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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Pillars and Power



Came across this photo of the Pennsylvania State Capitol the other day and was struck by the freestanding pillars which appear from this angle to mark the entrance to the space occupied by the building.  Like any capitol building, this rather handsome structure is not only functional architecture, but ceremonial as well.  It both houses the government and symbolizes it.  The state incarnate.....the capitol is both a city and a building.  Indeed, the street we see here is State Street.

The two pillars actually sit at one end of the State Street Bridge, also known as the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Bridge.  The two pillars, adorned with eagles, represent the Army (and the army Air Force) and the navy (including the Marines).  It was opened in 1930.  As both bridge and memorial, it too, like the capitol building, have both a ceremonial and functional raison d'être.

The freestanding pillars are a long-running interest of  LoS (see the tag pillars).  As a religious element, they've been used since the Egyptians; we've also discussed their meaning at length in a political contect.  See Pillars of the Community for more background; their use for the capitol building of the Haute-Garonne department serves as a starting point for a discussion of their various uses, including their Masonic symbolism.  See The Two Pillars, for one Mason's opinion of their meaning.

This idea of Soldiers and Sailors  brought to mind another monument with a similar name I mentioned back in 2009:

Another war monument by Schmitz, by the way, the Indiana Soldier and Sailor's Monument, does feature 32 flights of stairs with 330 numbered steps (and one unnumbered). This may or may not be a coincidence; or you can take it as evidence he imbued his designs with Masonic symbolism. (Incidentally, the Soldier and Sailor's Monument in Syracuse, NY is found in Clinton Square--formerly known as Masonic Park!)

Interesting that two monuments with such similar names bothe have Masonic connections.  Unlike the Indiana memorial, I don't see any symbolism in the proportions, described here:

The western approach is marked by two 143'-0" pylons topped with carved war eagles representing the army and the navy. Each pylon measures 25'-0" by 16'-0" at its base and 13'-6" by 22'-6" at its top. The eagles each weigh approximately 300 tons and rise 21'-0" high, and required thirty-six stones each.

The bridge and memorial were initially designed in 1919 and was erected between 1926 and 1930.  Neither the original architect Arnold Brunner nor the architects who completed it, William Gehron and Sidney Ross, appear to have been Freemasons.  The Schmitz monument dates from 1901 and, as we have seen has some numbers which could be construed as Masonic.  I'm not sure if schmitz was a Mason, but another of his works, the Völkerschlachtdenkmal, harbors a Masonic Lodge and was given critical financial support by German Freemasons:

Interested in resuming the project, [Clemens ]Thieme, who was also a member of the Apollo masonic lodge, proposed the project during a meeting and gained the support of his fellow masons.

The South African Voortrekker Monument, inspired by the Völkerschlachtdenkmal, also contains Masonic number symbolism.  Nifty too is that all four of these monuments serve as war memorials, the German and South Africam iterations with heavy nationalist overtones.

OK, that's already more than I intended to write, but I'm off to ponder a bit about the continuing influence exercised by Egyptian prototypes, however indirect, on 20th century architecure with memorial, or "funerary" functions.  That and Mao's maxim that political power grows from the barrel of a gun.  For if these represent in some way the state or ideas of what makes a nation, they also celebrate the military power and those who died defending that definition.  

Incidentally, the dome of the Pennsylvania State Capitol was inspired by that of St. Peter's Basilica, in front of which stands, an Egyptian obelisk....

Gives me something to think about as I wash the dishes...

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