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The St. John’s Knot and the Knot of Revelation

The St. John’s Knot [1] is an ancient symbol dating back to many centuries before Christ, that has its origins in Northern Europe. The symbol appears in a 5th century BC remain, known as “Hablingo Stone” which was found at Gotlan (Sweden) [2]. Graphically it is a lace positioned on four circular loops around a square. The form of the loops differs from the Knot of Revelation, which have pointed ends.

St. John's knot
St. Jonh’s Knot in Orvieto, Museo del Duomo
St. John's knot
The Knot of Revelation in Genoa, Cattedrale di San Lorenzo

Firstly the symbol was connected to propitiatory pagan rites of fertility, even in relation to an apotropaic function. These rituals, called Shieldknot [3], had their higher signification during the night of the summer solstice. For this reason the symbol assumes the name of St. John’s Knot at the beginning of the Christianity. The night of the summer solstice is the same of the Baptist’s birth, the 24th of June. Then, like other pagan rites, there was a syncretism between the previous rite and the new one: the festivity of St. John substituted the pagan one and, similarly, modified the symbolism.

Symbolic meaning of the St. John’s Knot during the Middle Age 

During the Middle Age the symbolism was used to decorate the interiors or the facades of the churches. Hence, in this period the knot assumes a double meaning. 

It represents the Merkavah, which appeared as a vision to the Ezekiel phophet (1,4-26). It is the charriot of God, that proceeds towards several directions and is led by four beings: a man, lion, eagle and ox. These are the symbols of the four evangelists Mark, Matthew, Luke and John.  

The four loops of the St. John’s Knot are considered fundamental alchemical elements by a more exoteric symbology. Water, air, earth and fire are the primitive entities of the nature, that all generate. 

However, the duality of the meaning indicates the generation force of both creation and rebirth. 

Samuele Corrente Naso

(Translation by Daniela Campus)


[1] In heraldry: Bowen’s knot.

[2] Now it is preserved at the Fornsalen Museum, Gotland

[3] Shieldknot is a Nordic knot of continuity.

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