Scottish Rite Cathedral

As a follow-up to a ballet I saw in the auditorium of the Scottish Rite Cathedral, I ventured back for a Saturday tour of the building. During my visit for the ballet, my exposure to the building was limited to the back entrance and the auditorium, which were stunning. I was eager to see the rest of the building.

During the tour, I learned bits and pieces about the Freemasons, making the order seem a little less mysterious.

In 1919, 3,500 members of the Scottish Rite order of the Freemasons gathered at the Indiana fairgrounds to vote on the construction of a building in Indianapolis. The vote was unanimous. Construction began after WWI and end up costing $2.5 million by its completion in 1927.

Wood from Istanbul, Russia, and the US line room after room. Art glass (as opposed to stained glass) features prominently in several rooms. The glass has held up amazingly well, some of it from the late 1920s. Panels in the South Lounge depict scenes and sayings from the Scottish Rite order.

View of the South Lounge in the Scottish Rite Cathedral

I learned how the fraternal order (alas, women cannot be members and female companions of members were/are relegated to special rooms) aims to strengthen the character of its members, to teach and guide them to be better men. Each of the 33 degrees (or levels of accomplishment) focuses on a particular improvement, such as treating others how you wish to be treated. The order is religious only in the sense that to be a member you must believe in a monotheistic God.

Lots of little quirky things grace the building and the order—such as the carved wooden chairs with faces on the arms—but one oddball item stuck out: a sign on the door leading from the dressing room (they sometimes dress up in costumes…one of those little quirky things) to the stage. The sign instructs people to leave their glasses and wristwatches before going to the stage. Wristwatches? OK. Clearly this sign is a bit of relic. But glasses? How’s a man to see his way to the stage?!

Close-up of faces on arms of chairs in meeting room in the Scottish Rite Cathedral

We wandered through different rooms and floors, learning tidbits as we roamed—through ballrooms, through meeting rooms, through the cafeteria. I have heard that the café is good (and it is open to anyone). Unfortunately, the café wasn’t open as we wandered through the various eating rooms, gazing at pictures of former Freemasons (of the Scottish Rite order?). Clark Gable?! William Cody? (Mental note: The next time I am downtown during a workweek, stop in for lunch.)

In addition, to being the site of Scottish Rite meetings, the building is used for weddings, performances, and other events. The cathedral (which, at least in this context, doesn’t equate with being a church) would be a fabulous backdrop for a wedding reception…and cost a pretty penny I imagine. Instead, go for one of the many events they host.

Or better yet, go for a tour led by volunteers of the Scottish Rite order. You will not be disappointed.


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