Dan Brown’s latest novel sends symbologist Robert Langdon on a new quest. Having previously tangled with the Priory of Sion and the Illuminati, this time he’s pursuing the Freemasons; and once again he must follow a treasure trail of clues hidden in the urban landscape. Dan Brown is notorious for his loose approach to historical fact, and accuracy takes second place to keeping the plot moving. His location is Washington, DC, a city with plenty of Masonic connections. But Brown might have done better to start at the roots of Freemasonry in the City of London.
The City of London, or Square Mile, is history and mythology made concrete, going right back to the celebrated London Stone itself.  Settlement here dates to pre-Roman times, but the biggest influence on the City as we know it today was the rebuilding project that took place after the Great Fire of 1666. This gave London much of its present form and introduced many of its greatest monuments. Unlike the previous random sprawl, which had grown up organically over centuries, the rebuilding was carried out according to a deliberate master plan. Some claim that it was simply an attempt to build on more orderly and ‘rational’ lines, but if we peel back the surface the esoteric, Masonic and even magical aspects of the City are revealed.
We now tend to view the 17th century as a period of scientific progress when rationality broke free from the bonds of superstition. However, that rationality took many forms, and sacred geometry, numerology and astrology were just as respectable as astronomy and chemistry. The quest was on for the keys to the Universe. While we might now believe that science will provide all the answers, in those days the occult held an equal attraction for men of learning, and this is something we can see in their works.
The Freemasons emerged at just the right time for the great rebuilding project (see panel: “The Foundations of Freemasonry”, p35). They were the latest group of seekers after ultimate knowledge, following hard on the footsteps of the “Invisible College” of the Rosicrucians, which was either a conspiracy, an impenetrable secret society or a hoax, depending on whom you believe. The Royal Society, still an important organisation today, dates back to this era and is regarded by some as an extension of the Invisible College. Founded in 1660 as the “Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge”, it originally dealt as much with alchemy and astrology as what we now think of as science. There was a large overlap between membership of the Royal Society, Freemasons and even more secretive esoteric groups such as the Cabala Club.
The great architect of the new London was of course Sir Christopher Wren – astronomer, geometer, Royal Society founder member, MP and architect. He also appears to have been a Freemason. On 18 May 1691, the antiquary and biographer John Aubrey noted: “This day… is a great convention at St Paul’s Church of the fraternity of the adopted masons, where Sir Christopher Wren is to be adopted a brother…”
Some discount this as hearsay, since Aubrey was simply repeating what he had been told by one William Dugdale. However, the theory is supported by an old tradition in the Masonic Lodge of Antiquity No 2 that Wren was Master of the Lodge, and to many Freemasons his membership of the Craft is obvious in his works, particularly in his greatest monument – St Paul’s Cathedral (see below: 'Isaac Newton and the Temple of Doom').
Working with Wren were two other notables, John Evelyn and the notorious Nicholas Hawksmoor. The latter was nicknamed “the devil’s architect”, and his Masonic credentials are not in doubt. Hawksmoor’s membership was recorded in 1691, when he became Wren’s assistant. Other acknowledged Freemasons include John James, the second surveyor appointed alongside Hawksmoor, and Nathaniel Blackerby, treasurer to the commission building new churches.
THE NEW JERUSALEM
To the builders of the new London, the city was to be the New Jerusalem. Rome was in the hands of Catholics, so London must succeed it as the capital of the true faith. This was reinforced by a popular theory that the English were the descendants of the Lost Tribe of Israel, who disappeared into the West after the destruction of the kingdom in 722 BC. Londoner William Blake – who had a tendency to employ Masonic imagery – was merely echoing this idea when he wrote of Jerusalem being “builded here” decades later. This belief was a help to those who believed that Britain should be a global empire, a true successor to Rome, with a temporal and religious capital to match it.
Several concepts were put forward for the new street plan. All of these did away with the warren of tiny streets and alleys and imposed some sort of regularity. Some, such as the plans put forward by cartographer Richard Newcourt, were simple grid patterns. But both Wren and Evelyn had more complex ideas, and it has been suggested that Evelyn’s plan bears a marked resemblance to the Sephiroth or Tree of Life from the mystic Cabala, “the best hieroglyph of the known and unknown universe”. Cabalism was a popular topic among esoteric philosophers of the day, with its mathematical and geometric approach, some of which was assimilated into Freemasonry.
Evelyn had previously written about how a careful arrangement of the environment could “influence the soule and spirits of man, and prepare them for converse with good Angells”. In Cabalism, the angels are the messengers between the physical and metaphysical world.
