Masonic Parlante | Occultism, Construction, and the École des Beaux-Arts | Grand Staircase Hall - Room of Protection | Sacred Geometry | Masonic Initiation and Imitatio Christi | Priestly Ordination in the Holy of Holies | Endnotes | Bibliography
Today architecture is a purely mechanical profession, one that employs a simple set of prescriptive rules of mathematics and geometry to achieve its aims. This view of architecture is a relatively modern convention having its roots in a quarrel waged between so-called 'ancients' and 'moderns' in the last half of the seventeenth century.2 In his insightful book, Architecture and the Crisis of Modern Science, Pérez-Gómez argues that the Scientific Revolution transformed the nature of architecture from a tradition based on mystical and numerological considerations into a technical exercise devoid of symbolic and transcendental meaning.3 Architecture was thus plunged into a crisis of meaning as "blind technological intentionality" converted the entire discipline from an art concerned with expression and mythology to a field in which rationality was its primary objective.4
For Pérez-Gómez, architecture's progressive reliance on reason and scientific positivism can be traced to the influential French architect, Nicolas-Louis Durand (1760-1834). Durand's writings cultivated a "...Cartesian split between objective truth and subjective opinion, between mind and body, and [the] rejection of myth, poetry, and art as legitimate and primary forms of knowledge."5 From this point forward, architecture became increasingly divorced from its esoteric origins and was transformed into a scientific exercise of formal explanations with utilitarian purposes. In the ensuing centuries, design was usurped by technical specialists and engineers who "had little or no knowledge of society, its history and problems, and a loathing for humanities because their content was always ambiguous and practically impossible to formulate with mathematical certainty."6 The materialistic revolution of architecture was accompanied by a retreat from classical proportional systems and their symbolic connotations in favour of mathematically derived rules whose chief aim was to ensure a more efficient and economic practice.
However, against the background of Pérez-Gómez's polarized view of architectural history, a different story can be seen to emerge; one in which the esoteric and mystical application of architecture remains decidedly intact and unencumbered by the raging voices of scientific advocates and classical idealists. This sanctuary of esoteric architecture is found in the society of Freemasonry whose raison d'être placed mystical geometry and sacred architecture on holy ground. For Freemasons, architecture was a vehicle for moral betterment and personal perfection. By making the tradition of architecture the basis of an initiatory system of degrees, Freemasonry offered an alternative to the religious dogmatism of the Eighteenth century and situated itself squarely within the vanguard of progressive interests of the period.7 Although little discussed, much of the architecture of the Enlightenment was inspired by the social utopia of Freemasonry. This is best evinced in the utopian projects produced by visionary architects Etienne-Louis Boullée, and Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, whose ideal city near Chaux has been called "an entire city of lodges."8
Amid the fervour of the late eighteenth century, a number of Masonic architects and architectural theorists played a crucial role in preserving a balance between the primacy of rationality and the growing search for truth beyond rational understanding.9 The Masonic antiquarian, Jean-Louis Viel de Saint Maux whose Lettres sur l'architecture des anciens et celle des modernes, dans lesquelles se trouve développé le génie symbolique qui préside aux monuments de l'antiquité (1787), posited a symbolic and allegorical history of architecture dependent on natural forces and agricultural bounty.10 The prolific writer and architect, Nicolas Le Camus de Mézières (1721-93), defined the role of architecture as an "expressive language" arguing that buildings could evoke human sensations because they could 'speak to the mind and move the soul.'11 The contrôleur of the king, Charles de Wailly (1730-98) was another advocate in bridging the gap between reason and esotericism. His engraving of the Solomon's Temple re-elaborated the earlier plans of Villalpanda and Fischer von Erlach "according to stages of Masonic ritual depicting the route of initiation in a grand sequence of stairs and open courtyards leading toward the sanctum itself."12 And teetering of the edge of genius and fantasy was the tormented visionary, Jean-Jacques Lequeu (1757-1826), whose extraordinary drawing of a Lodge, called the 'Gothic House,' illustrated a route based on ancient Egyptian temples and involving complex automata to simulate initiation trials by Fire, Water, and Air. Lequeu's esquisses derived from descriptions in Abbé Jean Terrasson's influential novel Séthos, histoire ou vie tirée des monumens anecdotes de l'ancienne Égypte (1731), which was the literary forerunner of Mozart and Schikaneder's Masonic masterpiece, Die Zauberflöte (1791).13
Yet despite these important contributions, Freemasonry rarely gets more than a footnote in most discussions of architectural theory. One outspoken revisionist is James Stevens Curl, who argues that the cultural and intellectual life of the Eighteenth century cannot be properly understood without accepting the centrality of Freemasonry, and goes so far as to proclaim that Freemasonry is "the essence of Neoclassicism."14 Freemasonry also played a pivotal role in the educational curriculum at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris, the period's most influential school of classical revivalism. Not only did the École's curriculum of dessin rely heavily upon Egyptian precedents and Vitruvian theory (both prominent in Freemasonry), but many of its pundits were members of the mysterious Brotherhood. By the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the Beaux-Arts style came to dominate the designs of government and municipal buildings throughout the U.S. and Canada.15
