SARANAC LAKE - One of the back windows features a double-headed eagle with the number 32 above it. Some of the windows have vegetation in them, and there are other symbols such as a tambourine, a horn, a Greek lute, and a paschal lamb holding a Knights Templar banner. The angels on the walls are similar stylistically to the ones at Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland.
Saranac Lake's Methodist Church, at the corner of Church and St. Bernard's streets, was finished in 1927 and is loaded with symbols associated with the Freemasons and references to King Solomon's Temple, which is hugely important in Freemasonry and is what Masonic temples are meant to represent. These were apparently worked in by Freemasons who were members of the congregation at the time and involved in its funding and construction, according to the research of the Rev. Maggie McCarey, who has been pastor there for almost four years.
"This was all done in some amazing, secret way I haven't found out yet," McCarey said.
A view of the windows in the back of the church. A double-headed eagle, which is a Scottish Rite Masonic symbol, is in the center one. Above the eagle’s head is a 32, the next-to-highest degree in Scottish Rite Freemasonry.
(Enterprise photo — Nathan Brown)
McCarey discusses some of this in the last chapter of her recent book, "Wise Woman's Children: Dancing Barefoot in the Church." She writes that she became familiar with Knights Templar symbolism through her religious research. She said she shook when she first walked into her new church in 2007.
"It's like the Wizard of Oz turning to technicolor," McCarey said, describing her feelings when she first went inside. "I really, literally believe I was led to this place."
Michael Turmel is a 32nd-degree Scottish Rite Mason with Saranac Lake's Whiteface Mountain Lodge #789. One of his bachelor's degrees is in medieval and Renaissance history, and his master's is in classical archaeology, with a concentration in mythology and religion. He has been studying the symbolism in the church since he became aware of it a couple years ago. Turmel gave a presentation about the church's symbolism, at an open house at the lodge celebrating its 125th anniversary in spring 2010.
The two-headed eagle, Turmel said, dates back to ancient Mesopotamia, and has been used many times in history, including by the ancient Romans and the Nazis. Scottish Rite Masons adopted it in the 1800s.
Turmel said the eagle's meaning is debatable. It could represent the universality of Freemasonry, since the eagle looks east and west, or, it could represent strength and courage. The sword it holds, and swords in general, represent truth in Freemasonry. Turmel said this goes back to medieval times, when nobles who accused each other of lying would settle their differences with a swordfight.
"The true sword would be the sword that slayed the liar," Turmel said.
There are also a number of excaliburs in the windows, and one outside on the side of the building. Turmel said the excalibur has no particular Masonic meaning, although the sword does. He said they could also be an indirect reference to the Sinclair family, who built Rosslyn Chapel and has a number of Masonic connections, comparing elements of their history and symbolism in the chapel to themes in the Arthurian legends.
The paschal lamb, Turmel said, is a symbol of York Rite Freemasonry. Another window has a crown with a cross in it, which he said is the symbol for the York Rite's highest degree. In Catholic iconography, this represents the reward one receives (Heaven, the crown) through sacrifice for God (the cross). Its Masonic meaning is similar: the reward (the highest degree) attained through doing one's duty.
As for the angels in the Methodist Church - an unusual feature in a Methodist Church to begin with, McCarey said, as Methodism doesn't promote angels like some other denominations - the only difference between them and the ones in Rosslyn Chapel is the cross on the shields. The ones in Rosslyn Chapel have the Sinclair family cross on them.
Many of the symbols are not specifically Masonic, but would've been included to represent Solomon's Temple - the six-pointed stars throughout the church represent the House of Solomon and the five-pointed ones represent the House of David, Solomon's father.
One window refers to wine - grapes and a cup - and others to oil, such as an image of an oil lamp with a Bible. The wine symbolically represents refreshment, Turmel said, the oil illumination or knowledge. The workmen who built Solomon's temple were paid in corn, wine and oil, Turmel said.
He said there aren't any direct references to corn, but some of the vegetation might represent it. Solomon's temple itself is a symbolic representation of the Garden of Eden, which is represented by the vegetation.
"The Masons building the church, having a certain knowledge of that, would've put all the vegetation in the windows," Turmel said.
One of the windows contains three musical instruments - a tambourine, a Greek lute and a female ram's horn. The horn, Turmel said, was used at the temple to announce the coming of the Jewish New Year, and the instruments also represent religious celebrations.
There are also representations of Boaz and Jachin, the two pillars on the porch of Solomon's Temple and also symbolic of the Tree of Knowledge and Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. There are keyholes represented in the windows, which McCarey said denotes that there is a mystery behind them. There is also a scroll with a lamp over it on one of them; the scroll is backwards. McCarey interprets this as representing hidden meanings in the Bible - it has to be turned around to be understood.
