by G. W. Baird, P.G.M., District OF Columbia
from “Builder Magazine”
January 1915 Vol. 1 – No. 1
It was the good fortune of the writer to see the great obelisk called Cleopatra’s needle, as it stood at Alexandria and also to witness the “opening of a house” in Pompeii. The two Monoliths known as Cleopatra’s needles had been brought to Alexandria in the time of the Caesars. They were originally in front of the University at Heliopolis, that great school where Moses, the law giver, was once a student. How long they were in Heliopolis no one knows, nor it is known when they were carved or erected.
One of these magnificent monuments was given to England, and the other to the United States. The latter was brought to this country by Brother Lieutenant Commander H. H. Gorringe, U. S. N., the entire expense of which was borne by the late Mr. William H. Vanderbilt, of New York.
When Gorringe lifted the monument, for the purpose of shipping it, he was surprised to find, under its base, so many symbols which seemed clearly Masonic. The Grand Lodge of Masons in Egypt, among whom there was a number of Egyptologists and Archaeologists, sent a committee of its best men, at the request of Gorringe, to examine these emblems and give an opinion. They were unanimous in the opinion that the emblems were Masonic, and gave the following definitions. Gorringe had a drawing made, not only to show the emblems and their relative positions, but for use in replacing them when the shaft should be erected at New York.
A. A polished cube, of syenite. B. Polished square, of syenite. C. Rough and irregular block of syenite. D. Hard lime stone with trowel cemented to its surface. E. Soft lime stone, very white and entirely from spots. F. Axis stone, with figures. G. A marked stone. H. Corner stone, found under east angle of lower steps.
The block C was believed to be the rough ashler; A the perfect ashler; the square B is very distinct, and has been so identified with Masonry, in all ages, that its presence added great weight.
The Committee thought the stone, with figures, resembling snakes, was emblematic of Wisdom. They thought the “axis stone” represented the trestle-board and the marked stone bore the mark of a Mark Master. The two implements, the trowel and the lead plummet, are emblematic of Freemasonry; the white stone is the symbol of purity, as we have always understood it.
A French Archaeologist, in New York, was the only person to question the opinion of the Egyptologists, but as he was not a Mason, Gorringe thought he was not competent to be a judge.
The Obelisk was brought to New York and erected in Central Park, where it now stands. The corner stone was laid with Masonic ceremonies on the 2d of October, 1880, and the emblems were replaced exactly as they had been found at Alexandria
In the National Museum, at Naples, there is an equally remarkable evidence, which was discovered in the ruins of Pompeii, in 1896. The writer is indebted to the late Brother S. G. Hilborn, then a member of Congress from California, for a picture of this “find” which is here reproduced in a photograph.
It is a mosaic table top, or altar top, which was situated in the center of a rectangular room, exactly as Masonic Altars have ever been erected in lodge rooms. The workmanship is excellent, and the coloring, when the discovery was made, was bright and fresh, but has probably faded some, as all the Pompeii colors have done. Mural paintings, so many of which have been found in those ruins, have all suffered the same fate.
This beautiful mosaic, which is believed to be the top of the altar, shows a large square, above deaths head, with a plumb line from the angle of the square to the middle point of the crown of the head. From each arm of the square there is suspended a robe; one was scarlet, the other purple, which are distinctive colors used in the Royal Arch degree. Below the chin of the head is a butterfly, beautifully colored, and under the butterfly is a circle, that Masonic emblem of Deity, without beginning or end.
In addition to this there were found, in the same room, several articles inherent in Blue and in Royal Arch Masonry, a little urn, which is believed to be the pot of manna, a setting maul, a trowel, a spade, a small chest, thought to be an imitation of the ark of the covenant, and small staff, thought to be phallus. These evidences, potent as they are, are confirmed by the inscription over the door of the house, which is DIOGENE SEN, which means Diogenes the Mason.
The writer gives these facts as to the Pompeii find, as he received them from Brother Hilborn. We have not been in Pompeii since 1878, when with General Grant, but the existence of the altar top may be verified by a visit to the museum at Naples.
The evidence, to an enthusiast, is convincing; to the writer they seem every bit as good, maybe better, than the evidence which Rome has accepted and propagated as to the Apostolic succession.
NOTE –(See Vibert’s “Freemasonry before the existence of Grand Lodges” for a different viewpoint regarding the Pompeii Mosaic.)