Pyramids of the Fraternitas Rosæ Crucis

Not far from Philadelphia stand four Rosicrucian pyramids dating back about a century.[1]

Topless pyramid in Quakertown, Pennsylvania.
Topless pyramid in Quakertown, Pennsylvania.

Rosicrucians burst onto the scene in the early 17th century with a couple manifestos laying out the tenets of this secretive brotherhood: Fama Fraternitatis RC and Confessio Fraternitatis. The texts struck a nerve, and soon Rosicrucians were turning up in all sorts of texts. Some people, like Thomas Vaughan and Michael Maier, seemed eager to be associated with the Rosicrucians (or to call themselves Rosicrucians). Other people were more critical, e.g., John Wilkins dismissed Rosicrucians as offering

only a kind of Cabalisticall or Chymicall, Rosicrucian Theologie, darkning wisdome with words, heaping together a farrago of obscure affected expressions and wild allegories, containing little of substance in them….

Henry Stubbe was equally dismissive of the Rosicrucians. Despite the numerous pamphlets and texts written to, about, and against the Rosicrucians, the order seems to have been rather ephemeral and perhaps even an elaborate hoax. Rosicrucians have, however, survived.

Another small pyramid, one of four.
Another small pyramid, one of four.

Rosicrucians became part of the scholarship on history of science in large part thanks to Frances Yates’s work, who mentioned Rosicrucians in her book on Giordano Bruno and made them the subject of her The Rosicrucian Enlightenment.[2]

Philadelphia apparently has a long tradition of Rosicrucian activities. Sometime in the late 17th century a German mystic came to Philadelphia to establish a colony of Rosicrucians (of the Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis sort). A group of revolutionaries, including George Clymer, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Paine reportedly formed a Rosicrucian group in Philadelphia. In the 19th a physician, Paschal B. Randolf, founded another order of Rosicrucians, the Fraternitas Rosae Crucis. When he died toward the end of the century, a Philadelphia physician took over the order.

One of the pyramids is a a fountain at the center of a garden.
One of the pyramids is a a fountain at the center of a garden.

The pyramids are on land owned by The Franternitas Rosæ Crucis. The order has a complicated, labyrinthine, and contested history. It claims a variety of famous people as members, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Abraham Lincoln. I suspect there is a rich and entertaining history to be told about Rosicrucianism in the Philadelphia region.

Like the early modern Fraternal Order of the Rosy Cross, which generated so much speculation, these pyramids continue to bring out conspiracy theories and stories of occult worship (even, in extreme cases, suggestions of nefarious activities). Unfortunately, conspiracy theories are always more fun than reality: the pyramids seem to be largely decorative and symbolic now.[3]

  1. Most of the stories on the internet, sometimes accompanied by video and ominous voiceovers, are fanciful at best. Conspiracy theories abound, as do exaggerations. Even seemingly reputable sites get carried away speculating about these pyramids.  ↩

  2. This is not a post about Yates, the infamous “Yates Thesis,” her influence, or the problems with her work. Yates does make an interesting comment that the writers of the current Cosmos perhaps should have read. After quoting part of Bruno’s apparent endorsement of Copernicanism, she says:

    These are the passages which used to throw the nineteenth-century liberals into ecstasies as the cry of the advanced scientific thinker breaking out of mediaeval shackles, and they are indeed very striking, very thrilling words. What do the mean?

    Bruno’s heliocentrism is not astronomical or mathematical but “a new Hermetic insight into the divinity of the universe, an expanded gnosis.” Hmmm. Yates might have overstated the role of Hermetic philosophy in early modern Europe, but her identification of Bruno as a “prophet” in search of the divinity of the universe seems closer to Bruno’s project than the picture offered by Cosmos.  ↩

  3. I confess, I trespassed onto the property to look more closely at the pyramids. They are not “covered in Rosicrucian symbolism inside and out” (only one of the pyramids (not pictured here) is large enough to enter, but the doors were locked, so all I could do was peek inside). They have very little decoration—a couple plaques with names is about it. And there is no evidence of nefarious activities. They seem rather peaceful standing silently amongst rose bushes and ponds.  ↩

One reply on “Pyramids of the Fraternitas Rosæ Crucis”

[…] Much of this paragraph seems to be an exaggerated and enthusiastic mélange drawn from Weird Pennsylvania, pp. 55–56. Other parts of the post weave together fictions from history, on the one hand, and fanciful Rosicrucian mythologies, on the other. Disentangling the history from the mythologies of the Fraternitas Rosæ Crucis is a challenge—clearly too much work for the author of the Atlas Obscura post. But it shouldn’t be too difficult for the author get the easily verifiable history correct or to stop short of making things up. For a brief post on the local Rosicrucians and some photos of these pyramids, see “Pyramids of the Fraternitas Rosæ Crucis.” […]