Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/11/2006 (3617 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In this, the fourth chapter of a special two-week series, Winnipeg scholar Frank Albo defines the magic of sacred geometry to Carolin... by the numbers.
JUDGING by the way Frank was looking at me and grinning, he could tell I was finally starting to grasp his temple theory.
He raised an eyebrow. "So maybe it's not just me who thinks there's more to this place than a bunch of boring politicians talking policy.
"Another thing you'll find is the repetition of certain numbers," said Frank. "Numerology was important to ancient architects. In here, for instance, five is an important number.
"There are five archways on either side of the Grand Staircase Hall. Look in the arch of the dome above us. See those panels? Each of them has five gold rosettes. And there are five different styles of columns in the building."
Frank could see that I was counting the columns around us in the rotunda. There were eight.
"They're Corinthian," he said. "Eight is another recurring number in the building. There are eight columns -- Doric ones -- in the portico below, where the security desk is located. The Star has eight points. There are eight decorative lamps around the Pool of the Black Star, and all the rosettes in the Grand Staircase Hall have either five or eight petals."
He ran his hand along the railing of the balustrade. "And there's one more recurring number -- too many examples for it to be coincidence, I think. This balustrade makes a circle 13 feet across. The Grand Staircase -- the one we climbed up to the rotunda -- has 13 steps in each of its three flights."
Frank pointed to the arched door leading from the rotunda into the Legislative Chamber. "See the circular mouldings around the door to the house? There are 13 of them. There are also 13 lights down every corridor and 13 media seats above the Speaker's chair."
"And five and eight add up to 13," I said. "But what's the significance?"
Frank took a notebook from his bag and opened it on the railing.
"Five, eight and 13 are part of a fascinating series of numbers," he said.
"Math isn't my field, but -- well, let me show you. It's called the Fibonacci series. Fibonacci was a 12th-century scholar from Pisa. He was the man who introduced the West to the Arabic numbers -- the decimal system -- of 1 through 9, with a zero. Try doing this with Roman numerals."
I interrupted. "Hey, wasn't this Fibonacci series mentioned in The Da Vinci Code? You read it, didn't you?" I asked, admittedly yanking Frank's chain.
He'd already said he was reluctant to draw comparisons with Brown's novel because he thought a lot of it was "bunk."
He rolled his eyes. "Yeah," he said. "Anyway, Fibonacci started with the 0 and the 1, and added them together." In his notebook, Frank put down 0,1,1. "Then he kept on adding the last two numbers to one another." He jotted across the notebook until it read: 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21. "See, there's our 5-8-13 segment. Of course you can keep adding the second-last to the last number as many times as you want. The series is of infinite length." He jotted some more of the series: 34, 55, 89, 144.
"Now," he said, "take this calculator and divide each number by the one before it."
Yippee, math class, I groaned to myself. But I grabbed the calculator.
"Starting where?" I asked.
"One divided by one," he said.
"That I can handle," I said. "The answer is one."
"Two divided by one?"
"Two," I said.
"And three divided by two?"
"And five over three?"
"It's 1.66667," I read.
"Close enough," said Frank. "And eight divided by five?"
"One point six."
"OK," said Frank, "you keep calling out the answers and I'll jot them down. When you see something developing, tell me."
I was about to make a crack about the likelihood of a journalist noticing anything developing out of a string of numbers, but I bit my tongue. Frank looked all scholarly and serious with his pencil and notebook, so I did as he asked.
"They're getting closer together," I said, wondering what all this numerical mumbo-jumbo had to do with anything, let alone pagan temples. "They're coming out somewhere around 1.618."
"That's right," said Frank, "though it seems to have an infinite decimal expansion -- people have calculated it to a billion decimal points without it ending or repeating."
"Like pi?" I ventured. I hadn't slept through my entire math education.
"That's right," Frank said. "The ancients called it the Golden Ratio or the Golden Mean.
"The legislature's architect, Frank Simon, incorporated in his design geometric principles which were thought to be a physical enactment of divine will -- a type of blueprint for the mind of God.
"Simon is calling on divine will to work a miracle -- to make this building's users more intelligent, more moral, more in the image of God."
Glancing at Frank's expression, I decided to forgo any jokes about how the divine will must have been sleeping on the job.
But I wanted a break, if only to see if I could get as worked up about this string of numbers as Frank and Dan Brown had. "Let's go outside," I said. "It must be nearly noon."
Frank checked his wristwatch. "Ten after," he said. "Want to walk out to Broadway and get a hotdog or something?"
"Sure," I said, and we gathered up our stuff and stepped out into the sunshine.
Broadway is a divided street, with a wide boulevard down the middle. The trees on the boulevard, at their tops, mingle with the tops of the curbside trees. At about this time of day, people pour out of the businesses and government buildings that line it, and get lunch from the carts and trucks that stake out their zones on or along the north sidewalk.
Frank got us each a smoky dog and a bottle of cold water, and we found a bench on the boulevard with a view of the legislature.
The meaning behind the Fibonacci series still eluded me, but it was plain that Frank thought it was important.
"So the architect hoped to work a miracle through numbers?" I said. "C'mon. You can't be serious."
"I'm absolutely serious," Frank said. "Can't you see the parallel? The Golden Section was considered by ancient Greeks to be a divine proportion that produced the most esthetically pleasing forms in nature -- everything from mollusk shells and sunflower florets to divisions of the human body and the shape of spiral galaxies. Da Vinci used it to proportion the human figure in his paintings -- which is why it figures so prominently in Dan Brown's book."
So Frank hadn't totally dismissed the bestseller.
"It's held to be the perfect ratio for a building," he continued, waving his hotdog in the air.
"The front elevation of the Parthenon has long been considered an expression of the Golden Section. In the Legislature, the eye of the dome is 87 feet and the diameter of the rotunda is 54 feet, so the ratio is 1.611 -- pretty close to the Golden Section.
"There's another name for the Golden Section," Frank continued. "Sacred geometry.
"It's hard for us in the 21st century to appreciate how geometry was once revered. Plato had a sign above the entrance to his Academy that read: 'Let no one unversed in geometry enter here.' By the Middle Ages, the great thinkers believed geometry could recreate the Divine. They thought it was the key to the mind of God.
"The Freemasons considered geometry to be an exclusive and sacred science which was handed down by God to Hiram Abif, the builder of Solomon's temple."
I stood up, and stared at Frank with my mouth open.
"The Freemasons?" I said. Had we just suddenly changed gears? I imagined a bunch of middle-aged men in fezzes raising money for children's hospitals and riding mini-motorcycles in parades. Wait, those are the Shriners...
Of course, I knew that the Freemasons were some kind of secret society, and I'd heard the conspiracy theories about how they were supposedly a cabal set on world domination.
I felt my wingnut radar clicking. "Are you going to tell me the Masons were somehow involved in making this building a temple?" I said.
"And that they carried out some of their secret rituals here? I guess we'll never know for sure because they're a secret society, right?"
I waited for Frank's punchline. But instead, he dropped another bomb.
"I became a Freemason myself last year," he said.
I tried to picture this exuberant man, who talks a mile a minute, waving his arms around wildly as he does, joining a fraternity where you are sworn to secrecy.
And then he began to tell some secrets.