GUELPH'S CATHOLIC HILL
(published in Our Town, Vol. 2, Issue 1, June 1987)
A Hotbed of Scottish Rite Freemasonry?
Local tradition has it that in 1863 highborn
Austrian nobleman Ferdinand Maximilian von Habsburg - short-lived Emperor
Maximilian of Mexico - began a colossal stone church on Guelph's Catholic
hilltop. It is said that foundations for a structure six times the size
of the Church of Our Lady were set into the hilltop. In his History
of Guelph: 1827-1927, published for the Guelph Historical Society,
Leo Johnson records the 1863 church cornerstone-laying ceremony but makes
no mention of Maximilian...or of Scottish Rite Freemasonry.
If Maximilian von Habsburg did have a grand
Masonic design involving Guelph as headquarters of a Peaceable Kingdom
in the New World, the popular and controversial 1981 French history
Holy Blood, Holy Grail has a thesis to explain it.
Authors Henry Lincoln, Michael Baigent, and
Richard Leigh claim in Holy Blood, Holy Grail that high ranking
Scottish Rite Freemasons believe that members of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine
are descendants of Jesus. Lincoln et al. maintain that the historical
Jesus was of royal blood, a real King of the Jews, and that as a Jewish
rabbi, Jesus would certainly have married and that his wife was likely
the woman known as the Magdalene. The wife and children of Jesus, claims
Holy Blood, Holy Grail, escaped from the Holy Land after the Crucifixion
and settled in the Languedoc, the mountainous northeastern foothills of
the Pyrenees in what is now southern France. In time, the descendants
of Jesus became the Merovingian kings of Frankish History.
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According to Holy Blood, Holy Grail,
in the 1980s a dozen families in Europe are able to claim Merovingian
lineage. The top contender is the House of Habsburg-Lorraine, by virtue
of the 1736 marriage of Maria Theresa von Habsburg and Francis, Duke of
Lorraine: great great grandparents of young Maximilian who in 1863 began
the huge church in Guelph.
Francis, Duke of Lorraine is known to have been
an ardent Scottish Rite Freemason. He was a contemporary and friend of
Charles Radclyffe, founder in Paris in 1725 of the first Scottish Rite
Masonic lodge, and personal secretary to Prince Charles Stuart of Scotland.
Francis's estates in Lorraine are said to have provided sanctuary to exiled
royal Stuarts from Scotland. Holy Roman Emperor from 1745-65, Francis's
court in Vienna was the Masonic capital of Europe. He became a great publicist
for the Order and was responsible for the spread of Scottish Rite Freemasonry.
Scottish Rite claimed to have descended directly
from the Knight Templars, the Order of warrior monks who played such a
crucial role in the Crusades to recapture the Holy Land. Scottish Rite
promised initiation into greater and more profound mysteries than did
other varieties of Freemasonry, mysteries supposedly preserved and handed
down in Scotland.
In the 19th century, states Holy Blood,
Holy Grail, Scottish Rite Freemasons continued to pursue their dream
of a heavenly kingdom on earth. Working through various organizations,
they tried to revive the Holy Roman Empire which had been jettisoned in
1806. The new Empire of the Scottish Rite Freemasons, claims Holy Blood,
Holy Grail, was to have been ruled jointly by the Habsburgs and a
radically reformed Roman Catholic Church. The new Empire was to have been
different, genuinely "holy" and "secular". The new Catholicism would embrace
all Christians; in their heavenly kingdom they would be "Romans" like
those in ancient Rome who had followed the true message of Jesus.
If the Holy blood, Holy Grail thesis
is correct, Maximilian von Habsburg may well have had in mind for Guelph
some grand Masonic scheme. After all, Habsburgs had ruled the old Holy
Roman Empire for most of 500 years.
Certainly Maximilian's man in Guelph - Father
John Holzer - doesn't appear to have been motivated by ecumenical or pan-Christian
Masonic principles. Father Holzer, like other Catholic priests in Upper
Canada, was attempting to create a separate society for Roman Catholics.
An Austrian like Maximilian, Holzer had been sent out to Canada by the
Society of Jesuits in 1848. During the 1850s and early '60s, he built
schools, St. Joseph's hospital, an orphanage, a convent, and a rectory.
He succeeded in all but the huge Habsburg church on Guelph's Catholic
We don't yet have documentation for Maximilian's
involvement in Guelph. What we do know is that in May of 1864, the 32-year-old
Maximilian and his wife Charlotte became Emperor and Empress of Mexico.
Sometime the same year, Father Holzer returned to Vienna in failing health.
On July 19, 1867 Maximilian died at the hands of a Mexican Republican
firing squad, ending all hope of the huge church in Guelph ever being
completed. The foundation stones of Maximilian's "visionary"
church were abandoned and in 1876 the Church of Our lady begun.
Scottish Rite Freemasonry might also explain
another puzzle: How Guelph's central hill came to be given to the Catholics.