In the event, practical considerations restricted the wholesale remodelling of London to more modest changes. But while they could not demolish streets at will, the architects of London arranged places of worship according to their plan. Wren realigned the axis of St Paul’s so it stood 2,000 cubits (914m / 3,000ft) from Temple Bar to the West and the same distance from St Dunstan-in-the-East in the other direction. Hawksmoor’s St George-in-the-East is 2,000 cubits from the London Wall, St John Horselydown was placed 2,000 cubits from the Monument and Hawksmoor’s St Mary Woolnoth is the same distance from his Christ Church Spitalfields.
The measure of 2,000 cubits is used in the biblical Book of Numbers in its rules for city planning: “[M]easure from without the city on the east side 2,000 cubits.” It had featured in modern studies of sacred geometry since 1662. John Wilkins, vicar of St Lawrence Jewry and the first secretary of the Royal Society had converted it into modern measures, creating the essential yardstick for a New Jerusalem.
THE DEVIL'S ARCHITECT
Christopher Wren is remembered as the chief architect of modern London, but his assistant Nicholas Hawksmoor towers above him in occult circles thanks to his 12 churches built in accordance with the 1711 Act. These made a break from the traditional Gothic style and introduced a new and alien geometric vocabulary of obelisks, pyramids and cubes. His supposedly morbid interest in pagan cultures and pre-Christian worship have helped darken his reputation.
Hawksmoor’s churches are based on a layout of intersecting axes and rectangles, which he described as being based on the “rules of the Ancients”. His work borrows from Egypt, Greece and Rome – all revered by the Freemasons – and often in a grand manner. The nave of St George’s Bloomsbury church is a perfect cube, with a tower in the shape of a pyramid. Seven of the keystones are decorated with flames, the eighth bears the Hebrew name of God inside a triangular plaque surrounded by a sunburst; the symbolism of this is obscure.
Hawksmoor’s St Mary Woolnoth is based on the idea of a cube within a cube. This has represented the squaring of the circle from ancient times, which takes us back to the ideal proportions of Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man… and, of course, the Freemasons. 
But it is the alignment of Hawksmoor’s churches as much as their architecture that has provoked speculation, starting with the writer Iain Sinclair’s book-length prose-poem Lud Heat in 1975. This describes how Hawksmoor’s churches form regular triangles and pentacles, and “guard, mark or rest upon” the city’s sources of occult power. Sinclair even provides maps to prove the alignments, which are a clear sign of Hawksmoor’s true Satanic affiliation.
Sinclair was the first to connect Hawksmoor’s churches with some of the most shocking crimes in London’s history – the now largely forgotten Ratcliffe Highway murders of 1811 and Jack the Ripper’s killing spree in 1888. Sinclair suggests that the malign influence of Christ Church, Spitalfields, is so great that it attracts dark acts of violence to its vicinity.
The theme was taken up in Peter Ackroyd’s novel Hawksmoor in 1985, which switches between the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire and a modern serial killer case. Ackroyd, a great scholar of London, playfully names his modern detective Hawksmoor, while the book’s 17th-century architect is Nicholas Dyer.
The idea of Hawksmoor as a manipulator of dark forces was further refined in Alan Moore’s hugely ambitious graphic novel From Hell. This involved a unified conspiracy theory linking Hawksmoor, the Freemasons and the Jack the Ripper killings. The Ripper murders, in this version, are carried out by Queen Victoria’s personal physician to conceal an illegitimate child conceived by her grandson, Prince Albert, Duke of Clarence.
Moore taps into an earlier strand of Ripperology connecting the killings with the Freemasons. The oath of secrecy taken by Freemasons includes a very colourful description of the supposed penalties, including mention of a cut throat and the statement “that my left breast had been torn open and my heart and vitals taken from thence and thrown over my left shoulder” and “my body had been severed in two in the midst”. Freemasons insist that this oath is symbolic and the penalties have never actually been inflicted on oath-breakers. A number of commentators, though, have suggested that the way the Ripper’s victims were mutilated closely parallels these specific injuries.
Stephen Knight went even further in his book Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution in 1976. Graffiti found near two of the murders read: “The Juwes are not the men who will be blamed for nothing”. Knight claimed that “Juwes” was not a misspelling of “Jews”, as usually supposed, but is actually a Masonic term referring to Jubela, Jubelo and Jubelum. These are three murderers in Masonic legend who are linked with the gory penalties set out in the oath. Knight’s book received something of a mauling (or perhaps a disembowelment) from other Ripper experts, though it has proved influential, spawning numerous books and films.
