Masonic Republics

Masonic Republics?

In a post entitled ¡Viva la Revolución! (3 March 2011) I looked at the influence of Freemasonry in 19th-century Latin America, a series observations and quotes about the Masonic influence on some of the many wars for independence against the Spanish Empire.  I mostly looked at Masonic symbolism on flags, state seals, coats of arms, etc.  We saw that in many cases, the Masonic symbols were indistinguishable from symbols of the French Revolution, which in turn mirror many of those found in Freemasonry.

In retrospect, my article is a rather flawed and superficial piece and represents the serious limits to my reading in the subject.  I hope that this post and others to follow will help flesh out what I’ve already written, but one should always keep in mind that I’m doing a lot of speculation, kind of like wondering about the subject out loud.

This sequel began as a result of my trip last year to South America, where I saw so many Masonic elements on public monuments my head began to spin.  Buenos Aires and especially Rio de Janeiro are rife with monuments that are either explicitly Masonic or dedicated to groups in accordance with Masonic ideals.  This was also true, to a much lesser extent, in Montevideo, where it nevertheless all started.

Artigas Mausoleum

The monument to José Gervasio Artigas Arnal in the Plaza Independencia bears many striking similarities to the Monument to Estácio de Sá, a monument I hadn’t yet seen for myself in Rio, but had written about thanks to a photo and some description from my brother-in-law Alfredo Buendia.  These two monuments also have a lot in common with the Temple du Sagesse Suprême in Blagnac, about which I’ve written extensively and has since become a well-known object of vilification.

Artigas (June 19, 1764 – September 23, 1850) is called “the father of Uruguayan nationhood” just as George Washington is called the “father of our country” in the U.S.  In fact, there is a group of FoundingFathers, which is an essay unto itself: the implied paternalism of the state, its reflection of a thoroughly ingrained patriarchal society, etc.  But that’s another story.

Normal then that the capital city Montevideo would honor the man in a way which is brilliantly symbolic.  His mausoleum is at the center of Plaza Independencia, just as the man himself was at the center of Uruguayan independence.  This Plaza also separates the old city from the new, not only diving pre- and post-revolutionary quarters of the city, but symbolically representing the division of theancien régime and the new world order and thus Europe and the Americas.

Was Artigas himself a Mason?  He was part of a Masonic-like society called the Society of the Eastern Knights (Sociedad de los Caballeros Orientales), according to the Wikipedia page on compatriotManuel OribeAn article in El Pueblo (Salto, Uruguay) states:  Los representantes de la Escuela Hiram reiteraron que José Gervasio Artigas no integró la Masonería pero afirmaron que ‘a su alrededor habían masones’.  Simply put, Artigas himself never joined but was surrounded by Masons; the article also traces the strong role of Masonry in the Uruguayan independence movement.

(For those who read Spanish, here’s more about the quasi-Masonic Lautaro Lodges).

In ¡Viva….! I proposed that the sun in the national flags of Uruguay and Argentina (among other countries) derives from Masonic sources.  I wouldn’t want to make weirdo leaps of faith, but I couldn’t help thinking that Uruguay’s full name, the “Oriental Republic of Uruguay” refers to more than its place on the South American continent.  I don’t think it’s unreasonable to imagine that there was also a sly reference here to Oriental Masonry, the French-born Continental form of Masonry which dominates South American Freemasonry to this day, where each national jurisdiction is known as a Grand Orient as opposed to a Grand Lodge, and which have a number of doctrinal differences from Anglo-American Masonry.  Thus we also see a lot of French symbols among Latin American revolutionary symbols, many of which, as I stated earlier, are also Masonic.

This inkling of mine about the ord “Oriental” was reinforced when I saw the Plaza de los Treinta y Tres, or Plaza of the Thirty-Three.  These “33” are in fact the Treinta y Tres Orientales, a fighting force led byJuan Antonio Lavalleja (1784-1853),  a Freemason, whose insurrection against the Empire of Brazil “culminated in the foundation of modern Uruguay.”

