Saturday, April 21, 2012

Angelo Soliman: A Famous Mason Meets a Ghastly End


I recently gave an LEO presentation at Red Wing Lodge #8 on Angelo Soliman. I started the presentation by asking how many people had heard of Sir Isaac Newton, Prince Hall, and Benjamin Franklin. After each name that I announced I asked for a show of hands and everyone in attendance raised their hands after each named mentioned. Then I asked for a show of hands of anyone who had ever heard of Angelo Soliman. Not a hand went up, which was no surprise to me, as I had not heard of him up until a couple weeks before my presentation. Who was Angelo Soliman and why, as Masons, should we know his story?


Angelo Soliman, was born Mmadi Make was born around 1721 in what would be today's northeastern Nigeria/Cameroon. He was a member of the Kanuri ethnic tribe and at about the age of 7, was taken as a slave to Marseilles, and later taken to a house in Messina where his education was oversaw by a marchioness. He chose his name out of love of another servant girl, Angelina. In 1734 he was given as a gift to Prince Georg Christian, Furst von Lobkowitz, the imperial governor of Sicily. He was the Prince's valet and travelling companion and once saved the Prince's life in the field of battle. After the death of the Prince he was transferred to the house of Joseph Wenzel I, Prince of Liechtenstein where he rose to the rank of chief servant and tutor to the Prince's son, Aloys I. During this time he was reported to have learned six different languages.


Soliman was considered by many in Vienna to be 'exotic' as he was from Africa and it is widely considered that he was the first African to have lived in Venice. Soliman was also an educated man and was a very skilled chess player who had beaten a chess-play-automat known as the 'Turk.' The 'Turk' was actually a very good chess player seated inside the automat. It was designed by Wolfgang von Kempelen and he would tour around Europe with his invention. Soliman was also a renowned Faro player and won a huge sum, at that time, of 20,000 guilders, or about 940 current U.S. dollars. He invested most of this in a cobalt mine but last it due to the mine's poor administrative management. Shortly after he married a widow of one of Napoleon's generals which angered Liechtenstein,which led to his dismissal. Soliman purchased a small garden home and devoted most of his time studying history and science. His only child, Jospepha, was born in 1772. Upon the death of Liechtenstein, his nephew rehired Soliman and he became to tutor to his son, which brought him an annual salary of 600 guilders.


Between 1781-1786, Soliman became a member of  the  "True Harmony" Masonic Lodge. The Lodge had many famous members such as Mozart and Haydn. Soliman rose to the level of  "Vice-Grand Master of Ceremony," what we would call the Worshipful Master in our modern-day Lodges. It was in this role that he initiated one of the biggest changes in the ritual of the Lodge, one that has reverberated down through the ages. Up until this time, the Lodge was often just a time for Brothers to get together to eat, drink, and be merry. So what did Soliman do to change all of this? He changed the ritual to allow the reading of scientific papers within the Lodge. This was a very risky thing at the time, as The Church could very easily label someone a heretic, or even worse. By implementing this change Soliman opened the door for many famous Masons to be able to speak and present ideas and theories without the fear of The Church finding out. The idea spread quickly throughout Europe and enhanced the reputation of Freemasonry being a society of intellectuals.

It was at this time that Soliman chose 'Massinissa' as his Masonic name, which alluded to the Numidic king of the same name that lived from 240-148 B.C., and was the leader of the new Numidic state, one that was made up of a culture of Carthaginian-Hellenistic roots.

Sadly, Soliman's final years were full of disappointment and tragedy and his 'exoticness' led to a ghastly ending that sounds like it could have come out of a horror novel. In 1796 his house was seized for unpaid debts and was forced to move back to the Liechtenstein Palais where, although he was retired, he was fully paid. On November 21, 1796, Soliman suffered a stroke and died of apoplexy near St. Stephen's cathedral.  His body was taken to his home and a death mask was prepared before his body was taken to the Faculty of Medicine at Vienna's old University. Here, in the facility's anatomical theater, his intestines were removed, his skin and skeleton saved, and the rest of his remains were buried in a cemetery on the outskirts of Vienna two days later.
 A famed sculptor by the name of Franz Thaller stretched Soliman's skin over a padded wooden model. The model was kept in a wooden chest that was displayed in the Imperial Library as part of it's natural history display. Here his remains resided for ten years before it was used in displays with stuffed wild animals and the stuffed body of a little African girl and the former African zookeeper of the Vienna Zoo. The bodies would be dressed in what was considered to be 'authentic' African garb ans displayed along with the stuffed African animals. In 1848, during a resistance of students and workers, his body was lost, along with most of the museum, when a misguided magazine engulfed the building in flames.


