Oakwood Cemetery: Gleaning snippets of history from headstones

At the urging of President Mirabeau B. Lamar*, the Congress of the Republic of Texas selected a site on the Colorado River to serve as the country’s capital. In October of 1839, the government was loaded into oxcarts and moved to a site bounded by Shoal Creek and Waller Creek and newly named in honor of Stephen F. Austin.

William H. Sandusky’s 1840 map of the new capital, Austin, indicates a square plot of land dedicated for use as a cemetery. Texas General Land Office collection.

By January 1840, the population swelled to 839, and the need for a cemetery was obvious. The original core of what would later become known as Oakwood Cemetery is marked on the right of the map above.

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Postcard from Lecce, Italy: The road time flies upon offers no turning back

“Via Irremeabile d’ell Eternita” labels a columned entrance to the Cimitero di Lecce. Loosely translated by the blogger who knows no Italian beyond words frequently encountered on menus, it means the road to eternity has no return.

Although we walked down that road, we fortunately were able to turn around. Noted for my taphophilia, my love of cemeteries is restricted to wandering in and out of them, not an eagerness to take up any permanent residence.

While the Cimitero di Lecce is not as impressive as the monumental ones of Bologna, Turin and Genoa, symbols most often associated with freemasonry make exploring it interesting.

Freemasonry mystifies me. As do its symbols, many drawn from ancient Egyptian art.

Interpreting with the same level of expertise as applied to the Italian above, the skulls and crossbones are not meant to intimidate but are a symbol of the new life to come. The eternal flame symbolizes enlightenment. There is the unblinking, all-seeing eye. A winged disk might represent a soul that has left its body on its way up to heaven; an acacia branch immortality. The owl, perhaps originating from the one always perched on the shoulder of the Goddess of Wisdom Minerva, represents knowledge and ability to see in the darkest night.

For all of these, there are antithetical dark meanings assigned to the symbols by those who regard freemasonry as akin to worship of the devil.

Historically, masonic membership was prevalent. Among famous masons were George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Sam Houston, David Crockett, Theodore Roosevelt, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Henry Ford, Winston Churchill and Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Its symbols are engraved in the design of our own dollar bill. Even the Mister’s Boerne-raised grandfather was a mason with a mantlepiece full of the wise owls he favored.

When the lights are permanently turned out for me and I am left standing in the middle of the road with no turning back, I would gladly welcome the appearance of a little owl to guide me along the dark path that lies ahead.

Postcard from Sintra, Portugal: Masonic mysteries surface at Quinta da Regaleira

During interrogation by the Inquisition, a Templar knight cryptically stated: “There exists in the Order a law so extraordinary on which such a secret should be kept, that any knight would prefer his head cut off rather than reveal it.”[40)

from First Templar Nation: How the Knights Templar Created Europe’s First Nation-State by Freddy Silva

When the royal family summered at Sintra, society followed. Among those was the Baroness da Regaleira, who purchased Quinta da Torre, dating from the 1700s, in 1840 and transformed it into a place of elegance.

But the next owner lavished more embellishments on the estate, known now as Quinta da Regaleira. Born in Rio de Janeiro to Portuguese parents, Carvalho Monteiro (1848-1920) engaged Italian architect Luigi Manini (1848-1936), who designed the Bussaco Palace for the royal family, to work on the main house and grounds from 1898 to 1911. By the time Monteiro completed his extravagant transformation of the quinta, the days of summering with the royals had come to an end. Following the assassination of his father, young King Manuel II was living in exile In London.

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The extensive grounds designed as an image of the Cosmos are filled with a network of mysterious towers, tunnels and grottos associated with Masonic rituals. The initiation well spirals dramatically downward into the earth (The Mister took the photo peering upward from the depths; one of us does not do subterranean spaces well.). Near the upper gate, workers were assembling stage and props for a Masonic ceremony.

Author Freddy Silva describes Sintra’s connections to the Knights Templar in First Templar Nation: How the Knights Templar Created Europe’s First Nation-State:

In 1152 Afonso Henriques — by now first king of Portugal — donated the entire village to a man who would become the fourth Templar Master of Portugal, Gualdino Paes (one of the five knights sent by Hugues de Payens to “establish a Portuguese crown”), and he did so under unusual circumstances — in absentia, while Paes was in Palestine with the then Templar Grand Master André de Montbard (also allegedly head of the Ordre de Sion).[38] Hundreds of years of earthquakes, neglect and time made their mark on the Templars’ properties in Sintra, but their original foundations remain and now serve modern day businesses, such as the Hotel Central and Café Paris. In 1970 a hypogeum or ritual chamber with access tunnels was discovered beneath said café, with a connecting passageway leading one way to the nearby Palace, and the other uphill towards the Templar castle.

Fifteen minutes’ walk from Sintra’s main square lies another property that right up to the Middle Ages was described as the Forest of Angels. Today it is the site of an extensive property owned by successive Masonic families dating to at least the early 18th century; in 1371 it was still in the possession of the Knights Templar.[39] Its gardens can only be described as a deliberately designed ritual landscape. One of its many wonders is a labyrinth of tunnels dug into the solid bedrock of the mountainside, penetrating deep into the hill as though meant for initiates wishing to immerse themselves in the dark seclusion of the womb of the Earth Mother, much like Gnostic sects have done throughout history. One of these tunnels leads to a shaft sunk forty feet into the earth.

It is described in official brochures as a well, and yet a close examination shows it never did, nor is it capable of retaining water. It consists of five levels of unevenly stacked and undressed limestone blocks, here and there patched and repaired. Behind the blocks hide five low and narrow circular galleries, each accessed through claustrophobic spiral stairs set into the rough wall and in a measured style that suggests a later refurbishment. The top of the shaft is literally an eighteen-foot diameter hole, level with the ground and surrounded by a rough, dry-stone wall in the shape of a horseshoe. This entrance faces northeast and, like Stonehenge’s horseshoe of bluestones, it references the highest position of the light, the summer solstice sunrise, the esoteric reference to ancient wisdom and, coincidentally, the feast day of John the Baptist, to whom the Templars dedicated a disproportionate amount of churches in Portugal and elsewhere.

Now owned by the municipality of Sintra, Quinta da Regaleira (click link to see videos) is operated by a nonprofit. The general public, and Freemasons, share the magical space.