Even if the Ripper killings were some sort of enactment of the Masonic penalties, it does little to solve the case. Were they a warning, or was there some other symbolic purpose? Was the Ripper a crazed Freemason? Or is it all, as Sinclair suggested, down to the influence of Hawksmoor’s dark architectural patterns?
BEHIND THE MASK OF REASON
The obsession with mystic geometry was not confined to places of worship. John Byrom was yet another Freemason, geometer and member of the Cabala Club (and inventor of a system of shorthand) from the same era as Wren and Hawksmoor. A collection of detailed drawings was recently found in his papers suggesting a geometric and astrological basis not just for many of London’s churches but also for its major theatres. 
Masonic influence on London didn’t end after the Great Fire. In the early 19th century, Freemasonry enjoyed a period of more open popularity. Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, the sixth son of George III, became the first Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England. Secrecy was relaxed and famous Masons of the day included the Duke of Wellington and architect Sir John Soane.
Soane was, appropriately enough for a Mason, the son of a bricklayer. His works included the Bank of England, perhaps the most significant emblem of power in the new century. Soane’s work on the Bank continued for 45 years and he described it as “the pride and the boast of my life”.
A bank must project an image of solidity and stability, and Soane’s Bank of England building, a veritable cathedral of finance, did just that. After a jittery period during the 1790s, the institution regained its reputation for standing foursquare amidst global upheaval. As recent history has again proven, the confidence of investors is all-important, and losing it means a catastrophic fall (softened only by the occasional government bail-out).
Soane’s Bank building was demolished in the 1920s, an act described by architectural historian Nicholas Pevsner as “the greatest architectural crime, in the City of London, of the 20th century”. Only the outer walls now remain. After the demolition, the Bank suffered its greatest crisis in the Great Depression – a fitting punishment, perhaps.
Another of Soane’s masterpieces was the Freemason’s Hall in Great Queen Street, meeting place for hundreds of Lodges and home of the Grand Temple. Even the Masons admit that its current incarnation contains a mass of esoteric symbolism which can only be fully understood by the initiated. In a spirit of openness, the Hall is now open to the public with frequent guided tours.
Soane also left a monument to himself, turning his house and studio into a remarkable museum which reveals his “eclectic, experimental, whimsical, and above all, illusionist preoccupations”. Again, behind the mask of rational design lurks the joker.
THE EYE IN THE PYRAMID
We now appreciate how much impact buildings can have on the people who live in them, and London still has many grim concrete tower blocks to remind us how an architect’s paradise can become a hell for those who live there. While, these days, there is more study of the psychological effects of our environment, it doesn’t all fall to men in white coats. And this is where, at the more surreal end of the field, psychogeography comes in.
The London Psychogeographical Association is described by Wikipedia as “a largely fictitious organisation”. Its work, which has been praised by Iain Sinclair, consists largely of grandiose proclamations and calls for geo-psychic revolution:
“The integration of non-Euclidean psycho-social space into a post-Newtonian mechanics is faced by the emergence of an anti-Euclidean opposition which will rekindle the fires of revolt with the matchsticks of metaphor. By drawing upon ancient songlines which reassert themselves within the modern urban environment, psychogeography as the practical application of anti-Euclidean psycho-geometry offers the third pole in the triolectic between the false universalism of modernism and the universal virtuality of post-modernism.” 
The LPA might be a valid attempt to reshape our consciousness of our environment, or it could just be an elaborate practical joke. Jokers or not, the LPA shares the approach of those who wanted to make London a symbolic New Jerusalem. If the Freemasons are secretive, powerful Illuminati, then the LPA are the anarchic Discordians seeking to reclaim the city for the masses.
London still sees more than its share of buildings which seem to owe more to the occult than to strict practicality. Number One Canada Square, better known as Canary Wharf, is topped with a conspicuous pyramid with a flashing light at its apex. It could hardly be a more graphic embodiment of the familiar image of a pyramid topped by an eye, a symbol familiar from the back of the US dollar bill.
The architect of One Canada Square was Cesar Pelli, who is quoted as saying that the tower was intended to be a simple geometric form. “Of the four different roof shapes available from the World Financial Center, he chose the pyramid because he found it to be common in most cultures,” according to one source.
Pyramids are not exactly common in our culture – although Hawksmoor certainly added a few. The height of the Canary Wharf pyramid happens to be 130ft (40m), which some have suggested makes it an embodiment of the 13 steps of the Masonic pyramid.