Could founder of Guelph, John Galt - or some
of Galt's colleagues in the Canada Company - been pursuing a Scottish
Rite Masonic dream? Could this explain Galt's gift of the Guelph's central
hill to the Roman Catholics. After all, in 1827 when Guelph was founded,
Upper Canada was an Anglican preserve, and Roman Catholics were still
denied basic civil liberties. In Britain, Parliament still had two years
to wait before it could wring a Catholic Emancipation Act out of
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Galt wrote in his 1833 autobiography that he'd
reserved the hill for the Roman Catholics "in compliment" to his friend
Alexander Macdonell, Upper Canada's first Catholic bishop. Galt had put
together the Canada Company, a land speculation and settlement concern,
the largest and most powerful commercial enterprise ever created in Upper
Canada. It had been terribly difficult for him. Bishop Macdonell had provided
crucial advice - and capital - at a time when Galt's negotiations with
the British government had broken down. Gratitude towards Macdonnell had
prompted Galt's wonderful gift of Guelph's central hill to the Roman Catholic
Leo Johnson, in his History of Guelph: 1827-1927
writes that Galt also had other motives. Galt intended Guelph to become
an important Episcopal seat for the Roman Catholic Church. Galt even had
a Bishop in mind, Bishop (later Cardinal) Thomas Weld, another friend,
and, like Bishop Macdonell, a shareholder in the Canada Company. Galt's
grand designs for the Roman Catholic Church were not calculated to find
favor with the majority of his Company directors or with Upper Canada's
ruling Anglican elite.
Galt got into big trouble over his land gift.
The formidable Archdeacon Strachan of York (Toronto) was not amused by
Galt's gift of a mere "rising ground" to the Guelph Anglicans. Galt's
extraordinary gift to the Roman Catholics included a huge area surrounding
the hill; this was drastically reduced after his departure. Galt's gift
is thought to be one of four decisions he made that led to his dismissal
from the Canada Company.
Galt was not a Catholic; he came from a Scottish
Presbyterian background. Ian Gordon, distinguished Galt scholar and biographer,
in the recently published John Galt Reappraisals maintains that
Guelph's founder was "basically secular" and expresses some doubt that
Galt regarded himself as a Christian. Gordon thinks it unlikely that Galt
himself was a Scottish Rite Freemason, but that he certainly knew powerful
people who were.
Roman Catholic priests, bishops, cardinals,
even popes, were Scottish Rite Freemasons in the 19th century, says Henry
Lincoln in Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Though Rome might, and often
did, stridently disapprove, Scottish Rite Freemasons persisted in regarding
themselves as true Christians and Catholics. A Scottish Rite Freemason
in the 19th century, claims Lincoln, was likely to be deeply religious
and magically oriented: "Christian, hermetic, and aristocratic."
Galt's lack of religion may have excluded him
from the Scottish Rite Freemasons, or perhaps it was his humble origins.
The son of a west coast sea captain, Galt
was reproved by his critics for having the "education and manners of a
merchant." He was always scrambling for a living and seems to have had
precious little time for alchemical experiments. The exclusive and aristocratic
nature of Scottish Rite Freemasons may have appealed to the middle-class
Tory side of Galt. However, it may also have worked to his own disadvantage:
He may have wanted to become a Scottish Rite Freemason but was never invited
to do so.
Galt came from the right part of the world
for Scottish Rite Freemasonry. Charles Radclyffe's estates were not far
from Irvine, the Scottish seaport where Galt was born. Only
one mention of Galt occurs in J.R. Robertson's History of Freemasonry
in Canada. He carried a letter from Simon McGillivray in 1829 when
he crossed to London to defend himself - unsuccessfully - against charges
of extravagance and insubordination.
There is no evidence to show that Bishop Macdonell
and Cardinal Weld were Scottish Rite Freemasons. But Simon McGillivray
certainly was. He was Masonic grandmaster for Upper Canada, sent out from
Britain in 1822. McGillivray was a director of the Canada Company. It
would be interesting to know how many of John Galt's colleagues were Freemasons.
Their names occur on the list of subscribers to his privately printed
autobiography, on the early lists of the Canada Company Court of Directors,
and on Company shareholder lists. A check of these names in histories
of British Scottish Rite Freemasonry is needed to verify the belief of
one Galt scholar who says the Canada Company was "riddled" with Freemasons.
The enormous reality of religious strife in
Guelph's history contrasts sharply with the utopian visions Maximilian
von Habsburg and John Galt may have shared with the Scottish Rite Freemasons.
Consider these reports from Leo
Johnson's History of Guelph: 1827-1927. Item:
Oct. 10, 1843, the Catholic church is destroyed by fire, Protestant Orangemen
the suspected arsons. Item: 1847,
Orange and Catholic feuding results in Guelph's first public hanging.
Item: 1918, panic ensues when some townsfolk believe that the
Jesuits are constructing a network of underground tunnels, presumably
to invade the town.
Guelph still seems at times an unlikely choice
for the headquarters of a Peaceable Kingdom.