It’s Day Four of Julie O’Connor’s Magical, Mystical, Masonic Photo Tour of Washington, DC. We’ re now at page 83, standing in the Capitol Rotunda, as Robert Langdon describes to CIA security chief Inoue Sato how the founders of Washington, D.C. modeled the nation’s capital–its architecture and landmarks–on Rome:
Now, centuries later, despite America’s separation of church and state, this state-sponsored Rotunda glistened with ancient religious symbolism. There were over a dozen different gods in the Rotunda–more than the original Pantheon in Rome. Of course, the Roman Pantheon had been converted to Christianity in 609 . . . but this pantheon was never converted; vestiges of its true history still remained in plain view.
Langdon goes on to explain that the Rotunda was designed as a tribute to Rome’s Temple of Vesta. And that there was once a hole in the floor that looked down upon a “sacred fire of enlightenment” that could be tended by a “sisterhood of virgins.”
Brown is correct. There once was, indeed, a hole in the middle of the Rotunda. But during our research for Secrets of The Lost Symbol, we discovered that the hole was probably created for an altogether different purpose.
The statue you can see in the photograph above is of George Washington. But once, there was a much more controversial statue of Washington in this room. It is the statue of Washington as Zeus (mentioned on page 87 of The Lost Symbol), bare-chested, holding a sword, and pointing towards heaven.
That statue, perhaps unsurprisingly, was something of a laughing stock in its day. It was unveiled in the Rotunda in 1841. But it was so controversial that it was soon moved into the Capitol Crypt.
During our research into Secrets of The Lost Symbol, Pam Scott, an architectural historian with DC Office of Planning, told us that when the statue was moved into the crypt, in 1842, a small hole was created in the center of the Rotunda so that people could peer down on it.
Eventually, Washington as Zeus was moved to the Smithsonian Institution (you can see it today in the National Museum of American History) and the hole was covered up.
The flame theory, like many of DC’s conspiracies, springs from an overactive imagination.
But there’s even more to this room than Roman gods and vestal virgins. As Langdon explains, there are symbols of the Ancient Mysteries, too.
We’ll save that for tomorrow.