There have been stories and rumored that have existed that Soliman wanted his remains to be preserved for future generations and that his Masonic friends had convinced him to do so. This is very hard to believe as most of his Masonic friends were shocked when they discovered what had happened to his remains. The order must have come from Franz II, the same family that Soliman had served for years. Franz had reversed a lot of the policies of Joseph II, abolishing many of his enlightenment ideas. Also, as tradition hands down through the ages, Franz II had a perverse addiction to human flesh, not unlike the Nazi's who would later make book bindings, lampshades, etc., out of human skin.


 Soliman left a lasting legacy that is still being felt today. Aside from his initiating the reading of scientific papers in Lodge, he was also rumored to be the inspiration for Mozart's characters Monostatos, in the 'Golden Flute,' and Bassa Selim, in 'The Abduction from Seraglio.' He is also the inspiration for the character of disgraced servant boy in Robert Musil's novel, 'The Man Without Qualities,' written about the end of the Austrian monarchy. The Wien Museum featured an exhibit last year, entitled 'Soliman: An African in Venice' and it was very well received. I hope that even more is discovered about Soliman in the years to come!

If anyone would like to present a LEO presentation to their Lodge on Angelo Soliman, I do have a power-point presentation that I can e-mail to you.

29 comments:

  1. This is a fascinating story. Thanks for sharing it.

    Nick

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  2. You are welcome! Sadly, there is not a lot of information on Soliman and I had to piece this together from the article I read and a few sources online. I hope more is written about him as he is a fascinating individual!

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    1. Bro. Gary:

      Can you please send me by e-mail the LEO presentation about Angelo Soliman. This would be a great presentation to make to the Toronto Mason.

      Delete
    2. Hi Gary:

      I forgot to give you my e-mail address for the LEO presentation about Angelo Soliman. Here it is: richardorion@sympatico.ca

      Delete
  3. Very interesting story. I would like to have a copy of the presentation. My email address is Ronald.sapp@hotmail.com

    Ronald Sapp

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  4. Thanks Gary for this information I would love to have a copy of the presentation. My email address is uphllc@yahoo.com thanks again, Gar Roberts

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  5. He was no slave, he was a Moor. And he didn't join a lodge, he brought freemasonry to Europe and they stole it. Think, what slave wore a turban. There's much they don't want you to know, but the history is there. Before blacks went to Europe the kings and queens were living with the animals in Barnes. But it was the masons from Africa that brought them out of the darkness. Look at the similarities in the castles in England and the ones in Africa that that the don't show you. Blacks gave them technology, astrology, the clock, the wheel, science, math, grammar and countless other things that we don't get credit for, classical music, the piano. Yes all this was blacks. Knowledge is power people.

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    1. Mr. Jeezy,
      Thanks for your comments!

      He may have been of Moorish decent, but he was imprisoned and forced into slavery, and history can prove this and there are a lot more learned men than me that have written about him. Did he wear a turban? Sure, he probably did, as the picture suggests, as many people in his culture did. History also shows that he petitioned the Lodge and was it's first W.M. of African lineage, as history can also prove.Freemasonry had existed in Europe for many years before Angelo came but he was instrumental in changing it to let more people of culture, science, etc. in. As far as the Moors giving Europe the wheel, history shows that the wheel originated in Mesopotamia, and more than likely originated in Asia at abour 8,000. B.C. The other things that you state, math, astology, grammar, etc., the Moors may have contributed to them, but other cultures had discovered them first, most of them being from Mesopotamia.
      The point of my article was to show that Freemasonry, for the most part, has forgotten Angelo, and I was trying to shed some light on this great Mason and to get people to look into him more. He was a great man and met a terrible end. History should not forget him.

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  6. Great Great Great article, very interesting piece.

