Is it true as I have recently heard it said, that the symbol of the Virgin Weeping Over the Broken Column is of American origin ? T. H. F., Florida.
The best answer to your reply will be found in an article on "The Broken Column," written by Brother C.C. Hunt, and published in the Quarterly Bulletin of the Grand Lodge of Iowa, July 1921. We print the entire article:
This emblem has usually been considered as an invention of Brother Jeremy L. Cross and doubtless he is largely responsible for its present form in our work. Brother Robert B. Folger in the Masonic Newspaper of May 10, 1879, giving Cross's account of its introduction into the work says:
"The causes which led him first to devise the plan of such a work were as follows: He was passionately fond of Masonry, studied under Thomas Smith Webb, Gleason, and others, became perfect under them in the lectures and work, and then started through the country as a lecturer in the year 1810. He was a man of excellent appearance in early life, very fluent in language, and, withal, a very fine singer. As a matter of course, he became very popular, the business of lecturing flowed in upon him very fast, and he had as much to engage his mind in that line as he could well attend to. Wishing to take advantage of all the business that offered, he found the work slow of accomplishment by reason of delays caused by imperfect memories. He wanted something of an objective kind, which would have the effect of bringing to mind the various subjects of his lectures, and so fixing the details in the mind, as with the sets of objects presented to the sight, the lectures in detail would be complete.
"There was not at that time any guide for lodges except the so-called Master's Carpet and the works of Preston and Webb. The Master's Carpet was deficient, being without many of the most important emblems, and those which it displayed were very much 'mixed up.' The work of Preston did not agree with the 'adopted work.' That of Webb agreed perfectly, but still was wanting in its most important part, viz., the hieroglyphics, by which the work is plainly and uniformly presented to the learner, rendering it easy of acquirement, and imprinting it upon the mind in such a manner that it will not readily be forgotten.
"He considered the matter for many months, and finally attempted to draw various plans, taking Webb's Monitor for a guide. Part of the work he accomplished satisfactorily to himself. This included the first and second degrees, and although there was but little really original in the emblems which he produced, yet the classification and arrangement was his own. He went on with the third degree very well, as far as the Monitor of Webb goes, when he came to a pause.
"There was a deficiency in the third degree which had to be filled in order to effect his purposes, and he became wearied in thinking over the subject. He finally consulted a brother, formerly a Mayor of New Haven, who at the time was one of his most intimate friends, and they, after working together for a week or more, could not hit upon any symbol which would be sufficiently simple and yet answer the purpose. Whereupon the copper-plate engraver, also a brother, who was doing his work, was called in. They went at the business with renewed courage, and the number of hieroglyphics which had by this time accumulated was immense. Some were too large, some too small, some too complicated, requiring too much explanation, and many not at all adapted to the subject. 'Finally,' said the copper-plate printer, 'Brother Cross, when great men die, they generally have a monument.' 'That's right,' said Cross; 'I never thought of that,' and away he went.
"He was missing from the company, and was found loitering around the burying-ground in New Haven in a maze. He had surveyed all that was there, but did not seem satisfied. At last he got an idea, whereupon the council came together again, and he then told them that he had got the foundation of what he wanted that while sojourning in New York City he had seen the monument erected over Commodore Lawrence in the southwest corner of Trinity Church yard; that it was a glorious monument to the memory of a great man who fell in battle. It was a large marble pillar, broken off. The part broken off was taken away, but they had left the capital lying at the base. He would have that pillar for the foundation of his new emblem, but would bring the other part of the pillar in, leaving it resting against the base. Then one could know what it all meant. The other part of the pillar should be there. This was assented to, but more was wanted. They needed some inscription describing the merits of the dead. They found no place on the column, and after a lengthy discussion they hit upon an open book, placed upon the broken pillar. But there should, in the order of things, be some reader of the book, so they selected the emblem of innocence in a beautiful virgin, who should weep over the memory of the deceased while she read of his heroic deeds.
"It would be proper to state that the monument erected to the memory of Commodore Lawrence was put up in the southwest corner of Trinity Churchyard, in the year 1813, after the fight between the frigates Chesapeake and Shannon, in which battle Lawrence fell. It was a beautiful marble pillar, broken off, and a part of the capital laid at its base. The monument remained there until 1844-45, at which time Trinity Church had been taken down and rebuilt as it now stands. When finished, all the debris was cleaned away, the burial grounds trimmed and fancifully decorated, and the corporation of the church took away the old and dilapidated monument of Lawrence from that spot and erected a new one of a different form, placing it in the front of the yard on Broadway, at the lower entrance of the church, where it now stands. Brother Cross and myself visited the new monument together, and he expressed great disappointment at the change, saying 'it was not half as good as the one, they had taken away!'"
The claim of Cross to having originated the emblem is, however, disputed. Oliver speaks of the monument but does not assign to it an American origin and the idea itself is very old. In the Barney ritual of 1817, formerly in the possession of Samuel Wilson of Vermont, which was the work adopted by the Grand Lodge of Iowa in 1860, there is the marble column, the beautiful virgin weeping, the open book, the Sprig of Acacia, the urn, and Time standing behind. The only part lacking is the Broken Column and the words referring to this were added later. Samuel Wilson says: "Previous to 1826, but the date or circumstances of their getting in I cannot recall." Thus it would seem that everything in the present emblem except the reference to the Broken Column was in use prior to the publication of Cross's Work and in fact the emblem in somewhat different form is frequently found in ancient symbolism.
With the Jews the column symbolized the princes, rulers or nobles, and a broken column denoted that a pillar of the state had fallen.
In Egyptian mythology Isis is sometimes pictured weeping over the broken column which conceals the body of her husband while behind her stands Horus or Time pouring ambrosia on her hair.
In Hastings' Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Isis is said to be sometimes represented standing. In her right hand is sistrum, in her left a small ewer and on her forehead is a lotus, emblem of the resurrection.
In the Dionysiac Mysteries Dionysius is represented as slain, Rhea goes in search of the body. She finds it and causes it to be buried in due form. She is sometimes represented as standing by a column holding in her hand a sprig of wheat, emblem of immortality, since though it be placed in the ground and die it springs again into newness of life. She was the wife of Kronus or Time, who may fittingly be represented as standing behind her.
While, therefore, it may be true that Cross gave to the emblem its present form it cannot be said that he gave expression to an entirely new idea. The greater part of it is an adaption rather than an invention.
The Builder Magazine March 1922, Volume VIII, Number 3.