Masonic ideas have also permeated the designs of parks, gardens, cemeteries, monuments, and mausolea. According to Vidler, between 1780 and the Revolution the spatial order of lodges were gradually transformed by an increasing emphasis on the initiatory route and the allegorical representation of the landscape of the Elysian Fields, the mythological resting place of the heroic and the virtuous.16 The prominent French philosophe, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, proposed the natural landscape garden as the site for the regeneration of Mankind and the improvement of society as a whole.17 These routes, like those traversed by legendary initiates Persephone and Orpheus, were no longer confined to the sacred space of the lodge, but extended into the public arena.18 Gardens and cemeteries, like Racine de Monville's Le Désert de Retz (c. 1774), Louis-René Girardin's Ermenonville (c. 1775), Marquis de Montesquieu's Maupertuis (c. 1780), and the Duc d'Orléans' Parc Monceau19 (c. 1776) were designed as moral lessons motivated by the Masonic idea of the journey of initiation and reconstructed ideas of the Egyptian practice of passing through an open court.20
For the freemasons of the eighteenth century, the exemplars of ritual initiation were Egyptian, and that the ruins of their great temples were the remains of ancient ritual structures and prototypes. Masonic enthusiasts and iconographers studied the forms of Egyptian architecture for signs or patterns that might inform the development of their ritual procedures and higher Masonic grades. For instance, the Martinist mystic of Lyons, Jean-Baptiste Willermoz, posited that Egyptian architecture had been deliberately constructed to affect the state of mind of the aspirant:
[The Egyptians] employed all their Emblems and allegories to exercise the intelligence of the Aspirants and prepare them for the development of the mysteries that were their object. Thus the Triangular form of the pyramids, which in Egypt cover the underground vaults destined for initiations, the form and number of the Routes that lead there, all the ceremonies that were their observed, offered to the aspirants a sense of mystery, relating to the principal object of initiation.21
With these ideas in mind: (a) architecture as moving the soul (Le Camus); (b) the Temple as a blueprint for initiation (de Wailly); (c) and the Egyptian initiatory route (Willermoz), I can begin to approach my present study on the Masonic architecture of the Manitoba Legislative Building.22 Taken in isolation, the iconography of this extraordinary capitol remains altogether abstruse, for it celebrates nearly every religious tradition that prevailed in the centuries and millennium before its construction. It contains statuary of apotropaic pagan divinities, references to ancient Egyptian Pharaohs, and a room paralleling the dimensions of the sanctum sanctorum of Solomon's Temple. This paper seeks to address these features as intrinsic elements of an underlying esoteric program. Specifically, I will show how the building can be interpreted as a type of initiatory theatre directing its visitors through a three-part Masonic tour consisting of (a) solar protection in the Grand Staircase Hall, (b) Masonic initiation in the Rotunda, and (c) priestly ordination in the Lieutenant Governor's Reception Suite.23 But before making this occult voyage through the building, it is important to first depict the cultural climate into which the building was erected, a time when magical romanticism and esoteric philosophies were the order of the day.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Winnipeg in the Manitoba prairies was rife with fraternal orders and spiritualist pursuits.24 Not only were séances in the home of Dr. T.G. Hamilton25 gaining infamy as spiritualists, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), and Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King (1874-1950) gathered around for table-rappings, but in the city's Exchange District a coterie of local magicians were developing what would later become the world's largest magical society, The International Brotherhood of Magicians.26 As Freemasonry took centre-stage in civic life there was a rapid increase of members in government circles, and in less than a decade the Grand Lodge of Manitoba had almost doubled in size.27 One of the most telling signs of Freemasonry's foothold in parliamentary life was reflected in the fact that nearly the entire administration responsible for the construction of the new provincial Legislature was a member of the prestigious order.28
In December 1911, the Manitoba government announced an architectural competition to all architects practicing in the British Empire. The assesor was Leonard Stokes, a noted church architect and the President of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in London, UK. Stokes selected the proposal of Frank Worthington Simon and Henry Boddington III of Liverpool from a class of 67 commendable applications. A government sub-committee led by Premier Rodmond Roblin and consisting entirely of freemasons from both parties of the Legislature "confirmed" Stokes' descision. The formulation of a separate committee drew considerable public attention and near outrage. The Manitoba Free Press commented upon the oddity and indicted the sub-committee of being involved in a "frame-up with some ulterior object in view."29
The winning design was determined on the basis of its monumental character, its well proportioned and harmonious rooms, and its austere classicism, which reflected a consonance of architecture and the arts. Excavation for the building began in 1913. Confronted with the gruesome First World War, which diverted much needed material, labour and funds, a massive government scandal in 1915, and the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919, the building managed to open in grand style to an awe-struck public on July 15, 1920. The event corresponded with the 50th anniversary of the province and the building resounded with the symphonic hymns of the Sonora Grand Opera, and exclamations of delight and wonderment, which echoed throughout the halls. Simon was hailed as the province's answer to Sir Christopher Wren, the maestro of St. Paul's Cathedral in London.
