A new exhibition at Warsaw’s National Museum is hoping to dispel myths about an ancient secret society. Throughout the centuries the Freemasons have been accused of everything from fermenting revolution to giving fellow members unfair advantages in business deals. Now the National Museum is doing its best to draw back the veil and show the true face of the Masons with a lavish exhibition devoted to this all-male group of brothers who prefer to be known for their charity work.
Freemasonry began in the Fourteenth century as a travelling union organisation for masons and other builders. These skilled workers formed themselves into lodges at building sites and evolved a complex series of signals, including code words and secret handshakes, to identify fellow Freemasons. From these humble origins the Masons evolved into a social organisation, attracting the rich and aristocratic.
One thing that hasn’t changed over the years is the society’s emphasis on secrecy. It’s refusal to divulge membership lists or talk about its rituals has given it a mysterious reputation in some quarters. Freemasons even feature as a sinister cabal in Dan Brown’s bestselling novel ‘The Lost Symbol’.
It’s images such as Brown’s that the National Gallery is hoping to put to flight with the ‘Pro Publico Bono’ exhibit. Visitors will find plenty of projections, sound installations and real Masonic regalia in an exhibition that treads a nicely symbolic path through the group’s history, both across the world and specifically in Poland.
Rooms are dedicated to the society’s initiation ceremonies, its social gatherings, and the role played by Polish Freemasons in nineteenth century nationalist rebellions.
And perhaps Dan Brown fans will discover the Masons are more than a pantomime secret society manipulating history from behind the scenes.
11 September 2014 – 11 January 2015
The National Museum in Warsaw