Every Aug. 10, an astrological event takes place in the sky over Washington that some say ties the city to a pagan goddess.
As the setting sun pours golden light onto cars and street lamps, turning brick esplanades to a dull rose, a shimmering August sun floats a few degrees just to the left of Pennsylvania Avenue. The orb gradually inches to the right until it sets directly over the famous street.
If the horizon remains cloudless, three stars are visible in a straight line from the Capitol to the White House to the skies in the west. Known as Regulus, Arcturus and Spica, the stars form a right-angled triangle framing the constellation of Virgo.
This is because Washington’s founders deliberately aligned the city with the stars, consecrating it to Virgo also known as the Egyptian goddess Isis British author David Ovason says in his new book, “The Secret Architecture of Our Nation’s Capital.”
“You rarely found a sunset leading to a rising of the stars,” Mr. Ovason says. “Washington is unique and it’s magical when it happens. The stars emerge from the dusk. In Greece and Egypt, temples and sacred sites were oriented toward the stars, but I know of nowhere else in the Earth where a city is oriented toward a specific sunset.”
In a detailed 356-page book, combined with another 150 pages of appendices, notes and an index, Mr. Ovason’s book makes Nancy Reagan’s astrological efforts look tame.
His case for Virgo as an arcane leitmotif dating back to this country’s 18th-century origins has received some skepticism from book reviewers. Mr. Ovason did, however, get plaudits for his work by Fred Kleinknecht, sovereign grand commander of the 33rd-degree Supreme Council of Freemasons, based in the District.
Initiation into the Masonic order includes a rite known as the “mysteries of Isis.” The Masonic book “Morals and Dogma” links Isis with Virgo, often portrayed on the city’s statuary as a woman bearing a sheaf of wheat.
As a former art lecturer and a specialist in esotericism and symbolism, Mr. Ovason tried delving into the founding fathers’ minds to summarize their intents as they laid out the new city.
His first step was to realize that almost all the men who surveyed and laid out Washington were Masons. The federal city was a “center of Masonry,” Mr. Ovason writes.
Pierre L’Enfant, the original designer of Washington, and his coworker Andrew Ellicott were both Masons, as was George Washington, a soldier/surveyor who knew how to lay out land according to stellar and solar positions. In 1790, when the city was surveyed, Ellicott and Washington were working closely together, as the former was the best surveyor in the country at the time. His diaries, Mr. Ovason says, show an amazing knowledge of the stars.
The author’s research turned up 23 important zodiacs in the city, many on official buildings, and at least 1,000 zodiacal and planetary symbols in paint, marble, plaster, concrete, glass and stone facades.
Zodiacal symbolism was further incorporated into the Capitol in 1819, when a sculpture, the “Car of History,” was carved for Statuary Hall. It shows Clio, the Muse of History, in a chariot resting on three signs of the zodiac: Sagittarius, Capricorn and Aquarius.
Zodiacs appear many other places around town. Twelve zodiac signs appear on the glass rim of a large light fitting in the Federal Reserve Building at 20th and C streets NW. The Library of Congress has several: the marble floor of the Great Hall, the ceiling of the southeast pavilion, the north valve of the central door of the library’s west facade, to name a few. On the day the library’s cornerstone was dedicated on Aug. 28, 1890, the sun and Saturn were in conjunction with the constellation of Virgo.
Mr. Ovason found great import in the dates and times the crucial buildings were dedicated. Everything about the city’s founding, he said, had astrological symbolism, as its founding Masonic fathers were keenly aware of the implications that planets were aligned on particular days. Then, through foundation rituals, Virgo was invited to participate in the city’s founding.
Although historians may find this thesis far-fetched, Mr. Ovason backs up his theories with astrological times and dates. For instance, at 3:30 p.m. April 15, 1791, the approximate time that the first marker stone of the city was laid by a group of men mostly Masons at Jones Point near Alexandria, Va., the planet Jupiter was rising over the horizon in the constellation Virgo. The stone was sealed with a Masonic ceremony depositing corn, wine and oil on the stone itself.
Eighteen months later, on Oct. 13, 1792, a second marker stone was laid at the foundation of the White House by the Georgetown branch of the Masons. On that day, the moon was rising in Virgo.
“The chances of the correspondence being mere coincidence are so remote that we must assume that whoever was directing the planning of Washington, D.C., not only had a considerable knowledge of astrology, but had a vested interest in emphasizing the role of the sign Virgo,” Mr. Ovason wrote.
At the founding of the Capitol building Sept. 18, 1793, the sun and Mercury were in the constellation of Virgo. This ceremony is enshrined on the Senate bronze doors.
One door shows a plate of George Washington, wearing a white satin Masonic apron, using a trowel to lay the cornerstone. The apron, which can be viewed at the George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, shows American and French flags, a gavel and a triangle symbolizing a universal deity surrounded by stars.
Lastly, the cornerstone of the Washington Monument was laid on July 4, 1848, while the moon was in Virgo. Construction was stalled for more than 30 years, then officially begun again on Aug. 7, 1880, at 10:59 a.m. At that moment, the star Spica, the most important star in the constellation of Virgo, was rising over the eastern horizon.
The dedication ceremony for the finished monument was not on Feb. 22, 1885, Washington’s actual birthday, but a day earlier, Feb. 21, when Jupiter was in the constellation of Virgo.
Also, the zodiac map for the first Continental Congress, at 10 a.m. Sept. 5, 1774, in Philadelphia, showed four planets in Virgo, a beneficial chart.
Mr. Ovason also thinks Masonic surveyors lined up the Washington Monument, the Capitol and the White House into a rough triangle on the same alignment as Virgo’s major three stars. Pennsylvania Avenue as the main hypotenuse would be the route from which one could view those same stars from the Capitol every Aug. 10.
“In 1790, someone conceived of linking this city with the stars and that tradition continued for 200 years,” Mr. Ovason says. “It died out about 1950. I could never find out who did this, but someone, somewhere, maintained this incredible esoteric view of the zodiac.”
The idea of a city or country being consecrated to a divine entity is not new. The American Catholic bishops declared Mary Immaculate the patroness of the United States in May 1845 at the Council of Baltimore.