Born in Germany in 1862, Frank Worthington Simon was a distinguished and award-winning architect, a graduate of the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and a pupil of the respected French master, Jean-Louis Pascal.30 He was described as a "tireless genius," and "a man of great personal charm … [who] would have risen to the highest eminence ,in his profession had it not been for a certain wandering instinct that seemed to be deeply engrained in his nature and that kept him from allowing himself to take root in any one spot."31 For the Manitoba project he enlisted some of the world's most acclaimed sculptors and painters including the prolific Belgian muralist Frank Brangwyn, the celebrated Parisian animalier, Georges Gardet, the abstract painter, Augustus Vincent Tack, and renowned marble carvers, Albert Hodge, William B. Rhind, and the Piccirilli Brothers of New York.32
There is considerable speculation about who is principally responsible for the building's design. According to many European sources, Septimus Warwick of London acted as the on-site architect from 1914-1917. Simon had apparently hired Warwick to assist in the provision of the working drawings, an assignment first allocated to Simon's junior partner, Henry Boddington III. However, from local accounts, it appears that Boddington was a was permanent resident in Winnipeg from 1914-1917 where he formed a partnership with Inman & Skelton in an effort to acquire local experience and contract further commissions. It turns out the identification of the designer was not the only confusion to surround the construction of the Manitoba Legislative Building.
From the start, the building was beset by difficulties as the Roblin government initially refused to allow Simon and Boddington to supervise the project, preferring instead the appointment of Provincial Architect and freemason Victor Horwood, who executed his own plans for the Legislative Building and the surrounding area in 1912. At the beginning of 1915, the spiraling cost of the building had become a heated public issue (then close to $4.5 million) and rumors began to circulate about faulty construction, stolen materials, and a misappropriation of public funds into the Conservative election campaign.33 In February of 1915, independent MLA F.J. Dixon called for a Public Accounts Committee to investigate the expenditures on the new Legislature and charges were leveled against the general contractor Thomas Kelly for skimming over $800,000. By the end of April, a Royal Commission inquiry led by Chief Justice Thomas A. Mathers concluded that Premier Rodmond Roblin, Ministers of Public Works, Walter Montague and George Coldwell, Attorney General James H. Howden, and Thomas Kelly had conspired to commit fraud in excess of $1.2 million in the contract arrangements.
Following Premier Roblin's resignation and the swearing in of Liberal leader T.C. Norris, Simon became the supervising architect, taking up full-time residence in Winnipeg from 1917 until the building's grand opening in 1920. Despite the various setbacks and his erroneous implication in the building scandal, Simon was lavishly praised for his efforts at the time of the dedication ceremonies in 1920. The building was undoubtedly his magnum opus. After the completion of the building, Simon returned home briefly and did not practice again, though he seems to have assisted other firms as a consultant.
For nearly a century, the building's eccentric details have intrigued visitors with its cloven-hoofed satyrs, coiled snakes, ram-heads, and decapitated head of Medusa. In addition, there are its puzzling numerological features - the constant repetition of the number thirteen evidenced in everything from stairs to lighting fixtures. Conventional responses have sought to explain these features as architectural topoi, mere expressions of Greek revivalism and vogue Orientalism prevalent at the time. This paper considers these attributes as architectural expressions of Simon's pronouncement that "the effect of the building would in the course of time make the people around it more perceptive, more intelligent, better balanced and altogether more civilized human beings."34 It is interesting to note that in Freemasonry, the figure most responsible for developing balance, inspiring intelligence, and cultivating personal transformation through architecture is the god Hermes, whose gilded effigy in the form of the "Golden Boy" surmounts the building's exterior dome.35
Identified as a kind of patron of Freemasonry, Hermes was extolled as the original fount of prophetic wisdom, the first teacher of science and philosophy, and the inventor of hieroglyphs.36 The term hermetic derives from the name Hermes, which has become virtually synonymous with magic, alchemy, astrology and miraculous powers. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Masonry became closely aligned with Hermeticism, exemplified with the once thriving Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the foremost magical order of the day founded in London in 1888 by William W. Westcott and Samuel MacGregor Mathers. The omnifarious nature Hermes even has him identified with national governance. A manuscript from 1659, housed in the Royal Society of London, draws a link between the wisdom of Hermes, proto-Freemasonry, and governmental rule:
This Craft…founded by worthy Kings and Princes and many other worshipful men prescribes dedication to the seven liberal arts, particularly geometry. Hermes taught it and he was "the father of Wisemen [who] found out the two pillars of Stone whereon the Sciences were written and taught them forth, and at the making of the Tower of Babylon there the craft of masonry found.37
In the middle 1880's when the aspiring English architect, Frank W. Simon was undergoing his final examinations at the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris was a mecca of magical orders, and emerging branches of occult Freemasonry.38 Following the death of Éliphas Lévi (1810-1875), the most influential occultist of the nineteenth-century, a new generation of occult pundits emerged such as Stanislas de Guaïta, Papus, and the erotic Catholic mage, Sar Joséphin Péladan. Péladan was particularly influential in artistic circles for organizing the Salons de la Rose + Croix (1892-1897). These extravagant art shows appealed to Parisian high society and promoted a new kind of art that aimed "to ruin realism, reform Latin taste, and create a school of idealist art."39 Péladan proclaimed artists to be the chosen instrument of God's revelation: "Artist, you are priest...Artist, you are king...Artist, you are magus."40 This Parisian milieu of occult revivalism significantly influenced the Symbolist Movement, whose belief 'that symbols act as gateways to higher reality,'41 is a consistent theme in the work of Legislature muralist, Augustus Vincent Tack (1870-1949).42
The three major artistic contributors of the Legislature, Frank W. Simon, Augustus Vincent Tack (1870-1949), and the Golden Boy sculptor, Georges Gardet (1863-1939) were students of the École des Beaux-Arts. Established in 1648, the École promoted the art of classical antiquity, High Renaissance, and Baroque.43 The school imparted a style that drew heavily upon Egyptian aesthetics and often incorporating sphinxes, obelisks, and hieroglyphs into its designs. A Beaux-Arts education included a rigorous mix of history, archaeology, mathematics, and philosophy. Its theory of dessin derived from Neoplatonic ideas of the good, the true, and the beautiful, and Vitruvian notions of symmetria.44 Students entered into the atelier of a particular master they admired, a process that has been describes as joining a "secret society," not only were you never allowed in the precincts of another atelier, but your aim was to emulate the teachings of your own particular master.45 The École's theory of design and its adherence to Egyptian precedents was influenced by many Masonic architectural theorists of the eighteenth century, notably Abbé Marc Antoine Laugier (1711-1769), who wrote one of the seminal works of Neoclassicism, Essai sur l'Architecture (1753).
