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The Lighthouse of Alexandria

01-28-2015 19:42:00


On the southern shore of the Mediterranean Sea in Alexandria, Egypt once stood the Lighthouse of Alexandria.  For centuries, the Lighthouse guided ancient mariners and merchants into port from a tiny harbor island called "Pharos."

Having been erected around 300 BC, it is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and is often referenced as the "Pharos Lighthouse."  It stood for a millennium and a half until time and multiple earthquakes (the final devastating event in 1323) destroyed it. 

As I study and prepare for my Entered Apprentice lecture, I see the Lighthouse of  Alexandria as an excellent allegory for me and my path during this EA work.  Perhaps it will also be symbolic of my path toward becoming a Master Mason.

No one that has lived in the past 700+ or so years really knows what the structure actually looked like. There are few historical references from those who might have lived sometime between 300 BC to 1300 AD that saw the Lighthouse and was able to record facts about its appearance.  I can only imagine the way of life for our ancestors in Alexandria, Egypt during that period:

Perhaps a Roman soldier in a nearby village received orders under the reach of the light.  Perhaps a fisherman in the harbor extended his work hours out at sea, for the light would lead his way home.  And, perhaps the child who needed to escape from slavery looked upon the fiery glow with hope of one day returning home.

Alas, only scant historical accounts remain from those who wrote and sketched on their papyrus rolls. But despite the fogginess of the history regarding the Lighthouse of Alexandria, German scholar, archaeologist, and professor Hermann Thiersch authored a book on the Lighthouse in 1909. He provides us with a modern compositional reference on the subject. His work includes a detailed drawing of the Lighthouse as well. The drawing was rendered by Thiersch himself, and so we can expect he made a good faith effort to portray the Lighthouse as accurately as possible, or at least based on his research.

Thiersch's drawing depicts the Lighthouse as having three tiers, similar to the three degrees in Masonry. We as Masons could also use the lighthouse as allegory for masonic principles - especially that desire for light. Here, I describe Thiersch's 1909 drawing of the Lighthouse of Alexandria:
The lowermost foundation is clearly the most exposed to the harsh elements of the Mediterranean Sea. It forms a protective horizontal foundation of sorts, not unlike that of a stronghold, castle, or fort. The midsection of the Lighthouse appears well-protected from the elements by the first tier as it more pointedly extends vertically toward the sky. The upper section of the Lighthouse is shown in Thiersch's rendering with multiple pillars that form vented sides, reaching toward a pinnacle of sorts, at which even more grand architectural detail rests atop.

Thiersch's drawing portrays wisps of smoke wafting from the structure's vented dome. A fire could have been kindled from inside the structure; the smoke would then drift upward  and out the vented sides.  The smoke atop the lighthouse would have been seen from many miles on a clear, windless day. The light of the fire would, of course, been visible in the dark of night. Some references mention the existence of a grand mirror inside  this tier.  It would reflect the light even further out to sea.
The tip of the vented spire eventually reaches its pinnacle. Finally, upon the top of this ancient architectural marvel rests a statue in tribute to a Greek god of a millennia ago.

In the same year that Thiersch published his research of the Lighthouse of Alexandria in 1909, Bro. Charles H. Callahan, Senior Warden of the Alexandria-Washington Lodge, purchased land in Alexandria, Virginia. After 10 years of construction, the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, located at 101 Callahan Drive, was completed on this site in 1922.

In 1923, the Memorial's cornerstone was dedicated in a Masonic ceremony performed in part by Calvin Coolidge and William H. Taft before thousands of Freemasons.  Having three distinct tiers, and generally built in the image of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the Masonic National Memorial honors Brother George Washington as "the man, the Mason, and the father of our country.” (www.gwmemorial.org)

In 1994, remains of the Lighthouse of Alexandria were discovered on the floor of Alexandria's Eastern Harbor. There are ongoing efforts to add the bay of Alexandria and the remains of the lighthouse to the World Heritage List of Submerged Cultural Sites. Researchers in 2006 made further efforts to recreate an accurate depiction of the Lighthouse, which turned out to be similar to Thiersch's 1909 original.

The George Washington Masonic National Memorial continues to operate through private funds and is open to the public daily. It contains a library and research center, a concert hall,  and, of course, meeting spaces for Masonic lodges and organizations.

by Bro. Steve Morabito, from the January 2015 issue of the Washington Lodge #3 Trestleboard