ROTUNDA (ROOM OF INITIATION)
Ascending the steps of the Staircase Hall, the visitor encounters the circular balustrade regarded unofficially as the ‘Legislative Altar.’
Though altars were typically rectangular, chthonic altars (altars of underworld deities) were essentially circular, as is attested from the 5th-century temple of Persephone (Greek counterpart to Ishtar), whose altar is precisely the same diameter as that of the legislative building (13 feet). Within the Rotunda, the visitor may notice five patterned rosettes, eight Corinthian columns, and Pompeian lighting fixtures with 13 bulbs.
On the main level of the Rotunda, Brangwyn’s large mural above the entrance to the Legislative Chamber depicts Canada’s efforts in the First World War, as well as a veiled illustration of the passion of Christ. Abstract portrayals of Christ were common in Brangwyn’s religious commissions which included illustrations in Chesterton’s commentary The Way of the Cross, as well as murals for Christ’s Church, London, and St. Aidans Church, Leeds.
Christ’s depiction in the Rotunda is, however, only one layer of meaning in this highly symbolic room. Another reading is from the hidden Masonic symbolism also present. Contrary to the public outcry that Freemasonry is anti- Christian, much of the philosophy and symbol- ism of Freemasonry is in fact indebted to Christian ideals as well as to allegorical references in the Gospels, which refer to masonry and building with stone. The combining of Masonry and Christianity is also reflected in Anderson’s Constitutions where Jesus is referred to as the “Grand Master of the Christian Church.” Also, in the Third Degree Ritual the candidate undergoes a dramatic death and resurrection ceremony modelled on Christ. When the Master Mason is raised from the “dead” he “is no longer an ordinary man, but is now Lord of himself; the true Master-Mason... .”
Ritualistic devices derived from Masonic regalia were necessary tools in order to establish an allegorical connection between Freemasonry and the ideal of Solomon’s Temple. This development in French Freemasonry during the mid-18th century in consecrating the ritual space by means of the floor cloth occurs at the same time that Masonic architects began to influence the theo- ries and principles of design at the École des Beaux-Arts. This is a key feature for under- standing the Masonic complexity of the Legislative Building’s design, which replaces the emblematic temple depicted on Masonic tracing boards with the physical Temple constructed with the traditional tools of the mason’s craft. Passing from the floor cloth to the actual design of real buildings marks a major transformation in the institution of Freemasonry, which occurred in the late 18th century and reaches its apogee in the architectural design of the Manitoba Legislative Building. In this architectural re-enactment of allegorical Masonic ritual, the lines of distinction between visitor and participant blur and culminate in the entry to the most sacred part of the temple: the Holy of Holies. — Source: Frank Albo, 2004