Funny thing is “The true number of the group has been the object of controversy, based on the existence of various lists of members, published between 1825 and 1832. Albeit thirty-three is the officially accepted number, the names differ from list to list”.

I don’t believe the number 33 is an average of those lists or scientific estimation, nor is it merely pulled from a hat.  I would wager that it is symbolically representing the 33 degrees of the Scottish Rite, like the the 32 rays of the Sol de Mayo on the Argentine flag and the 1828 version of Uruguay’s flag.  This version was designed by Joaquin Suárez (1781-1861) who the GOFMU claims was a Freemason.  (Note that there are 32 degrees to be earned, and one honorary degree; thus both 32 and 33 can allude to these degrees).  Is it possible that Freemasons active in the formation of Uruguay could in this way symbolically lay claim to a Masonic foundation of the fledgling state?  I wouldn’t wager my life on it, but grok if you will the following image.  The Estévez Palace, the former workplace of the Uruguayan President and now a museum, displays relics of its early presidents.  One of those articles:  a Masonic sash, with the 33 inscribed within a Delta in glory.  I believe it’s Oribe’s sash, but my memory fails me and I didn’t take notes.  If anyone in Montevideo can confirm this I’d be grateful.

Treinta y Tres, by the way, is also the name of one of Uruguay’s 19 provinces.  It’s capital city bears the same name and “Together with Ejido de Treinta y Tres and the southwestern suburb of Villa Sara, they form a population centre of around 33,000 inhabitants.”

I was delighted to see on Wikipedia that the population of Uruguay is rounded to 3.3 million!

Oribe’s (?) Masonic Sash.  Palacio Estévez.

Artigas’ Mausoleum, opened in 1977, contains a great deal of Masonic symbolism.  The above-ground portion is a truncated pyramid, which, like the pyramid on the American one dollar bill, suggests that the nation’s work is not finished; it must, like men and Masons, continue to progress in life towards perfection.  It is a symbol which implies betterment through education and walks hand in hand with the notion of scientific and social progress in addition to the fundamental assumptions of capitalism, which despite the negative connotation of capitalism among contemporary  “progressives”, was then considered progressive during the Enlightenment; strange to many American ears, the word “liberal” in Spanish and French still implies the tendency towards laissez-faire politics in economics and law.

Truncated Pyramid
Related, or not?

The pyramid is open at the top, which allows a shaft of light, one of the foremost Masonic symbols, to shine upon Artigas’ urn.  Two guards are stationed to either side like Jachin and Boaz, the silent sentinels of a Masonic Lodge, but this is certainly a poetic metaphor in my own invention rather than an intentional reference!


As Mackey’s Encyclopedia says:  “In the ceremonies of Freemasonry, we find the cavern or vault in what is called the Cryptic Freemasonry of the American Rite, and also in the advanced Degrees of the French and Scottish Rites, in which it is a symbol of the darkness of ignorance and crime impenetrable to the light of truth.”

If this is an accurate reading of the cavern symbol, the architects of this monument have done well to allow the light to fall upon Artigas’ remains.  He who led them out of ignorance and into truth, “illuminated” as one might say.  Hence the sun on the Uruguayan flag, was well as the appellation “Oriental” for the nation?  After all, the sun rises in the East, the direction revered by Masons as the source of light, or wisdom.

I tried to discern numerical symbolism in the number of panels and alcoves in the mausoleum, but didn’t come across much, though I do find some meaning in the fact that it resembles the tessellated floor of a Lodge.

The truncated pyramid, however, does have three layers of marble, so this may reflect the basic Masonic degree structure of three degrees.

Monument to Estácio de Sá

Let’s compare the artigas mausoleum to a monument I’ve previously written about, the Estácio de Sá monument in Rio de Janeiro.  Sá (1520-1567) , like Artigas, was a soldier and the “father” if you will, of Rio.  The monument is a pyramid which above ground is composed of 13 layers.  The American flag of course has 13 stripes the number appears in many places on the reverse side of the dollar bill.  It is also the number of layers in the pyramid in the Temple de la Sagesse Suprême, a monument I’ll discuss in the next section.  I read the pyramid, like simpler geometric forms, as abstractions which, though based on naturally-occurring shapes, are not so commonly found in nature; they are “perfected” versions of mountains, fruit, rocks the sun and the moon.  You can see from this photo that in my original post I slightly misinterpreted its form due to the camera angle of the photo at my disposition, but I think this interpretation is essentially correct.