As mentioned earlier, many professors working at the École were freemasons, including the school's learned secrétaire perpétuel, Quatremère de Quincy (1755-1849).46 De Quincy was one of the most important writers of architectural theory in the eighteenth century. His monumental study of Egyptian architecture, De L'Architecture Égyptienne, Considérée Dans son origine ses principes et son goût, et comparée sous les mêmes rapports à l'Architecture Grecque (1803), set the benchmark for Egyptian archaeology and evinces clear indebtedness to Masonic ideals.47 During this period of prolific Masonic creativity, Freemasonry becomes overt through a diffusion of architectural projects from initiatory gardens and Egyptian-inspired designs, to symbolic floor cloths and the founding of London's Jerusalem Lodge No. 197 (1771) home to England's most eminent architects and engineers.
And I think that the wise men of old, who made temples and statues in the wish that the gods should be present to them, looking to the nature of the All, had in mind that the nature of soul is everywhere easy to attract, but that if someone were to construct something sympathetic to it and able to receive a part of it, it would of all things receive soul most easily (Plotinus, Ennead 4.3.11).
Upon entering the Manitoba Legislative Building, one confronts a number of features, which introduce a Masonic itinerary. The most noticable feature being the two enormous bronze bison resting on stone pedestals flanking the grand staircase. Bison are a sacred animal to the Plains Indians of Manitoba, and in the ancient Near East, their close relative, the bull, often flanked the entrances of palaces and temples.48 In Christopher McIntosh's study of the visual language and sacred space of gardens, he notes that the entrances to Masonic gardens were often flanked by "keepers of the threshold" represented in the form of effigies of gods or spirits.49 For McIntosh these protective creatures mark the transition from the profane to the sacred.
Another curious feature in the Grand Staircase Hall is its display of apotropaic pagan divinities. In the keystone arch above the entrance to the hall is a carved head of the goddess of wisdom, Athena. Her representation in the form of a talismanic statuette, the palladium, guaranteed safety and protection to the people of ancient Athens.50 Facing directly opposite Athena and adorning the keystone of the towering southern arch leading to the Rotunda is the head of Medusa girded by snakes. The symbol of the Gorgon's head is attested in a variety of artifacts from vases, statuettes, ivories and coins to monumental architecture, such as the pediment relief at the temple of Corfu in Egypt (590 BCE), where the legend of Medusa's chthonic power to ward off evil was first introduced.51
In The Pagan Dream of the Renaissance, Joscelyn Godwin describes how Greco-Roman iconography suffused the visual arts of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and how pagan images were designed to transform the soul and impart lessons of morality; an idea which closely parallels the ideas of the French architect, Le Camus, who two centuries later sought similar aims by incorporating Vitruvian notions of decorum.52 Godwin's exploration of the mythological symbolism of Renaissance gardens, describes how visitors are transported to an enchanted "trancelike atmosphere of suspended excitement beyond words or the rational mind," via their journey through esoteric vistas adorned with pagan divinities.53 In effect, Godwin's study continues the pionnering efforts of art historian, E.H. Gombrich, who demonstrated how Hermetic Neoplatonists of the Renaissance conceived the visual image as having an inherent power that imparted a 'higher' level of divine knowledge beyond the senses, reason and conceptual language.54 Thus seen along these Hermetic/Neoplatonic lines, the pagan images in the Staircase Hall become more than just classical ornaments decorating a public building, but rather, symbolic icons bestowing protection.
The room's most peculiar feature is that its internal dimensions measure 66.6 feet square. For almost two millenia the number 666 has wreaked havoc upon Western imagination as its association to The Antichrist is derived from the bible's most perplexing verse: "this calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast for it is the number of man. Its number is 666" (Rev. 13: 18). This raises the question of why a building housing government representatives and enacting legislative power would incorporate in its design a number traditionally identified as the Antichrist? In a paper entitled, "The Number 666," William Westcott, one of the founders of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, provides us with an insightful clue. Here the Victorian hierophant applies the rigors of historical and Kabbalistic erudition to the decipherment of the number and points us in the direction of two important works of occult literature.
