As above, so below
During the height of Winnipeg’s economic prosperity at the turn of the century, the Legislative Building of Manitoba was born, but not without numerous symbolic references relating to the secretive traditions of the Freemasons. Recently, Frank Albo, a Research Fellow at the University of Winnipeg, has gone public over his four-year quest to reveal the link between Freemasonry and the architecture of the Manitoba Legislative Building.
The Legislative Building was designed by Frank W. Simon who studied at the cole des Beaux-Arts where many of the Masonic ideals in architecture such as the theoretical treatise of Jacques-Franois Blondel, the affinity for Egyptian architecture, and the strict observance of Vitruvian geometry were taught. With a fascination for sacred architecture, the Freemasons encoded their buildings with secret geometric orders and religious symbols that were hidden in plain view from the uninitiated.
The list of Masonic influences found in Simon’s building is lengthy, but a few features are worth noting. The secret and secular society of Freemasons believe that their knowledge originates from ancient Egypt and in particular, Pharaoh Thutmosis III whose name is inconspicuously carved in a hieroglyphic inscription on the Sphinxes flanking the building’s north pediment. The Sphinxes remain hidden from those at ground level.
Adhering to the conventions of an ancient temple, the Legislative Building also contains numerous references to Solomon’s Temple–the preeminent symbol of Freemasonry. According to Albo, the Masonic Cubit (i.e. 14.4 inches) was employed as the unit of measurement for the Lieutenant-Governor’s Reception Suite whose floor plan precisely replicates that of the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s Temple. Comparing the religious functions of the High Priest to the constitutional duties of the Lieutenant-Governor–who ceremoniously reigns over every citizen in Manitoba, except for the Sovereign–the infusion of Freemason affinity for ceremonial duties in a public building in Canada is fascinating, albeit disturbing.
And what would a Holy of Holies be without the Ark of the Covenant? Seeing no Ark in the Reception Suite, Albo discovered a representation of the Ark on the exterior of the east faade, just above the window leading out of the Reception Suite. The Ark of the Covenant is regarded as an earthly manifestation of God and is seen by the Masons as a powerful symbol of wisdom and secrets. The Ark was a repository of the tablets containing the Ten Commandments and is supposed to be protected by two winged warriors. In Winnipeg, a Native and a British warrior guard the Ark which is officially referred to as the “War Chest.”
Everything is done for a “good reason” and a “real reason.” For this Manitoba building, the two principal resources of Manitoba–the fertile land and the railway system–are represented through Masonic symbols. A black eight-pointed star represents the earth. Hermes, the Greek messenger god represents the railway system, along with Winnipeg’s central geographic position of commerce. In Winnipeg, Hermes, the patron of Freemasonry, is the “Golden Boy.” Symbolic of either the star of Bethlehem or Venus, the Blazing Black Star is one of the most conspicuous symbols of a Masonic Lodge. When a Masonic candidate is asked what are the ornaments in a Lodge, his response is supposed to be: “The Mosaic Pavement, the Indented Tessel, and the Blazing Star in the centre.” All of these features comprise the inlaid floor of the Legislative Building’s Rotunda.
As a final note, the cornerstone of the building was laid on July 3, 1914. On this date, Mercury and Venus were in near perfect alignment. This parallels the perfect alignment of the Black Star and the Golden Boy in the building’s centre and serves as an ideal metaphor for the famous Hermetic axiom: “As above, so below.” The alignment of symbolism through secretive and double-meanings exists throughout much of the idealized architecture of Freemasonry. In the case of the Manitoba Legislature, the symbolism is in plain view, yet remains hidden. To the ruling elites at the time, and to many Freemasons today, the Legislative Building of Manitoba was a focus of Masonic activity in North America and remains so to this day. Ask a Mason, and he’ll tell you.
All photography is by Henry Kalen.