Like the Artigas mausoleum, light shines into the crypt

Before this pyramid is a triangular window, formed with smaller triangular panes of glass. Just like Artigas’ monument, this aperture allows light to shine into the crypt below, shaped as a triangle, following the perimeter of the low wall which marks the boundaries of the exoteric monument above:  as above, so below.  This crypt serves as a small exhibition space, but also houses a reproduction of Sá’s tomb.  A remarkable parallel.  Unlike the Artigas mausoleum, the pyramid continues underground for several more layers.  A sinister interpretation is that this represents the hidden forces below the surface of everyday politics, perhaps even echoing the cave-like effect produced in a Masonic lodge, where the ceremonial space is always windowless.  A less sinister interpretation as that this represents deeper forms of knowledge, higher values which ironically, are accessed by going into the deeper concerns of man beyond everyday living.

This above/below theme is reflected in the triangle of sand below these windows.  A quirky thought occurs to me:  sand is used to make glass.  Perhaps this is another metaphor for the powers of reason and enlightenment?  Sand is used to make glass, which in turn allows us to illuminate once-darkened spaces.  Here again though, I think we’re entering the realm of the poetic imagination rather than objective analysis.

I should also mention that the small paved plaza around the pyramid is a triangle, as is the crypt itself.  Every form used in its construction, then, is a triangle, or based on one.

The triangle on the floor

As my brother-in-law discussed the symbolism with the monitor in Portuguese during my visit, I was able to make out one thing the monitor said, and that is the form of this monument had been inspired by the “fact” that Sá  was a Freemason.  This claim is possible; the earliest indications of Masonic-like lodges date to Scotland and France in the 1530’s.  Whether true or not, the claim that he was is significant, as well as that the form was chosen as an homage to Masonry.  The architect and people who paid him seem to have wanted to link the founding of their city with Freemasonry.  Indeed, the Flag of Brazil is a very natural green and blue, decorated with stars.  Above this nature symbolism are words, not shapes:  “Order and Progress.”  This encapsulates Masonic values regarding the perfectibility of human nature and via democracy, society as a whole.

Pirámide de Mayo

The pyramid is also has a strong solar connection; as tombs of the Pharaohs, they were essential for survival after death.  Like the sun itself, they signify re-birth.  This in turn is one symbolic meaning of the New World, a fresh start, a perfection of the Old, a new day as it were.  We can here point to the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral.  The pediment, a triangle naturally, depicts the reunion of Joseph with his father and brothers in Egypt.  Though it represents reconciliation, it also provided the sculptor to scene by including the three pyramids of Giza in the background.  Buenos Aires’ most prominent landmark is an enormous obelisk, after all, and I’ve never seen such a prolific use of the obelisk in miniature scattered throughout a city, except in Rio.  I also passed a small pyramid in a public park near the Recoleta cemetery, the cemetery of the city’s illustrious and wealthy…and where explicit Masonic symbols abound.  The Sun and two hands shaking in fellowship derive from Masonry; the Phrygian cap was derived from the French Revolution.  All three symbols are ubiquitous in Argentina, as they form they principal elements of the country’s coat of arms.
These symbols are also displayed on the Pyramid of May  (1811), a monument in Buenos Aires’ Plaza de Mayo.  The pyramid was ordered by the Primera Junta to celebrate the first anniversary of the May Revolution that led to removal of the Spanish Viceroy and the establishment of the Junta, the first local government on the path to independence.  The president of this Junta, its two secretaries and five of six committee members were Freemasons.

The Pyramid was originally crowned by a ball finial and encircled with 12 pillars, also with ball finials.  The number 13 appears yet again!  This original Pyramid was renovated and significantly modified in 1856 under the direction of Prilidiano Pueyrredón, a Freemason.