The first is the De Occulta Philosophia (1509) by the Renaissance magus Cornelius Agrippa. In this seminal work of occult philosophy, Agrippa identifies the number 666 with the magic square55 of the sun, which is comprised of every number from 1 to 36.56 As the sun governed the 36 decans of the sky, it was fitting to assign the number 666 to the solar deity who ruled over the gods of Heaven and Earth.57 Here Agrippa's discussion of magic squares is in relation to the construction of talismans, magical objects, which were thought to draw down celestial and super-celestial hierarchies. Upon the talisman are inscribed a series of figures representing the planets and signs in an ideal configuation, along with revelant numbers, characters, symbols, and the names of angels and other spiritual beings.58 For Agrippa sun talismans are ideal for protection because they "drive away all the darkness."59
The second work is a provocative treatise of theortetical architecture entitled The Canon: An Exposition of the Pagan Mystery Perpetuated in the Cabala as the Rule of All the Arts (1897), by the obscure English occultist, William Stirling.60 The work obtained considerable renown among occultists in the Victorian period soliciting reviews from A.E. Waite and William W. Westcott, as well as the prolific British science-fiction novelist, H.G. Wells. Given the book's high reputation and contemporary vogue, it is possible that Simon had been acquainted with the text. For the Masonic enclyclopedist A.E. Waite, the book 'contained vestiges for the extension of consciousness,' and for Westcott the work was a frustrating oeuvre of occult scholarship "too abstruce and mathematical for [the] general reader."61 Like Agrippa, Stirling also connected the number 666 with the sun. His reasoning was that the name of the place where the Greek astronomer Eratosthenes determined the sun's course in the ecliptic (Syene in Egypt) had the numerical value of 666.62
In both accounts we find the Number of the Beast to be stripped of its diabolical connotations and equated with the protective virtue of the sun, which Agrippa deems 'the very heart of heaven from which all good things come.'63 The association of the sun with protection is further provided in a graphic account of solarian magic in De Pulchro, by Ficino's disciple Francesco Cattani da Diacceto (1466-1522). Among other things, Diacceto prescribes wearing a mantle of gold, the sun's color, burning incense made from heliotropic plants, and reciting invocations to the sun.64 Consistent with the Staircase Hall's solar and protective theme, we find that above the room on the roof there are two recumbent Egyptian sphinxes. Upon their chests they bear a hieroglyphic inscription which reads: "the everlasting manifestation of the sun god Ra, the good God who gives life".65
Interest in the symbolic nature of hieroglyphs dates back to the artists and intellectuals of the fifteenth century who were inspired by a return to ancient sources and the Neoplatonic claim that images fostered communication with the divine.66 These interpretive methods were based on the belief that eternal truths had been concealed in Egyptian hieroglyphs, and that their meaning was inadequately expressed by mere words. For Renaissance Hermeticists and Neoplatonists like Ficino, Egyptian hieroglyphs were understood by to be a pictorial method of representing pure and complete ideas. This notion also carried itself forward in Renaissance architectural theory. For the architect Leon Battista Alberti, hieroglyphics were an alternative to alphabetical writing and the preferred method of communication by the ancients because they revealed meaning directly to the intuition of an intellectual.67 By the seventeenth century, the Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher (1601-1680) brought hieroglyphic studies of the Renaissance tradition to a climax with an all-encompassing "decipherment" of hieroglyphs, which were presented as a font of the most esoteric theological and scientific knowledge.68 In Masonic circles of the nineteenth-century, this hieroglyphic romanticism was undeterred by Champollion's legitimate decipherment (1822) and the subject of esoteric Egypt continued to flourish the through re-editions of Abbé Terrasson's novel Sethos (1731), which tells the story of an Egyptian Prince initiated into the mysteries of Isis. For the next two hundred years overt Egyptian décor was used to great effect in Masonic Lodges and in the buildings designed by freemasons. Masonic artists and inventors of Masonic iconography sought devices in the architecture and detail of Egypt, linking them with the ideas of the Temple of Solomon to produce a curious syncretism not easily explained under the architectural category of Beaux-Arts Neoclassicism, Egyptomania, or Orientalism.