    Yes indeed the Moors enlightened Europa, there is no doubt about that but, remember their (the Moors) state from 1492 to Bro Angelo's times. There is a lot that is not said about this Brother or maybe not I found this website

    http://www.moorishriteonline.net/angelosoliman.htm

    This brothers seem to have him in a very high esteem

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  7. Peace brother I was thinking whats the chance of be getting your power point presentation im very interested my e mail is jonathangil82@gmail.com

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  8. Glad I found this article. Great job on presenting this information Bro.
    I would also like to ask if you would please email me a copy of your power point presentation. My email is sharif.ali7@yahoo.com

    Peace and Blessings,
    Sharif

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  9. Hello Brother my name is Damon Hall I am the Senior Deacon at my lodge and the first African American to become a member there. Dhlh2008@gmail.com

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  10. Fraternal Greetings Brother:
    I am very impressed by your research about our highly esteemed Patriarch of The Ancient Free Moorish Rite of Freemansonry. I would Love to share insight on this Beloved Brother's history and legacy. Moreover, i would love a copy of your Power point Presentation..... Please email me at Greenlightjariyyahglnj1@gmail.com or call me at 1-732-337-6812

    Peace and Blessings Brother,
    Ill. Jalil A.M. Abdullaah, 33/4* A.F.M.R.

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  11. Gary, could you please send this powerpoint to me? okmason1@coxinet.net
    Steve Singleton, Gr Sec of Oklahoma

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  12. Wow! I Kaliym Muhammadbey was teaching this history in my Lodge as well

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  13. I would like power point presentation to present to our lodge R.'.L.'.S.'. Malachi Lodge No.07 AF&AM Orlando Florida if still available. email is ericccollins33@Gmail.com TFA

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  14. Thanks for the info, but your email address no longer works...

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  15. Very well written article. Well presented and easily explained. Thank you for posting. Is it still possible to get power point for in lodge presentation. We have a new Traditional Observant lodge here in Asheville, North Carolina and I believe that this would be well received by our brethren.

    John Burchfield
    johnmburchfield33@gmail.com

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  16. I like this article, it's well written, and we always appreciate a well written Masonic piece. I commend you, Brother Thomas, Jr., and I thank you as well. Angelo Soliman is the patriarchal figure of the Ancient Free Moorish Rite (www.moorishriteonline.net). See Brother Jalil's comment above. And while we assume that Freemasonry has "forgotten" Angelo Soliman, such is not the case with the Moorish Rite.

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  17. I would like the Power Point presentation on Angelo Soliman

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  18. very impressive and well wrote i would love to have a power point on this if it is still available to have discussions in my lodge. My Prince Hall brothers and i love leaning about all who have contributed to masonry please contact me at kenyocrawford47@gmail.com

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  19. Hello Brother
    There are a number of incorrect statements in your paper on Soliman. Permit me but first you stated "Soliman rose to the level of "Vice-Grand Master of Ceremony," what we would call the Worshipful Master in our modern-day Lodges. It was in this role that he initiated one of the biggest changes in the ritual of the Lodge, one that has reverberated down through the ages. Up until this time, the Lodge was often just a time for Brothers to get together to eat, drink, and be merry. So what did Soliman do to change all of this? He changed the ritual to allow the reading of scientific papers within the Lodge. This was a very risky thing at the time, as The Church could very easily label someone a heretic, or even worse. By implementing this change Soliman opened the door for many famous Masons to be able to speak and present ideas and theories without the fear of The Church finding out. The idea spread quickly throughout Europe and enhanced the reputation of Freemasonry being a society of intellectuals."


    The master of ceremonies is not the same as the worshipful master. it is the position that still exists in many of our lodges which is to prepare the candidate in the anteroom. To suggest that Soliman was the WM because he is listed as Master of Ceremonies is totally incorrect.

    Secondly, Soliman DID NOT introduce any drastic changes to the lodge like what you describe. The Lodge of True Harmony was founded as an intellectual lodge. To suggest that Soliman introduce something that was already present is also incorrect. The correct information is that Soliman brought and recommended the Brother Ignaz von Born who became WM of the lodge and the one who made the most significant changes to the Lodge. Soliman was not responsible for the reforms instituted by von Born. These facts are documented in the minutes of the lodge and other sources. There is a lot that Soliman did that does not deserve the creation of untruths in his name. He did not introduce freemasonry to europe nor did he create or introduce any sweeping reforms

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  20. yes if possible, please send to kstepter@gmail.com

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  21. yes if possible, please send to kstepter@gmail.com

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  22. Great read thank you, I would like to get the power point presentation of angelo,
    My email address: labib3x@gmail.com

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  23. Fascinating story, thanks for sharing. I would like to get the pps, please: ar.ser.oktay@gmail.com Thanks!

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