As for the sheer number of obelisks and pyramids, however, Rio has Buenos Aires beat, but I think I’ll compile that list for another post.

Temple de la Sagesse Supreme

A third monument I’d like to touch upon is the pyramid monument located at the heart of Blagnac’s (France) Place de la Revolution named the Temple de la Sagesse Supreme.  A thirteen-layered pyramid sits at the center of the plaza, as if literally at the heart of not only the Revolution, but the subsequent State, represented by an abstract form of a house from within the center of which pokes the tip of the pyramid.  It’s symbolic position at the heart of the Revolution is echoes in both the Pyramid of May and the Artigas Mausoleum.  The pyramid rises with the state, from the masses at the bottom to the President at top, which actually rises about the state itself.  The Sun is metaphorically represented by a circular pathway which radiates outwards.  Here the Sun may represent a new day, but also France’s self-proclaimed role as a beacon of Liberty, radiating its revolutionary principles throughout the world.  In fact, a tessellated map of world once lay beneath the pyramid, which is a working fountain.  The pyramids of Sá and Artigas are within view of the sea, perhaps this fountain replaces that natural watery setting.  Why that would be I’m not sure, as water is not really a Masonic symbol, although both the anchor and the ark are.  Perhaps then this refers to the story of Noah, whose story is important not only to Freemasonry, but esoteric circles in general.  As we’ve seen inprevious posts, Noah’s story represents….a new start for the world.

The light however, is not just symbolic.  In the ensemble of sculptures that flank the pyramid, a dog-like belvedere can emit a beam of light through a hole in the pyramid.  This too is reminiscent of the eye in the pyramid; because this “eye” also serves to transport light, it’s not at all “conspiracy theory” to believe it represents a wink in the direction of Enlightenment, if not a direct homage to the Bavarian Illuminati.  After all, Weishaupt did envision a small elite of enlightened men pulling the levers of the state; the pyramid with the eye is thus called the Temple of Supreme Wisdom.  The clincher is a bronze panel which quotes eccentric architect (and Freemason) Jean-Jacques Lequeu: “Happiness is in the angle where the sages gather.”  These sages are of course, enlightened, that is to say illuminated men.  Masons of course, meet on the square, a perfect equilibrium of four angles, a perfected microcosm of the natural world’s four directions, it’s winds, it’s elements….

Templo da Humanidade —  Rio de Janeiro

France’s self-image as a beacon of these values is not arrogance.  The beam of light passes through the eye to hit a crystal set within a tri-colored shield held by a stylized revolutionary carrying a halberd and wearing a Phrygian cap, the symbols repeatedly found in Latin American post-revolutionary heraldry, proof perfect that in fact the ideals of the French Revolution did indeed shine upon the world.  There is, for example, a positivist church in Rio, the Church of Humanity, oriented not towards Jerusalem, but Paris!  Positivism as a church values rationality and promotes universal fraternity; order is its foundation and progress is its aim.  There are some really good articles about the link between positivism and Freemasonry and their use of compulsory public education as means of achieving their goals of order and progress. Many positivists were  Freemasons, including fellows like Jules Ferry, who is primarily responsible for the laws of compulsory education in France.  The most Masonically-festooned tomb in the Recoleta is that of President Domingo Sarmiento, the “father of the Argentine education system” and obviously a Freemason.  I wholeheartedly recommend the articles here andhere for a history of positivism, Freemasonry, public education and Latin America.

This little comparison of these monuments is fitting for a fraternity rich in ideas expressed in architectural metaphors, for these monument express those ideas not with metaphorical architecture, but in real stone.  The link between Freemasonry and independence in Uruguay and Argentina, as well as in France, is I think clearly expressed in the symbols on these monuments.  A quick look at the people honored by them and who had a hand in making them also demonstrate a number of Freemasonic personalities that cannot be ignored.

So, a lot more could be written here, but for now I’ve hit a wall, the very same upon which I’ve just laid another brick.  There’ll be more to come….

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