Mihail Kogălniceanu's Masonic Insignias / History of Romania in One Object
Photo 1: Mihai Kogălniceanu's Masonic apron
During most of the 19th century – also known as "the century of nations" - the Romanian Principalities Moldavia and Walachia, located at the mouth of the Danube river, endeavored to shake off the tutelage of the Ottoman Empire, their suzerain power, and get in step with the modern European civilization by adopting social, institutional and cultural models, as well as values, of Western Europe.
Photo 2: Mihail Kogălniceanu, portrait
Photo 3: Alexandru Ioan Cuza, portrait
Photo 4: Costache Negri, portrait by C.D. Stahi, the collection of The Union Museum in Iași
Photo 5: Vasile Alecsandri, portrait by C.D. Stahi, the collection of The Union Museum in Iași
At the middle of the 19th century, Romanians were lucky enough to witness the rise of a "golden generation" of politicians both in Moldova and Wallachia, brilliantly illustrated by Mihail Kogălniceanu, Vasile Alecsandri, Costache Negri, Alecu Russo, Dimitrie Rallet, Alexandru Ioan Cuza, Gheorghe Sion, the Golescu brothers, Dimitrie Brătianu. These reformers - almost all Masons initiated and trained in the radical, republican lodges of France – were the first to develop and conceptualize the idea of bringing together all Romanian provinces in a united "Romania".
Photo 6: The map of the united Romanian Principalities, the collection of The Union Museum in Iași
The Treaty of Paris in 1856 followed by the Paris Convention of 1858 provided the international legal framework which in 1859 made possible the unification of Moldavia and Wallachia under Alexandru Ioan Cuza (1859-1866). A supporter of the Romanian cause, the Emperor Napoleon III of France orchestrated the unionist efforts. Many pro-union activists were initiated in The Grand Orient de France (the largest of several Masonic organizations in France and the oldest in Continental Europe) and several lodges were created in the Principalities, such as the Star of the Danube, the Wise Men of Heliopolis and the Star of Romania. Most of the 1848 revolutionaries, young men fighting for new ideals, remained in constant touch with the Parisian lodges, especially L’Athénée des Étrangers.
Photo 7: Mihail Kogălniceanu in 1856
Among these young patriots Mihail Kogălniceanu - "the first Romanian brain organized in a modern fashion" as poet Octavian Goga later described him – was a remarkable politician, orator and diplomat who for over half a century would work tirelessly to attain what was described as the national ideal, that is, the creation and modernization of a Romanian national state, democratic and independent. He was involved in almost all crucial moments of Romania’s history in the 19th century and in the preparation of some that would mark the next one. Born in Iaşi on September 6 1817, Kogălniceanu was a royal aide during the reign of Moldavian Prince Mihail Sturdza, then the director of the National Theater in Iaşi, a revolutionary in 1848 and an ardent unionist in the aftermath, and later Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Interior Affairs as well as Minister Plenipotentiary of Romania to France. He died on June 21, 1891, in Paris; his body was brought back home and interred in the family crypt in the "Eternity" Cemetery in Iași.
Photo 8: Ilie Kogălniceanu, Mihail Kogălniceanu's father
Photo 9: Ecaterina Kogălniceanu, Mihail Kogălniceanu's mother
Photo 10: Image from "Mihail Kogălniceanu" Memorial Museum
In order to better understand this complex and fascinating personality, one needs to take a visit to his old historical neighborhood in Iași, his hometown, and spend some time in the house where he was born, raised and lived. Today a Memorial Museum bearing his name, the house re-enacts the atmosphere of a 19th century boyar residence. It highlights a rich heritage and uses tools and concepts that allow for an interactive approach.
Photo 11: Mihail Kogălniceanu's Masonic sash and apron
Among the many valuable objects of display the museum possesses Kogălniceanu’s apron and sash - the signs of the Masonic lodge where the great statesman was initiated in the first half of the 19th century.
Photo 12: Mihail Kogălniceanu's Masonic apron
The Masonic apron is made of white leather imprinted with the universal symbols of Freemasonry. The temple, placed in the center, symbolizes the Lodge, the meeting place of the Freemasons. The staircase represents the ascent, personal improvement. The three steps in front of the lodge relate to the three degrees of initiation of the members: Apprentice, Journeyman, and Master. The two columns at the entrance of the Lodge support the building, providing persistence and stability. The layout of the room echoes the hierarchy of the initiated. This is the place where all members congregate: "J" (Jakin) is the Column of the Journeymen while "B" (Boaz) is the Column of the Disciples. The Acacia positioned behind the two columns evokes the idea of permanence, hope, and immortality (resurrection). Well-known Masonic symbols are represented in the foreground: the triangle, the square, the compass, the level scale, the trowel, the hammer, the sword, and the burning torch. The apron is not meant to protect the clothing or the body. It is a sign of distinction and to this day is a mandatory piece in the outfit of any mason.
Photo 12: The equilateral triangle with the all-seeing eye, a symbol of self-knowledge and introspection which is attached to the apron
Similarly, the sash is another indispensable clothing accessory of any mason. This sash is made out of green silk and embroidered with several important Masonic symbols: the compass with one arm crossed over the square, the pentagram and the letters J and B. The sash was originally edged in red silk, symbolizing blood, the vital principle, and the perfection of human being. Had the metallic mark hanging at the end of the necklace been preserved, we could have been able to appreciate the Masonic degree of the wearer more precisely. According to several studies on Romanian Freemasonry, Kogălniceanu might have been the venerable of the lodge but there is not enough information to prove that with absolute certainty.
This towering personality who placed the Romanian state on a modern foundation and strongly believed in a free and united Romania remains relevant to this day. Kogălniceanu’s destiny totally merged with that of modern Romania while he truly was, as praised, "the soul of the national triumph".
Text by historian and curator MIHAELA-PETRONELA TUDOSE of Moldavia's History Museum in Iași. Video presentation by historian and curator IOAN IAȚCU of Moldavia's History Museum in Iași. A film by Mihai Neagu.
The second season of THE HISTORY OF ROMANIA IN ONE OBJECT, our online program that evokes decisive epochs in Romania's past starting from objects with powerful symbolic and representative value, is developed in partnership with two of the most important history museums in the country, Moldavia's History Museum in Iași and The National Museum of Transylvanian History in Cluj-Napoca.