“Symbols are a language that can help us to understand our past. As the saying goes, A picture is worth a thousand words – but which words” These are the words of Robert Langdon, Prof of Religious Symbology at Harvard University, as he begins a lecture to a hall of students in the opening scene of The DaVinci Code.
Both works communicate a recurring message about the power of symbols.The mystery of the geometric symbol at Pearl Street in lower Manhattan, (installed on the interior wall of a parking garage entrance) also contains a carefully designed code, but do any of the words behind the symbols code match those of Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code? The symbolic brickwork is speculated to be a synthesis of influences - primarily, a geometric representation of the Philosopher’s Stone within a Christian framework, and one informed by the Classical Greek and Egyptian revival within the second quarter of 19th century America architecture.
Christianity – Each code is associated within a framework of Christianity. The DaVinci Code proposes to expose a hidden truth about the Sacred Feminine in Christian tradition, with Jesus’ alleged wife, Mary Magdeline, bearing their child after the Cruxifiction. She flees to France where their lineage, and an ideal of a less patriarchal church, is protected by the Priory of Scion to the current day.
Its impossible to read a similar fiction within the geometry of 211 Pearl Street, even as the duality of its Alchemical symbolism is associated with the balanced union of male and female. The psychological implications are somewhat different. Where the DaVinci Code advocates equality between the sexes - the symbol suggests an internal process of philosophical Alchemy (see C.G. Jung), where male and female qualities are reconciled within the individual.
Secret Society – Arcane rituals, hidden knowledge and exclusivity underly the mystique of secret societies, which in most cases, is used as a practical tool of self improvement - not the aims of which conspiracy buffs may warn. But skepticism attached to secret societies persists, and the DaVinci Code exploits this fascination by polarizing two organizations, Opus Dei on the right, and the Priory of Scion, the alleged protector of the lineage of Jesus and Mary Magdeline.
At 211 Pearl Street, construction workers scrawled the words “Illuminati Shrine” on the plywood cover of the symbolic brickwork, marking it as a mystery associated with a secret society. But evidence of a secret society behind the symbol has not turned up. Experts on Freemasonry have dismissed its connection to that tradition. And the buildings owner moreover, William Colgate(who almost certainly approved the design), appears generally opposed to the idea of a secret society. His Baptist co-religionists were in the forefront of anti-Masonic activity during the era. But in the absence of documented proof, a secret society remains a theory, though not the most plausible.
Ironically, the son of an early merchant at 211 Pearl St., Seth Low Sr., was employed with Russell & Co. a leading Far East trader. Russell's son would be among the founders in 1834 of a secret society at Yale University, Skull and Bones (see web log entry below).
If the Pearl St. symbol does not ultimately suggest a secret society or a provocative DaVinci Code-like religious revelation, it does appear to reconcile pre-christian Esoteric traditions within a Christian belief system.
Prof. Langdon (perhaps in sharing the opinion of his real life collegues who have examined the symbol) would likely dismiss a secret society – and point to documented events and traditions in Esoteric and philosophical heritage such as Christianity, Greek and Egyptian natural philosophy, sacred geometry, Alchemy, etc.- Ideas that are pervasive. The ideas in the symbol may or may not hold ultimate truths, but their historical existance is not a flight of fiction.
(photo: DaVinci Code movie banners from Astor Pl. digitally attached to Pearl St. site)