautiful symbols adorn St Andrew’s church?

Was its architect and designer a mason by any chance?

William Storm was not only an important mason, but also one of the first Masonic Knights Templar in Toronto: together with Francis Richardson, George Duggan Jr., William Murray Jamieson (all of whom had been installed in Hugh de Payens Encampment, at Kingston), in 1854 planned and petitioned for a Preceptory of their own. The name chosen for the Encampment was “Geoffrey de St. Aldemar” being that of a distinguished soldier of the Cross and one of the founders of the Templar Order.
The style of the church is Romanesque, and architects of the Middle Ages also used this style to build massive cathedrals. William Storm called its design ‘Norman Scottish’ and it is referred to in most literature as an example of Norman Romanesque architecture. In St Andrew’s the Norman influence is particularly evident in the finely detailed carved stone —rather than chiseled – and triple arched entrance, as well as the rose window above it. The Scottish influence is apparent in the stepped gables of the tower and the corner turrets.

Masonic and other symbols put there by its architect can be seen across the external façade of the church, including the square and compass, a heart, a piece of rope, (another) square, and faces (that may refer to King Solomon, or his master architect at the Temple), or perhaps masks.
Why did the architect chose these symbols, why where they important to him, or what do they really represent? We have no means to know for certain, as the architect lived more than a century ago. However, many symbols carry the same meaning for very long periods of time, and we can still try to understand what William Storm meant to communicate in stone, humbly recognizing our own limitations, and the possibility of erring.

The square and compass, and the Master’s square are well recognized symbols among masons, and their meanings are well known.
The rope is a tool for ascension to higher places, and to bind what is dear to one’s proximity, it provides security, connection and defines boundaries.
The heart is obviously the organ in the centre of the human body, and also associated with the centre of our feelings, and some say it is the source of our intellectuality (Pascal remarked that ‘great thoughts come from the heart’). In Christian vocabulary the heart is said to contain the ‘Kingdom of God’, Angelus Silesius, a German poet (1624-77), calls the heart the ‘temple and altar of God’; and the Holy of Holies was said to be the heart of the Temple at Jerusalem, which was itself the heart of Zion, which was the ‘heart of the world’.

Another symbol (last from left to right) is a diagonal square contained within a circle. There may be certainly more than one interpretation for this carved symbol, but generally, the circle represents the all surrounding divine, perfection, and the spiritual, while the square represents the material world, strength, and the altar or temple on Earth. The perfect circle is drawn by a compass, the square traced by the square tool.
The square in St Andrew’s church may be positioned diagonally in reference to the four cardinal points, or may represent a star.

Although St Andrew’s church is not circular, some medieval churches, especially those associated with the Knights Templar, were built circular in imitation of the Holy Sepulcher at Jerusalem. This circle surrounding a square also reminds us of the rite of circumambulation, which is universally practiced since the times of the Old Testament – the Jews circumambulated the altar (Psalm 26:6) and Muslims go in procession round the cubic Ka’ba at Mecca, and so on.

One of the most curious symbols in St Andrew’s façade reminds the observer of a chalice, a vase, or an imitation of a human heart (between the square and compass, and another square and compass within a circle). Interestingly, the allegorical associations of these objects are not too dissimilar: they are all generally related to the sacred, or a treasure protected within a receptacle. The chalice is also seen as the human heart yearning to be filled with the spirit of the GAOTU, sometimes symbolized by wine. However it is not conclusive that that carving represents a heart, vase, or chalice, and other interpretations may be more appropriate. Whatever that is, it is relevant to note that this one carving is bordered by two Masonic square and compasses.
One of the stone symbols, just before the rope, may be a “Green Man”. The Green Man is a popular motif in Scotland, but his image, which is a sort of hybrid between a man and a woody creature, can be seen gracing tombs and churches all over Europe. In fact, the Green Man probably has its origins in the leaf masks that were worn in Roman times. There is more than one interpretation of the symbolic nature of the Green Man, but the most popular belief is that he represents the new life that springs from death.

Finally, not of all of these interpretations may be accurate, in fact it is probable that they are not. The beauty of symbols, and the reason they are used instead of written language, is that they communicate open ideas, concepts, and feelings, as opposed to letters and words, which are forever bound by “this means that” – symbols represent important images and lessons that we encounter in our journeys of transformation.

Bro. William G. Storm passed to the Grand Lodge Above on March 8th, 1892.

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