“This is the clearest symbol yet. Screw the Washington Monument, I think I’ve found the biggest Obelisk and Eye of Horus yet. This has got to be down to the Masons,” writes one excited blogger as he demonstrates how the Canary Wharf complex can be mapped on to Masonic symbols. Of course, conspiracy theories do not need much of a launch pad, and others skilled in the art have managed to link Pelli to the Freemasons, the Skull & Bones Society, the Order of Death and much, much more… 
Now a new generation of skyscrapers is set to reshape London’s skyline. In the Far East, nobody would question the importance of the buildings’ alignment. Even if architects don’t believe in Feng Shui, no investor wants to be part of something that spells bad luck. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised at the Freemasons’ penchant for sacred geometry.
Finally, perhaps the clue is in the name. The City of London is also known as the Square Mile, even though it is rectangular. Squares feature heavily in Masonic rituals and recognition signs. Masons are required to “square their actions by the square of virtue” and are sworn by “God and the Square”.
So, as Dan Brown sends his hero racing around Washington, perhaps he’s picked the wrong city. Is this an oversight, a deliberate act of misdirection, or are there other forces at work? Almost certainly the latter, I’d guess. Brown had already used London as a setting in his massively popular book The Da Vinci Code, so he needed a new city this time around, and preferably one that would appeal to his American fanbase.
I predict that his collection of powerful and mysterious emblems will increase with the addition of many pieces of paper inscribed with the symbol of the eye in the pyramid…
1 Mentioned by Blake, Shakespeare and Dickens, the London Stone might be part of an ancient temple, a Roman milestone… or the stone from which King Arthur pulled Excalibur.
2 Matthew Scanlan: 'Nicholas Hawksmoor', Freemasonry Today, Issue 41 Summer 2007
3 Trevor W McKeown: 'The Byrom Collection, a few observations', Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon
4 London Psychogeographical Association
5 'Skull and Bones '322' Logo Meaning Finally Discovered?' rinf.com
Peter Ackroyd: Hawksmoor, Penguin, 2002.
Peter Ackroyd: London: The Biography, Vintage, 2001.
David V Barrett: Secret Societies, Blandford, 1997.
Merlin Coverley: Occult London, Pocket Essential, 2008.
Yashas Beresiner Lewis: The City of London: A Masonic Guide, Lewis Masonic, 2006.
Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell: From Hell, Knockabout Comics, 2008.
Iain Sinclair: Lud Heat and Suicide Bridge, Granta, 2002.
Michael White: Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer, Fourth Estate, 1997.
Official homepage of the United Grand Lodge of England
Grail Seekers: A Guide to Masonic Symbolism for the Non-Mason
Cornerstone Society: Discussion of Masonic topics
FOUNDATIONS OF MASONRY
The modern Freemasons are not so much a secret society as a society with secrets, as Dan Brown’s hero Robert Langdon says. With a membership of several million worldwide, including around half a million in the UK and two million in the US, and many prominent meeting places, they can hardly be considered as some sort of underground movement. They do charitable works and encourage a sort of esoteric/moral personal development. But secrecy has always been a key part of their way of working.
Tradition says the Masons can be traced back to around 1,000 BC and the builders of the Temple of Solomon – a symbolically vital structure which connected God with Man. As with many such societies, this is an invented pedigree created to impress. The first Grand Lodge was formed at the Goose and Gridiron alehouse in St Paul’s churchyard (a suitably Masonic location) in 1717. This was formed of the four existing London lodges which dated back no more than a century. They had already attracted unfavourable attention, with a 1698 pamphlet warning that the “Freedmasons” who meet in secret were a “devilish sect of men” allied with the Antichrist.
Where did they really come from? One popular view is that the Freemasons grew out of the mediæval masons who built the great cathedrals of Europe. These craftsmen moved from place to place between jobs, and jealously guarded the secrets of their trade. They lived in masonic lodges, or dormitories, the ancient equivalent of the site hut, which were often lean-tos against the structure they were building.
There was an important distinction between a freemason or freestone mason and other builders. The freemason was a skilled craftsman able to shape stone, rather than a simple workman only capable of basic building work. The freemasons had their own recognition signals so that a true mason could be identified when he arrived at a new site. A ‘cowan’ or labourer attempting to pass himself off as a mason would be soundly punished.
The Regius Manuscript of 1390 hints at the secrecy required of masonic apprentices: “He keeps and guards his master’s teachings and those of his fellows… Disclose to no man, no matter where you go, the discussions held in the hall or in the dormitory; keep them well, for your greatest honour, lest in being free with them you bring reproach upon yourself and great shame upon your profession.”
