A Historical Perspective of the 29th Degree
Mete Talimcioglu, 32°,MSA
Valley of New York City
The 29th Degree, Knight of St. Andrew, takes place in the interior of the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Patras, Greece. The year is 1396 A.D., the age of the Crusades. The western crusader army, while advancing towards the east to Jerusalem (literally means “city of peace”), clashes with the mighty army of the 4th Ottoman Sultan, Beyazid I, also known to Turks as “Yildirim”, the thunderbolt. The theater is Nicopolis (Nigbolu) in present day Bulgaria.
The Battle of Nicopolis took place in 1396 between a French-Hungarian Alliance and the Ottoman Empire. This campaign, as recorded in history as the Crusade of Nicopolis, was the largest and the last large-scale crusade of the Middle Ages.
In 1394, Pope Boniface IX proclaimed a new crusade against the Turks, which resulted in an alliance between France and Hungary to join forces. The 100,000-strong army of French-Hungary Alliance under the command of both King Sigismund of Hungary and John de Nevers of France faced the equally strong Ottoman army under the command of Sultan Yildirim Beyazid at Nicopolis on September 25, 1396. The French commanders, not being aware of ingenious Turkish war tactics, led the Alliance army to its ultimate defeat. Among those defeated, John de Vienne, Admiral of France, was killed in action, while John de Nevers, Enguerrand VII de Coucy (son-in-law of King Edward III of England) and Jean Le Maingre, Marshal of France, were captured.
The main theme of the 29th Degree Drama focuses on the fictionalized events, which take place after the capture of the chivalric Knights of the Alliance. Sultan Beyazid receives at his temporary court, set in the interior of the Cathedral of St. Andrew, several chivalric Knights who belong to the Order of St. Andrew. Quoting from the prophet Mohammed, “Thou shalt not degrade noble enemies!”, the Sultan immediately unchains the Knights and provides a respectful opportunity to eventually set them free. While the incidents portrayed in this degree are not historical in fact, the lesson taught in the drama – Toleration - is one of the great tenets of Freemasonry. This degree is unique in the sense that it is the only Scottish Rite degree where religious tolerance, particularly between Christianity and Islam, the second largest monotheistic religion in the world, is emphasized.
While witnessing this deeply touching drama, one might immediately ask the question: “What is the correlation of St. Andrew, an Apostle of Christ, with the romanticized Knights of the Crusaders as portrayed in this degree?” The author believes that the answer lies in the legends of St. Andrew: Very little is really known about St Andrew, except that he is the first Apostle, a fisherman by trade, brother of Simon Peter (St. Peter, the founder of the Christian Church). He was also a devout follower of St. John the Baptist, the Patron of Freemasons. Born in Bethsaida in Galilee (now part of Israel), St. Andrew traveled with Jesus, and preached his teachings both before and after Jesus’ death. St. Andrew is said to have been instrumental for spreading the tenets of the Christian religion through Asia Minor and Greece.
Today, St. Andrew is recognized as the Patron Saint of Scotland, and St. Andrew’s Day is celebrated by the Scots around the world on November 30 of each year. The flag of Scotland is the Cross of St. Andrew, which is widely displayed as a symbol of national identity in Scotland. How did St. Andrew become the Patron of Scotland? Tradition suggests that the Apostle was put to an agonizing death by the Romans in Patras, Greece, by being pinned to a diagonal shape (X-shaped) cross called a “Saltire” that appears on the Scottish Flag. The remains of this cross are currently on display in the St. Andrew Cathedral in Patras, Greece (picture was taken by the author during a visit there).