Above all we must endeavour to treat our architecture as a whole, to handle our ornament not as a thing deducted at will, but to place it only where it is really necessary for giving the fullest meaning to the motives of our designs (Legislative Building designer Henry Boddington, Manitoba's Architects Association in 1915).69
Ascending the stairs of the Grand Staircase Hall one enters into the spacious domed rotunda. The center of the rotunda contains a marble balustrade surrounding a circular opening which reveals a black eight-pointed star superimposed on the marble floor of the lower level. The lower chamber, called the "Pool of the Black Star," apparently modeled [on] sacrifice altars in ancient Egypt where the altar symbolized the microcosm of the centre of the universe.70 This association was later elaborated in Renaissance architectural theory in which the altar began to be situated in the center of the church as a geometric demonstration that god was one and absolute (unico e assoluto).71 According to Alberti, all geometries used in church design must be derived from and constructed from the circle, because the circle is the preferred form in nature as a manifestation of God, in the aspiration to absolute perfection.72 Though typically rectangular, many sanctuaries in the classical world also occurred in a circular plan, some bearing a remarkable resemblance to the plan of the Pool of the Black Star. For instance, the sanctuary of Apollo at Didyma (c. 300 B.C.E.), which was decorated with bukrania and a Gorgon head, also housed an oracular altar that measured thirteen feet - the same size of both the balustrade and the black border of the eight-pointed star in the Manitoba Legislative Building.73
The unique feature about the Pool of the Black Star is its unusual auditory qualities, in which sounds from all over the building magnify within the space occupied by the Black Star. Its acoustical resonance is a striking example of Legislature's incorporation of the divine proportion, for if you divide the height to the eye of the dome (87 feet) by the Pool's diameter (54 feet) it produces a number almost exactly equivalent to the golden mean ratio (1.6111…).74 For Lawlor, a similar form of acoustic resonance was also devised in ancient Egyptian temples which produced some of the most harmonious intervals found in music: the octaves, fifths, fourths, thirds and sixths.75 A similar claim is made by Anne Bulckens in her brilliant dissertation on the proportional system of the Parthenon (c. 447-438 B.C.E.), where the author demonstrates how all of the building's dimensions are related to the musical scale of Pythagoras.76
In Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism, Rudolf Wittkower shows the Pythagorean ratios of numerical harmony (eurhythmia) employed in the Italian Renaissance. For instance, Alberti's Santa Maria Novella in Florence (1470) was inspired by the intention to implement the laws of Nature to divinize architecture.77 In De Harmonia Mundi (1525), the Kabbalist friar, Francesco Giorgi proclaims that by the numbers and proportions of Pythagoras "the fabric of the soul and the whole world was arranged and perfected."78 Giorgi went on to employ this idea for his plan of San Francesco della Vigna in Venice (1534), which has shown as a practical application of the harmonies of macrocosm and microcosm.79 Understood in this way, the design of the church can be interpreted as the physical enactment of Divine will, and its sacred geometry conceived as a type of blueprint for the mind of God.
Similar views were also espoused in Freemasonry, which envisioned geometry as a secret science, handed down by God to Hiram Abif, the builder of Solomon's Temple.80 By conceiving geometry as a way of having direct access to order of the Universe, freemasons were able to conceive a utopian ideal of society based on the same principles by which master-builders constructed the temples of antiquity.81 For the Masonic architects of the eighteenth-century, geometry garnered a transcendental meaning:
…geometrical bodies were considered to be the most appropriate vehicle for reconciling man and his institutions with the external Nature. This geometry was not a method or operation. The figures were used because they were believed to be the fundamental constitutive and visible elements of Nature.82
Geometry also served as a crucial element in Simon's architectural training at the École des Beaux-Arts which instilled Vitruvius' principles of symmetry. Vitruvius advocated the construction of temples in accordance with proportions derived from the human body.83 These proportions not only included the Golden Section, but also an extrapolation of circles and squares originating from an upright human figure standing with arms and legs extended, the 'Vitruvian Man.' Buildings that followed the harmonic proportions of Vitruvius could be conceived of as a conduit of Nature's creature power. In my interpretation, the architectural program of the Manitoba Legislative Building is conceived in a similar manner as its unique geometry is encoding with powerful images intended to symbolically guide, direct, and shape the lives of its visitors. This reading also reflects Simon's belief that "the effect of the building would in the course of time make the people around it, more perceptive, more intelligent, better balanced and altogether more civilized beings."84
On the main level of the Rotunda, Brangwyn's large mural above the entrance to the Legislative Chamber depicts Canada's efforts in the First World War,85 as well as a veiled illustration of the passion of Christ. Abstract portrayals of Christ were common in Brangwyn's religious commissions which included illustrations in Chesterton's commentary The Way of the Cross, as well as murals for Christ's Church, London, and St. Aidans Church, Leeds. The presence of Christ is also exemplied in the Rotunda's explicit repetition of the number thirteen.86 One of the most striking examples of this is found in the tripod Pompeian lamps surrounding the room's perimeter which feature twelve small lights encircling a thirteenth larger light in the center; an allusion which is meant to recall the story of Jesus surrounded by his twelve apostles at the Last Supper.
Christ's depiction in the Rotunda is however only one layer of meaning in this highly symbolic room. Another reading is from the hidden Masonic symbolism also present. Contrary to the public outcry that Freemasonry is anti-Christian, much of the philosophy and symbolism of Freemasonry is in fact indebted to Christian ideals as well as to allegorical references in the Gospels, which refer to masonry and building with stone.87 The combining of Masonry and Christianity is also reflected in Anderson's Constitutions where Jesus is referred to as the "Grand Master of the Christian Church."88 Also, in the Third Degree Ritual the candidate undergoes a dramatic death and resurrection ceremony modeled on Christ. When the Master Mason is raised from the "dead" he "is no longer an ordinary man, but is now Lord of himself; the true Master-Mason…."89
As early as the seventeenth century, masons are introduced to the Christian character of their order and maintain that a mason's duty is to be faithful to God and his Holy Church. Later Masonic exposures go further by showing an interest of masons in identifying with the person of Christ.90 For instance, the Graham manuscript (1726), 'dealing with the clothing and posture of the candidate on taking his oath, explains them by reference to the double nature of Christ, implying that by faithfully imitating his Master, the Christian may become a participant in his divinity.'91 This Christ-centred spirituality descended from the medieval tradition reappears in Samuel Pritchard's Masonry Dissected (1730), in which the "Grand Architect of the Universe" is explicitly identified with "He that was taken up to the top of the pinnacle of the Holy Temple." Moreover, in the section "Questions concerning the Temple," in the Dumfries no. 4 Manuscript (1710), Solomon's Temple and furniture are interpreted in reference to Christ and to diverse attributes of Christ.
