Holiday Staircase, 2010
Completed in 1920, the Manitoba Legislative Building is a remarkable monument to Masonic architecture and ancient temple design. Its iconography, replete with arcane imagery and esoteric lore, honours numerous deities from the Classical and ancient near eastern world. The building’s principal architect, Frank Worthington Simon (1862-1933), a man of incomparable genius, was deeply inspired by philosophical tenets of Freemasonry. What follows is a brief interpretation of the symbolism found in the room of the Grand Staircase.
This room, called the “Room of Protection,” was coined for its five distinct protective icons: two bronze bison, 14 lion heads, eight bukrania (cattle skulls), a head of Medusa, and a head of Athena.
In the ancient world, each figure was venerated for its unique apotropaic powers, that is, the ability to ward off evil. On the third floor supporting a cornice of the north wall is a reproduction of the Caryatid Porch on the Athenian acropolis. We observed that the figures carried a scroll and key in their hands; a motif readily identified with The Hermetica, a compendium of occult writings on magic, alchemy, and astrology. According to legend, its reputed author, Hermes Trismegistus, provided the wisdom of light in the ancient mysteries of Egypt by introducing the emerald, referred to by initiates as a “scroll,” and his caduceus, known as the sacred “key,” which enabled him to act as psychopomp, a guide to the souls of the underworld. The Staircase Hall’s most fascinating feature was that it was specifically designed to allow sunlight entering through the ceiling’s glass atrium to ‘ritually’ empower each of the room’s five protective icons. This feature is similarly found in Egypt, where the rays of the sun-god Ra would penetrate temples in strictly defined angles of geometry.
Frank Albo, 2004