Many of the symbols in the church are Christian, without any specific Masonic meaning. The dove in one of the windows symbolizes peace and the Holy Spirit, for example. There are also many fleurs-de-lis, a common symbol with a number of possible meanings. There is also an image in one of the windows behind the altar that Turmel explained as Jesus chastising the moneylenders in the temple. McCarey sees another Knights Templar reference in this - the white robe with a red sash Jesus wears, that she said is what Knights Templar initiates would wear.
The church's construction
McCarey has researched the church's construction. She writes in her book that she "persisted in digging up the history of the Masonic presence in the 1920s aided by a photograph of hundreds of Masons in my own church office, all staring back at me. I discovered there was hardly a Methodist man who wasn't also a secretive Mason in Saranac Lake in the 1920s."
She said she has identified a group of wealthy doctors who sat in a group of pews in front, to the right of the altar if you're facing it (there are no longer pews there), who "secretly organized this Masonic coup," as she writes.
The glasswork, she said, shows just how much money was spent on the church. The windows are hand-painted, which is more expensive and time-consuming than stained glass and was used in medieval Europe. Charles W. Bolton and Sons, a Philadelphia-based architectural firm that, McCarey said, is affiliated with many Masons, designed the church.
Turmel said it isn't surprising the Masonic connection was forgotten over time, given the secretiveness of previous generations of Masons. Masons are barred from recruiting, as this would be violating someone's free will.
"So fathers can't say, 'Son, I think you should join,'" Turmel said. "Especially the old-school Masons would never do that. They would never tell their families anything about the fraternity."
This has changed recently, Turmel said. Last year's open house, for example, never would've happened in years past.
"The fraternity has had almost 300 years of influencing western civilization in one form or another," Turmel said. "We're in history books. As a part of that, there's no reason to hide, and so we're becoming a little more open."
The church's youth group found a book of Masonic rites, published in Canada and dating from the 1890s, while searching around the church about two years ago. McCarey said she had heard stories about gold being hidden in the church during the Great Depression, and they were looking for that. She said she gave the book to Saranac Lake's Masons last year for their 125th anniversary celebration.
McCarey said the church isn't doing well financially, and that she would like some help from the worldwide Masonic organization to help maintain the building. Ultimately, she said, she envisions the church becoming a tourist attraction. She calls it "the great secret of the Adirondacks."
An image of King David is on one side of the altar, of his wife Abigail on the other. Turmel said this would make sense as a reference to Solomon's Temple. There are also figures at some of the church's entrances. Turmel said representations of saints at the entrances is a common feature of churches, and that he can't distinguish their genders.
McCarey interprets these as male and female figures. She sees other male and female pairings elsewhere - some of the symbols in the painted-glass windows, for example, and an arch with a male and female angel on it. This lines up with her own theology, which she describes in great detail in her book.
Much of the book deals with her personal theological journey and own views of God, more loving than many traditional Christian views and including beliefs about being able to communicate directly with the spirit world. She argues that this was part of early Christian tradition, but was suppressed after the creation of the Roman Empire in favor of the view that spiritual communication should come through the Church hierarchy. She also talks about the history in Christianity of the suppression of the idea of God having a female aspect.
McCarey told the Enterprise she doesn't think the earth can sustain itself until the male and female combine as one element. She said she doesn't believe the world will end, as described in the Book of Revelations and which many conservative Christians interpret literally, but that rather, the current era will end gradually and a new one will begin.
"This is the sort of prophetic vision of a new heaven, a new earth which comes together through the divine alchemy of male and female," McCarey said.
McCarey describes in the book her own personal experience with God and visions she has had, including being able to diagnose people's diseases and communicate with their dead relatives. When she was the pastor at Broadway United Methodist Church in Schenectady about a decade ago, the "holy circles" she would hold with some of the churchwomen led some others to accuse her of witchcraft. McCarey attributes this to disputes with a few of the established families who wanted to maintain control of the congregation.
"They got desperate," McCarey said. "They pulled out the archetypal witch card. ... That's really why I started writing the book. It was so painful for so many years."
McCarey said a few of her female pastoral colleagues have been accused of witchcraft, or experienced discrimination - not being allowed to bury someone, for example. She said she tried to use her experience as a window into the mob mentality.
"I did not personalize that experience," McCarey said. "I realize it was a lot larger than me."
Contact Nathan Brown at 891-2600 ext. 26 or email@example.com.