However, although Freemasonry is built on a foundation of architectural imagery, their language and symbolism is derived from 17th-century philosophers and not mediæval guilds. Philosophy in this era already employed an advanced architectural metaphor – but it derived not from dealings with workmen but from an adaptation of the work of Vitruvius.
Vitruvius was a first-century Roman scholar whose work De Architecuri Libri Decem (Ten books on architecture) argued that proportion was all-important. Architecture imitates nature, and the greatest work of nature is Man. Therefore, a building should follow ideal human proportions, as shown in the famous Vitruvian Man drawn by Leonardo da Vinci.
Vitruvian Man is the link between the divine, human beings, and architecture. A belief in a Supreme Being or Great Architect of the Universe is required of all Freemasons. Speculative masonry – the philosophical branch followed by Freemasons, as opposed to operative masonry practised by stonecutters – involves a progression through various degrees of personal development. These involve a dense web of symbolism, all using an architectural metaphor.
The Freemasons are concerned with inner building, personal and moral development, but their philosophy is expressed in the symbolism and geometry of construction which makes them uniquely suitable for being represented in stone. No wonder, then, that the beliefs of the Freemasons have often found expression in buildings and even entire cities.
ST PAUL'S CATHEDRAL - ISAAC NEWTON AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM
If London was to be the New Jerusalem, then its cathedral would be the new Temple of Solomon, the seat of the spiritual power of the City and hence the Empire. The Temple plays a key role in Masonic mythology, and its geometry was a major obsession in the 17th and 18th centuries.
When William Stukely wrote the first biography of Isaac Newton in the 1720s, he was promoting a hero of science and omitted all mention of Newton’s esoteric and mystical researches. It was not until 1936 that Newton’s astonishing collection of ‘non-scientific’ papers was released. Newton may have been the first true scientist, but he was also, as John Maynard Keynes put it, “the last of the magicians”.
Newton was a Royal Society member, a close friend of Wren’s and probably a Freemason. He devoted years to studying the geometry of the Temple from its detailed description in the Book of Kings. Newton believed that the Temple was divinely inspired, a plan of the Universe, past, present and future, including the end of the world. According to Newton’s calculations, the New Millennium would start with the Christ’s return in the year AD 2060. 
The Temple of Solomon was also a great interest of Wren’s, and Robert Hooke noted having a long discussion with him about it in 1675.  Hooke was another Freemason, Royal Society member and scientist with an interest in the esoteric.
Wren had been working on plans for a new St Paul’s even before the Fire. It took three attempts for him to produce a new design acceptable to the commissioners. The final version was known as the Warrant Design and the first stone was laid – with Masonic rites – in 1675. 
Symbolism is common enough in cathedrals, and the visitor to St Paul’s can easily spot the usual doves and lambs, as well as more unusual pelicans and peacocks.  But St Paul’s also follows Wren’s notions of sacred geometry and encodes the Cabalistic Sephiroth or Tree of Life, the 10 domes corresponding to the 10 spheres,  as well as representing the 10 spheres of the classical heavens. Wren, an astronomer, brought the whole Universe into his cathedral.
The new St Paul’s was also to be a continuation of the old. The Freemasons revered the ancient builders, and St Paul’s was built on the foundations of older churches and, even further in the past, a Roman temple. Before the Romans, the site had been a pagan site and it is possible a stone circle had once stood there.
Wren claimed that when he instructed a workman to place a piece of stone rubble to mark the centre of the new St Paul’s, he found it was a fragment of tombstone with the Latin inscription “Resurgam” – “I will rise again”. The word was inscribed on the pediment of the south door and marked with a phœnix. In addition, rubble from the old St Paul’s was deliberately used in the foundations of many of the 51 churches built after the Great Fire.
The most iconic images of St Paul’s show it surrounded by smoke and flames during the Blitz. The bombing was intense, with 28 bombs landing in the Cathedral grounds during just one night in 1940 – but St Paul’s itself did not succumb, largely thanks to the fire crews who defused bombs and put out fires. Does it seem strange that so many would risk their lives for what was, at the end of the day, an uninhabited old building?
Perhaps it’s because Winston Churchill, who ordered St Paul’s saved “at all costs”, was a Freemason...
1 Newton plays a significant role in The Lost Symbol, having previously appeared in The Da Vinci Code.
2 Steve Padget: 'Christopher Wren, Christian Cabala and the Tree of Life'
3 Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert: The London Encyclopedia, Macmillan 1983, p780
4 St Paul's Cathedral Signs and Symbols: Spotter's Sheet
5 David Bowman: 'Floorplan of St Paul's Cathedral London interpreted as kabbalistic Tree of Life', Floorplan as Tree of Life