Masonic symbols in Buenos Aires
Updated: Jun 18, 2020
I became intrigued by freemasonry symbols in architecture during a tour of the famous buildings of Buenos Aires. Before the tour, I assumed that freemasonry was one of those 'Dan Brown type' of shadowy organisation that ran the world. Perhaps they are, but if so there is another side to the organisation. When I mentioned 'the shadowy side' to Argentines I was given surprising answers: 'Oh no, they're a charitable organisation,' or 'I think you'll find that they help people. They paid for my schooling.' One day I'll find out more, but for now the symbols in architecture, and related stories, are interesting enough.
Here's a story that combines history, religion and architecture. The discord between Catholicism and freemasonry is reflected in the resting places of two of Argentina's 'Fathers of Independence,' both freemasons. The first, General José de San Martín, was one of Argentina's most illustrious generals. He led an army over the Andes Mountains in 1817, an achievement that was to prove pivotal in Chilean and Peruvian independence. Even though his tomb is located within the cathedral in the centre of Buenos Aires, it is located in a specially constructed annex to the church, on unconsecrated ground. The second was General Manuel Belgrano, whose stone coffin is located within a huge sculpture outside the Convento de Santo Domingo in the neighbourhood of San Telmo, in the front courtyard. Neither was buried 'within' a church.
And here are three masonic symbols that can be found in the architecture of Buenos Aires, mostly on buildings constructed between 1880 and 1920.
Sprig of Acacia
Acacia is a common masonic symbol. There seem to be many reasons why it's so important, but I was only told one of them on my tour. The story I heard related to the architect of the Temple of Solomon. The architect is held in high esteem by freemasons, for not revealing the secrets of a master mason to three other masons who attacked and later killed him. An acacia tree grew on his grave.
If you visit the Teatro Colón you will see sprigs of acacia in moulded metal at the bases of the lamps outside the entrance, and in reliefs above some of the internal doors on the upper floor. The sprig of acacia is also common on many public buildings and can be seen carved in the metal doors of some old private houses. It is also visible on the wrought iron railings of the subway Piedras in Avenida de Mayo.
Sphere and related shapes
The sphere is also important in masonic symbolism, being the most difficult shape to achieve in masonry. One of the masonic symbols representing the sphere is the 'one eighth sphere' shape. Imagine taking a quarter of an orange - a large wedge shape - and cutting it acrossways. Then sit it up on the recently-cut surface so that it looks a bit like a sail from the Sydney Opera House. You now have a masonic symbol. Now look at the roof of the Teatro Colón, and you will see a row of five or six of these, along each side of the first roof level. At least one of the three architects of the theatre was a freemason.
Woman holding aloft a torch
Imagine the Statue of Liberty, but much smaller, on the top of the dome of a building. This is a typical masonic symbol and represents enlightenment. A statue like this can be found on the dome of the La Prensa building in Avenida de Mayo. La Prensa was the newspaper owned by José C Paz, who built himself a huge palace in Buenos Aires, described in my blog post 'Buenos Aires and its fabulous palacios.' Paz was a freemason.
There are many more symbols, particularly visible in Recoleta Cemetery, and I'll cover these
in a future post.
And if you're interested in Buenos Aires architecture, you will find more in my book, An Argentine in my Kitchen.