Freemasonic Decoration in the Churches of Rome
(Remember, click on any photo to see the enlarged version)
As many of us know, 1600’s Roman art and architecture was Baroque. Wild and colorful, creative, surprising – theatrical – all these terms explain the style well. It was also a response to the Protestant Reformation, and part of the Catholic Renewal. A creative explosion took place, and the 1600’s artists competed to find the most vivid expressions of Catholic spirituality and tradition.
The 1700’s brought the emergence of the Enlightenment, and with it the famous anti-Christian movement known as Freemasonry (the 1700’s also naturally brought about the NeoClassical period, which will be discussed later). A pseudo religion with secret, complicated and varying rituals (depending on which group one belonged), Freemasonry is famous for its use of symbols – the ‘all-seeing eye’, architectual tools, the pyramid (often mistaken for a symbol of the Trinity), Chaos and other images that might first appear to be Christian images – but these images actually had an entirely different meaning.
In 1712, Marquis de Fontes was appointed Portuguese Ambassador to Pope Clement XI. Carlo Gimach, a Portoguese architect, became his constant companion and adviser. This same year, Don Nuno di Cunha was created Cardinal and Protector of the Roman church of Sant’Anastasia in Rome. Naturally, he selected Gimach to restore the church. He rendered a beautiful late baroque design … with hidden masonic symbols throughout – because the whole party were freemasons. After the work was done, the whole party slapped each other on the back – and went home – back to Portugal. The monsignor of the church then had all the masonic symbols removed.
One trinket that remains from the masonic makeover is a commemorative marble tablet which goes to great length to explain that Carlo Gimach was born in Malta of a Palestinian family, “descendant of the ancient and orthodox dynasty of Rama”. In other words, a Freemason’s Freemason. At this time, some Knights of Malta were also Freemasons.
In 1738 Pope Clement XII issued his famous Bull ‘In Eminenti Apostolatus Specula, which condemned and excommunicated members of the freemasonic cult. Most European countries made membership and its existence illegal – no one wants their king, Prime Minister or president to be in a secret cult.
Later on, the area around the Spanish Steps was transformed into a free zone – economically, to help develop the area – but also for the possibility of processing and circulation of ideas inspired by the presence of freemasons or their sympathizers: Piranesi, Casanova (the famous lover) and Cagliostro were just a few names. In the 1830’s, Piranesi decorated the Cafe des Anglais with an Egyptian motif, possibly the first time that this type of ornament was used in Europe. He lived in via Felice, today’s Via Sistina, and his home became a meeting place for artists, intellectuals and writers. To be fair, it was Napoleon who initially released ‘Egyptomania’ on Europe in the early 1800’s, so every time one sees an Egyptian motif, it doesn’t necessary = freemason … but –
Earlier, in 1765, Piranesi had been chosen as chief architect for the Knights of Malta residence on the Aventine hill (famous for its keyhole view of St. Peters).
This chaotic main altar is typical of freemasons – not one cohesive theme, but a combination of everything, all at once. The main altar of a Catholic church should not be a distracting mess. But, freemasons want you to be busy, occupied – they don’t want you to think.
The Church of the Gesù and the Masonic Main Altar:
The first high altar for the Gesù was designed by Giacomo della Porta. This was the tabernacle, preserved and purchased for another part of the world.
It was removed during 1841-1843, when Antonio Sarti created a new altar by the will of Alessandro Torlonia. Torlonia was a freemason, as evidenced by the symbol for ‘chaos’ (the ‘x’ and ‘+’ sign combined) surrounding his villa in Rome – the same symbol that is found on the Italian National Monument, the courthouse and other monuments still visible in Rome, all created while the Freemasons were in political power.
While redesigning the altar, Sarti took the occasion to destroy the funery monument to a certain Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, which had been designed by Girolamo Rainaldi and sculpted by Pietro Bernini (father of the more famous Gian Lorenzo Bernini) and Giuliano Finelli (Giuliano was the detail master of the statue group Apollo and Daphne, located in the Galleria Borghese). Now, The Bellarmine monument wasn’t an earth-shatteringly new artistic piece, but destroying previous works at this time is a little unusual, especially with names as big as these.
The original altar painting by Girolamo Muziano (not very good) was also preserved, and is kept in a back corner of the sacristy, but the reasonably decent monument to Robert Bellarmine was destroyed (except for the bust of the saint).
Almost fifty years after the Bellarmine monument was destroyed (1841ca.), the Freemasons erected a statue of Giordano Bruno in Campo dei Fiori (1889). Bruno had been burned alive there in the year 1600 for not refuting his heretical (and positively stupid by anyone’s standard) positions. The cardinal who had been in charge of those proceedings was Robert Bellarmine. Apparently in response to all of this, in 1923 the Church recognized Cardinal Bellarmine as ‘Blessed’ (38 years after the Bruno statue was put in place). In 1930, the Church recognized Bellarmine’s sainthood, and in 1931 he was named Doctor of the Church.
Here we can see a much heavier masonic footprint, possibly because this is a church that is tucked into a side street, whereas the Gesù was very prominent – on the main street leading from St. Peters to the Cathedral of Rome. One can still see the pyramid – this time with the eye of Horus in the center of the arch (Egyptian brand freemasonry), and he apparently also designed the candlestick-holders, tapestries and reliquaries with the same pyramid and Horus eye, to the apparent ignorance of the many priests who have worked there.
Art and architecture can be used to express an idea, or to suppress it; it can be used to create a positive or negative influence on any person, place or thing. Art and architecture mold our attitudes – it can make you feel welcome or unwelcome.
Art communicates. If you know the language, then Rome is dazzling. If you don’t know the language …
then stick with us.