Upon crucifixion, the bones of the Apostle were entombed for about 300 years, and were later moved by Constantine the Great to his new Capital, Constantinople (renamed by Turks as Istanbul during the reign of Yildirim Beyazid, long before the capture of the city by Mehmet II, the Conqueror, on May 29, 1453). Legend tells that a Greek Monk, called St. Regulus (Rule), was directed in a dream by an Angel to move and spread the St. Andrew’s remains throughout the world for safe-keeping. St. Rule, dutifully following these directives, removes a tooth, an arm bone, a kneecap and some fingers from St. Andrew’s tomb, and transports these relics as far away as he could. Legend also suggests that St. Rule shipwrecks on the East Coast of Scotland at a Pictish settlement, which later became the town of St. Andrews. Perhaps more likely than the Legend of St. Rule, the Bishop of Hexham, who was a renowned collector of relics, brought these precious body parts to St. Andrews in about 733 A.D. The relics were kept in a Chapel, which later became a Cathedral that was a pilgrimage center of religious focus in Scotland. There are other legends of how St. Andrew and his remains became associated with Scotland (which might potentially include the infamous San Greal or Sang Real legend of the Knights Templar, which recently became the center of attention in the media through Dan Brown’s bestseller: Da Vinci Code).
One of the legends tells us when the Pictish King Angus faced a large invading army, he prayed for guidance. A white cloud in the form of a Saltire floated across the blue sky above him; whereby Angus won a decisive victory. He then proclaimed Andrew would be the Saint of his country. The historical fact is that following Robert Bruce’s victory at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, the Declaration of Arbroath officially named St. Andrew the Patron Saint of Scotland, and the Saltire became the national flag of Scotland in 1385.
Masonic scholars have long sought and often correlated the origin of the Craft with the Knights Templar (a.k.a., Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon) who presumably found refuge at Scotland after the dissolution of the Order by Pope Clement V on Friday, October 13, 1307. The first Scottish King, Robert I (a.k.a., Robert the Bruce) accepted the Templar warrior-monks in the ranks of his own army during his quarrel with the English. Historical records point that the Templar's assistance was vital in the victory of Bruce over the King of England, Edward II. Legend tells us Bruce has created an Order called the Order of St. Andrew of Scotland, shortly thereafter his victory.
A more historically known and relatively recent Order of St. Andrew or the “Most Ancient Order of the Thistle” was established, reportedly on the ruins of an ancient Order, by James VII of Scotland in 1687. This Order was restricted to the King and Queen and sixteen others. The Order of the Thistle represents the highest honor in Scotland, and it is second only in precedence to the Order of the Garter. Order’s badge contains an engraving of the Patron Saint of Scotland. The breast plate consists of a silver Saltire with a pointed ray between each of the arms of the cross. At the centre is a gold medallion contained in an enameled representation of the thistle, surrounded by a green border on which the Order's motto is written in gold. The motto is 'Nemo me impune lacessit' (No one harms me with impunity).
The main character of the 29th Degree Drama among the chivalric Knights is Sire De Coucy, a French Knight who also held the title of the 1st Earl of Bedford due to his marriage to the English King Edward’s daughter Isabella Pantagenet. Upon his marriage, De Coucy was inducted into the Order of Garter. Sire De Coucy held various offices, such as Governor of Britanny, Grand Butler of France and Marshal of France. He was considered to be the most skilled and experienced of all the Knights of France. During his campaign in the Battle of Nicopolis, Sire De Coucy was taken prisoner by the Turks. He died of bubonic plague at age 56 on February 18, 1397 near Bursa (then Ottoman Capital) in Anatolia while participating in the last medieval crusade. His body was returned to France and buried at the Abbey of Villeneuve, near Soissons.
As for Sultan Yildirim Beyazid, he too could not escape his misfortune of being captured as a prisoner by Timur, the lame (a.k.a., Timurlenk), a Mongol warlord who galloped from the steppes of Asia with his Turkic Tatar army. In the Battle of Ankara on July 20, 1402, Beyazid was captured by Timur, and was subjected to constant degradation by being held in a cage, with which Timur carried as a trophy. History records that the Great Sultan died in that cage – some accounts claim he committed suicide – about a year after his capture.