Returning to the central figure in the Brangwyn mural, we see that its imagery resembles the Entered Apprentice Rite of Freemasonry in which the initiate is brought into the center of the temple with his chest exposed and upon the arm of the Senior Warden. As part of the ritual drama the candidate participates in the following dialogue:
Worshipful Master: "What are the ornaments of the temple?"
Candidate: "The mosaic pavement, the indented tessel and the blazing star in the center".
Although couched in Masonic terminology, these features are all present in the Rotunda and the Black Star visible from its center. The mosaic pavement is simply an inlay pattern of small black squares decorating the floor of a lodge, an the indented tessel is an ornamented border which surrounds the mosaic pavement, and the blazing star is, of course, the radiant star depicted on floor cloths of the First Degree Rite.
The visual representation of rituals surrounding Freemasonry have produced countless intriguing art works during the past two hundred years, many of which incorporate symbols and emblems related to architecture. For instance, the Mason's emblematic floor cloth, or tracing board is among the paraphernalia of Freemasonry that explicitly portrays symbols borrowed from architecture's operative roots. In his chapter on Masonic architecture, Vidler speculates that the fundamental idea of the floor cloth is for the purpose of consecrating the sacred space of the assembly, and the act of drawing the lodge is meant to recall similar foundation rituals as those found in the architectural profession.92 As a Masonic tableau, the floor cloth is an example of an emblematic representative of the Temple which frames an allegorical ritual. For Vidler, the early floor cloths used in French Freemasonry during the mid eighteenth century are allegorical of:
…the first Temple of Solomon and its attributes, they were evidently laid out to describe a route from the point of entry into the lodge to the point of reception - the route of initiation. The drawings were differentiated according to the ordered stages of the initiation process, and to the three grades of initiation of Apprentice, Companion, and Master (emphasis added).93
Ritualistic devices derived from Masonic regalia were necessary tools in order to establish an allegorical connection between Freemasonry and the ideal of Solomon's Temple. This development in French Freemasonry during the mid eighteenth century in consecrating the ritual space by means of the floor cloth occurs at the same time that Masonic architects began to influence the theories and principles of design at the École des Beaux-Arts. This is a key feature for understanding the Masonic complexity of the Legislative Building's design, which replaces the emblematic Temple depicted on Masonic tracing boards with the physical Temple constructed with the traditional tools of the mason's craft. Passing from the floor cloth to the actual design of real buildings marks a major transformation in the institution of Freemasonry, which occurred in the late eighteenth century and reaches its apogee in the architectural design of the Manitoba Legislative Building. In this architectural re-enactment of allegorical Masonic ritual, the lines of distinction between visitor and participant blur and culminate in the entry to the most sacred part of the Temple: the Holy of Holies.
It is recommended to Masons to study, with constancy and without becoming discouraged, everything that has to do with Solomon's Temple, its proportions and its different parts, and the numbers that are pertinent…none of these things were fixed upon without purpose; they all tend essentially to recount the history of mankind, and to demonstrate a certain relationship with the Temple and the Universe (Willermoz, Instructions Secrètes aux Grands Profes).94
For generations, Freemasons were taught that the Order had been established among the workmen who built Solomon's Temple, the creation of which became the central leitmotif of all Masonic fellowships, as its most important ceremony, the ritual of the "Blue Lodge," is conceived around the story of its construction. The reconstruction of the Solomonic Temple in Freemasonic thought represented both the intention to imitate the rules of divine architecture and to apply the natural laws of proportion as part of the search for an individual and common purification. The relation of the Temple to the idea of society was well understood by Freemasons, as is expressed Willermoz's decree:
Fundamentally, Freemasonry has no other aim than the knowledge of man and of nature; being founded on the Temple of Solomon [which]…has existed for itself in the universe solely to be the universal type of man in general in his past, present, and future states, and figurative emblematic picture of his own history.95
Located directly east of the Rotunda is the Lieutenant Governor's Reception Suite, a walnut paneled room used to receive royalty and foreign dignitaries on state occasions. Ornamented with hand-carved designs, fluted columns, a French gilt chandelier, and two reflecting mirrors,96 the room's internal floor plan equals the measurements of the Holy of Holies of Solomon's Temple. The premier journal of Masonic research, Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, which published a study on the value of the systems of measurement adopted at Solomon's Temple, determined the cubit to be 14.4 inches.97 When this unit of measurement is applied to the floor plan of the Lieutenant-Governor's Reception Room (24 feet square), it turns out to be a replica of the cubit dimensions of the Temple's most sacred precinct (20 cubits square, see 1 Kings 6:15).
