Freemasons and Recoleta
Updated: Jun 18
My interest in freemasonry was sparked by a tour of Recoleta cemetery, and I mentioned it in my book, An Argentine in my Kitchen.
Recoleta is arguably the most luxurious cemetery in the world, with ostentatious decorations, many tombs made from the highest quality Belgian black marble, and statues carved by Italian sculptors. It is home to the remains of the greatest - and the richest - of Argentines: presidents, generals, business people, and many more. And, because there are so many tombs in Recoleta that display masonic symbols, the importance of freemasonry in Argentina's history soon becomes clear.
Freemasons, of course, have been around for centuries, building palaces and cathedrals for the royalty and nobility of Europe. From these 'artisan' or 'operative' freemasons, a new group formed, referred to as 'speculative' freemasonry. The 'speculative' freemasons were those groups of gentlemen who met in lodges not associated with actual building works, but who used masonic symbols in their rites.
Whilst in the past, freemasonry was very discrete, it is now quite easy to find information, and even interviews with freemasons, on the internet. Freemasonry has traditionally been a fraternal association, but more recently, in some countries, women have become freemasons. The aim of freemasonry seems to be slightly different depending on whom you ask, and an internet search will give you answers such as, 'it's a society to make good men better men,' or 'to have high moral and social standards in friendship, charity and integrity.' To join the society a member must be initiated through various rites, and there are further rites as a freemason becomes more senior. People of all religions are accepted, and there is a belief in the presence of a 'grand architect,' who represents a neutral deity. Freemasons have traditionally contributed to charitable organisations. They describe themselves as free thinkers.
My main interest in freemasonry is in the symbols. I had visited Recoleta cemetery before the tour, but I had not recognised the symbols - on so many of the tombs - that were staring me in the face. So, for those others, like me, not initiated into the arcane world of freemasonry, here's a helpful guide to recognising some of the masonic symbols you will find.
One-eighth of a sphere
In an earlier blog post I mentioned the importance of the sphere in masonic symbolism. The sphere is represented by a shape of 'one eighth of a sphere.'
This symbol is very common in the cemetery. It's also found in a plainer form, on the top four corners of the coffin of General José de San Martín, a freemason, in an annex to the city's cathedral.
The obelisk is a masonic symbol and this picture shows the tomb of one of Argentina's most well-known presidents, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, a freemason. Sarmiento helped to introduce universal education in 1884. He believed that education should be the responsibility of the State, and that it had to be independent of political and religious influence.
Another typical symbol, also seen here, is a black and white chequered floor, where each tile is too small to hold an adult footprint. This symbolises a lack of prejudice in terms of race or 'otherness.'
An interesting freemason was Guillermo Brown, or Almirante Brown, an Irishman from County Mayo who became the first admiral of the Argentine navy. He is one of Argentina's national heroes. His tomb is easy to find. Upon entering the cemetery, and walking straight ahead along the main path, there are a series of obelisks and columns to the right. All these are freemason's tombs.Amongst them is a green column above an glassed-in receptacle displaying reliefs of ships. The green colour is in recognition of Brown's Irish background. (Photo Credit - Wikimedia Commons by (Barcex).)
Sprig of acacia
In a separate blog post I wrote about the sprig of acacia and its importance in freemasonry. There are plenty of sprigs of acacia in Recoleta cemetery.
Chain of brotherhood
A linked chain of rectangular shapes marks the tomb of a freemason. The chain represents the 'chain of brotherhood.'
A bit too small to read here, the note on the metal base says: '. . .Smith & Co . . . Foundry . . . Glasgow,' showing the past influence of British manufacturing in the country.
The hourglass is a common masonic symbol. One meaning for it is simply to remind us of the passage of time, represented by the 'wings of time.' Another, more interesting meaning, is that it symbolises the after-dark meetings of freemasons, during eras of persecution by the Roman Catholic church. To measure the time they would use an hourglass - rather than a sundial.
The inverted torch is a sign of the end of the mortal life, and is a distinctly masonic symbol.
If you'd like to learn more about the hidden sides of Argentina check out my book, An Argentine in my Kitchen. Or sign up for my newsletter.