Monday, April 21, 2014

Obelisk and Freemasonry

by Bro. Carlo Reynaldo F. Lozada, Jr.
     District Executive Assistant, R13-A

Sometimes associated with Masonry, yet the obelisk is not counted among the Masonic symbols.  But a long history lies behind the fascination on this plain but ancient stone piece.

Freemasonry, as we know it now, only started sometime in the 17th century.  This was the time of Renaissance when people had begun questioning the church, monarchy and the prevailing societal norms in general.   Freemasonry was then a way to become a "free thinker".

Thus, to Freemasons, groping for mystic enlightenment in the 1800s, the obelisk was the only architectural symbol of Egyptian deity Osiris still in existence.  Obelisk mania had already swept into Freemasonry by the time Napoleon  Bonaparte set sail for Egypt in 1798.  Whether he was Mason or not is still disputed.  But his four brothers certainly were.   He was also encircled by Masonic advisors who had convinced him that Egypt held original secrets of history, philosophy and of course, Freemsonry.  Masons figured among the 150 scholars who had joined the emperor on his triumphant Nile progress, pillaging pyramids, temples and toms all in the name of learning.

They instantly realized that the Rosetta Stone might unlock the lost language of Egypt.  Deciphering the engraved hieroglyphs had taken many years and the genius of Jean-Francois  Champollion.  Yet, he even needed the help of an obelisk bearing Cleopatra's cartouche, which had been removed for shipment to England in 1818 by a Masonic adventurer, Giovanni Battista Belzoni.

Belzoni was a mountebank archeologist who opened up the temple of Abu Simbel and the Second Pyramid of Giza.  He begun his Masonic career in Cairo, appropriately, the Lodge of the Pyramids and joined lodges in Cambridge and Norwich.  He died in 1825, searching for "Timbuctoo" or the source of the Niger.   But not before he did Freemasonry an inestimable service by claiming to have discovered an ancient Masonic Temple in Thebes.  He claimed its wall paintings showed Osiris being initiated into Freemasonry, pursuing its sublime mysteries and clad in a distinctive Masonic apron and awarding other masons a higher degree.

After Belzoni died, his wife, Sarah transcribed his notes, including this declaration,  "Let the Masonic brethren search, and they will find, that the Egyptian Masonic key will unlock the hitherto unrevealed mysteries of Egyptian wisdom."   No matter that his Masonic temple turned out to be the tomb of Pharaoh Seti I, and that all he (or Sarah) had written where bunkum, Masons at that time felt they owed much to Belzoni.  His Masonic "discoveries" sent packs of them off to Egypt in search of obelisks to plunder.

Paris was the first major European city to fall for this Masonic fad.  In 1830, the Viceroy of Egypt, Mohamed Ali, gave France's King Charles X a magnificent obelisk which was 3,500 years old and weighed 246 tons at a height of 92 feet.  It still stands at Plaza de la  Concorde today.  Another obelisk was given to England.  It weighed 186 tons.

It now stands at the Victoria Embankment along River Thames.  this is known as one of "Cleopatra's Needle".

The news that English Masons had succeeded in erecting Cleopatra's Needle encouraged American Masons to ship its twin across the Atlantic.  The Obelisk was given to America in 1877.  But 2 years had passed before it had been done.  It weighed 220 tons.

It now stands at Central Park, New York, USA.  More obelisks then sprouted all over the world in localities where Masons were present.  The more famous is the George Washington Monument, the first president of the USA.

Yet, not all Obelisks are Masonic symbols.  Rome ahs about 11 where most have been brought from Egypt by ancient emperors who were deluded by grandeur.  Caligula's obelisk now stands at the very heart of the Roman Catholic Church capital, at St. Peter's Square at the Vatican.  It was Pope Sixtus V who was responsible for the erection of this 132-ft and 320-ton obelisk.

Churches of other Christian denominations likewise utilized the obelisk in their structure.   "Obelisks were considered tasteful, with pure uplifting lines, associated with ancient greatness, patriotic, able to be used in relatively small spaces, and perhaps most importantly, obelisks were less costly than large and elaborate sculpted monuments.   There were many cultural reasons for the revival style of the 19th century.   Freemasonry while part of the overall cultural influence, was not responsible for the prevalence of obelisks." (Macdowell and Meyer - "The Revival Styles in American Memorial Art")

Here in the Philippines, the most famous obelisks are that of Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio monuments in Rizal Park and Caloocan-Monumento, respectively.  In fact the silhouette/outline of the Rizal monument is present in the vehicle license plates.  Clearly this particular design in the plates has no Masonic connotation at all.

Nowhere can you find the word "obelisks" in our Monitor, landmarks, Constitution, by-laws, ordinances and edicts.  It may be associated with Freemasonry.  But it is by no means a Masonic symbol, nor exclusive to the Craft.

Source :  The Cabletow, Vol 89 No. 5, March-April 2013 Issue

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