The Holy of Holies was a sacred chamber in Solomon's Temple, which housed the bible's most holy relic, the Ark of the Covenant. Every freemason who has undergone the Third Degree Rite is well informed of the function and religious significance of the Holy of Holies.98 As the most consecrated of the three parts of the Temple, the Holy of Holies is symbolic of a Master's Lodge where the most sacred rites of initiation in Ancient Craft Masonry were performed.99 Separated from the rest of the Temple by a woven blue veil, the Holy of Holies was a windowless enclosure set apart from all intrusion, as it was believed that the presence of the Lord was too powerful for direct contact.100 Those who have taken a tour of the legislature will immediately note some of these correspondences to the Lieutenant Governor's Suite, which is similarly veiled with an ornately designed blue curtain and almost never occupied. Even more revealing is that the only room in the Legislature strictly forbidden to the public. Similarly, no one was permitted to access the Holy of Holies of Solomon's Temple, save for the High Priest on the annual observance, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. As the highest appointed representative of Her Majesty in the province of Manitoba, the Lieutenant Governor is strangely synonymous with this earthly representative of God.
This correspondence is amplified when one compares the religious function and devotional duties of the sacred chamber's only attendant, the High Priest, and the municipal and constitutional responsibilities of the Lieutenant Governor, who takes precedence over everyone in the province except for the Sovereign. The Lieutenant Governor is the Queen's highest provincial representative symbolizing both the apex and the unifying link in the constitutional and political structure of the province.101 It is through the Lieutenant Governor, as the personification of the Crown, that all legislation receives 'Royal Assent,' a concept which is synonymous with the 'divine assent' officiated by the High-Priest in the Jewish temple.102 This association is further compounded when we consider that the War Chest situated directly above the Reception Suite on the exterior east entrance is a representational analogue of Holy of Holies' most sacred relic, the Ark of the Covenant.
The Ark of the Covenant was both the earthy manifestation of God and a powerful talisman carried into battle as a divine weapon. Dating from the time of Moses, the Ark was a portable shrine inscribed by the finger of God measuring two and a half cubits in length, one and a half cubits in breadth and in height (3.9" in length and 2.3" wide and in depth).103 The Ark served as a throne for the invisible God, an altar for the sacrificial cult, and a repository for the two tablets containing the Ten Commandments.104 It was constructed of setim wood overlaid with the gold, and decorated by two winged cherubim, feared creatures of antiquity who according to Exodus (25:19) acted as courtiers of the "Majesty of God." From analogy with ancient Near Eastern religious art, cherubim were kneeling or standing winged genie conscripted as guardians of sacred treasures.105 These are not the adorable cherubim of Renaissance art, but as the book of Genesis attests (3:24), armed warriors who protected the "Tree of Life" in the Garden of Eden.
In Masonic ritual three ruffians attempting to extract the 'secret word' of the Master Mason murder Solomon's Temple's chief architect, Hiram Abif. After recovering Hiram's body, King Solomon has his workmen bury him beneath the Holy of Holies, which becomes his eternal resting place. In the Master Mason degree the candidate is symbolically raised from the dead and conferred with the 'secret word' by the Worshipful Master, and thus becomes identified with Hiram. Here we find a deeper symbolism of the sanctum sanctorum as more than just the resting place for the Ark of the Covenant but the ideal and true Temple of God. It is my contention that Simon designed the Manitoba Legislature not simply a house of parliament, but an example of what I have here labelled masonic parlante, as its architectural program speaks in Masonic allegories intended to guide its visitors through initiation and rebirth. Thus contrary to Pérez-Gómez's so-called 'rationalization of architecture,' this building stands as a testament to the continuation of esotericism in architecture beyond the clash of ancients and moderns in the eighteenth-century.
In my assessment, the Manitoba Legislature is a eulogy in stone on esoteric philosophy, temple mysticism, Vitruvian and Pythagorean notions of harmony, and the architectural theories of Saint Maux, Le Camus, de Wailly, Lequeu, and Willermoz. Beneath the façade of its Neoclassical elegance lurks a symphony of masonic dictums and underlying order so intelligently masked it has escaped historians and visitors for over eighty years. Its complex Masonic symbolism serves as a meta-narrative behind the building's seemingly eclectic design. The story it tells is one of initiation, where the visitor becomes the participant in an allegorical mystery, which begins with purification and solar protection, instruction in the Entered Apprentice Rite and imitation of Christ, and concludes with being identified with Hiram Abif, the master-craftsman of Solomon's Temple.
Frank Albo is a Research Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Winnipeg. He is the recipient of many prestigious scholarships and awards including the Murphy Foundation, Huygens Scholarship, and the Chancellor's Medal of academic excellence. Albo currently resides in The Netherlands where he studies mysticism and Western esotericism at the University of Amsterdam.
PERFECTIBILISTS: The 18th Century Bavarian Order of the Illuminati, by Terry Melanson
The Ascendancy of the Scientific Dictatorship, by Paul & Phillip Collins
Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism, by Abbe Barruel
Fire in the Minds of Men: Origins of the Revolutionary Faith, by James H. Billington
America's Secret Establishment: An Introduction to the Order of Skull & Bones, by Antony C. Sutton