Tag Archives: George Washington

Photo Tour :: Apotheosis of Washington

The Apotheosis of Washington, Capitol Rotunda (© Julie O'Connor, 2009)

Welcome to Day Five of Julie O’Connor’s Magical, Mystical, Masonic Photo Tour of Washington, DC. You’re staring up at The Apotheosis of Washington, a fresco painted onto the ceiling of the Capitol Rotunda by Italian artist Constantino Brumidi in 1865.

The use of The Apotheosis of Washington in The Lost Symbol is classic Dan Brown, directing the reader’s attention to an unusual episode of American history that is hidden in plain sight:

For most people, The Apotheosis of Washington got stranger and stranger the longer they looked at it. “That’s George Washington on the central panel.” Langdon said, pointing 180 feet upward in the middle of the dome. “As you can see, he’s dressed in white robes, attended by thirteen maidens, and ascending on a cloud above mortal man. This is the moment of his apotheosis . . . his transformation into god.”

Langdon goes on to point out the major figures in the painting: the goddess Minerva giving inspiration to American inventors such as Ben Franklin and Samuel Morse; the god Vulcan helping America build the steam engine; Neptune demonstrating how to lay the transatlantic cable.

Though this scene, in Chapter 21, is memorable, The Apotheosis of Washington plays only a minor role in the novel at this early stage. It holds no secrets and offers no clues to guide Robert Langdon on his quest.

But, for the attentive reader, it does point the way to one of the overarching themes in The Lost Symbol–the power of human thought and the god that lies within every man.

So important is The Apotheosis that Dan Brown returns to it at the end of The Lost Symbol, with a memorable, some might say, cinematic scene, in Chapter 133, where Langdon and Katherine Solomon climb to a circular catwalk and marvel at the fresco while discussing the key to the Ancient Mysteries–the power of the human mind:

Langdon had to admit, not many frescoes in the world fused scientific inventions with mythical gods and human apotheosis…Today, this soaring icon–the father of our country ascending to heaven–hung silently above our lawmakers, leaders, and presidents . . . a bold reminder, a map to the future, a promise of a time when man would evolve to complete spiritual maturity.

And now Katherine:

“Robert,” Katherine whispered, her gaze still fixed on the massive figures of America’s great inventors accompanied by Minerva. “It’s prophetic, really. Today, man’s most advanced inventions are being used to study man’s most ancient ideas. The science of Noetics may be new, but it’s actually the oldest science on earth–the study of human thought.

Noetics is a topic for another post. But there is much more that can be said about The Apotheosis.

Diane Apostolos-Cappadona, adjunct professor of religious art and cultural history at Georgetown University, has written a detailed essay about the fresco for Secrets of The Lost Symbol.

Among her many fascinating insights, she points out that although the painting, mingling gods and real people, might seem confusing today, at the time The Apotheosis was commissioned the depiction of abstract ideas, like moral courage, as a recognizable person was commonplace.

She also draws attention to small details Robert Langdon doesn’t acknowledge, such as that fact that the 13 maidens attending Washington represent the 13 original colonies. And that six of them have their backs turned to represent their secession from the Union during the Civil War.

To find out more pre-order your hard copy of Secrets of The Lost Symbol today or download it now as an e-book.

Photo Tour :: Capitol Rotunda

Statue of George Washington, Capitol Rotunda. (© Julie O'Connor, 2009)

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.

Pre-order your hard copy of Secrets of The Lost Symbol today or download it now as an e-book.

Was George Washington a Double Agent? Mt. Vernon in Panic?

george_washington_dollarA theory about The Lost Symbol focusing on George Washington’s alleged treachery and role as a double-agent for the British has been bouncing around the internet for a month now.

This theory is based on an August 7 report in the Scottish newspaper, The Scotsman, which quotes historian Robert Cooper, curator of the Grand Lodge of Scotland and a world authority on Freemasonry, offering a theory about Washington-as-double-agent.

Worse still, assertions that the original confession was concealed in George Washington’s coffin is creating panic around the grounds of Mount Vernon where Washington is buried.

Historian Robert Cooper, curator of the Grand Lodge of Scotland and a world authority on Freemasonry says, “It seems they’re planning security precautions to safeguard against what has become known as the ‘Rosslyn effect,’” referring to the way that, after the publication of Brown’s bestseller The Da Vinci Code, Rosslyn Chapel in Midlothian was deluged by grail seekers and treasure hunters.

You can think what you want about the theory (the article follows below). And you can think what you want about all of the Dan Brown official web advance clues suggesting themes of double agents and treachery.

But one item that calls some of this reasoning into question is the statement in the Cooper/Scotsman piece that there is “panic” on the grounds of Mt. Vernon, the national landmark where George Washington lived and is buried.

Our investigative reporter for the Secrets team, Dave Shugarts, contacted Mt. Vernon officials and determined there has been no panic and no special security precautions are in place. In fact, Dave posted as follows on The Scotsman website–with no response to date.

On blogs in the U.S., Mr. Cooper has retreated from some of the most important statements made in this story.

The story clearly says he was claiming a “reliable source” for a plot leak of the book. At http://lostsymboltweets.blogspot.com/2009/08/george-washington-traitor-to-revolution.html, Mr. Cooper now apparently says he never claimed a “reliable source,” leaving the implication that the reporter was either very inaccurate or very inventive.

Additionally, this article claimed that at Mount Vernon the security personnel have had to take special new measures to protect George Washington’s tomb. I contacted the Mount Vernon staff and they completely deny this.

In an effort to find out whether The Scotsman and Kath Gourlay stand behind the story, I contacted them and asked them to clarify. In an effort to learn Mr. Cooper’s side of the story directly, I contacted him at two different e-mail addresses. None of the parties has responded.

I would have expected that a reputable newspaper and reporter would want to stand behind their accuracy and veracity. The Scotsman has my address.

See excerpts of the Scotsman article below and let us know what you think. Continue reading