Are you a believer, are there Illuminati in Maastricht? Personally I don’t really believe in this conspiracy theory, and I doubt that many students in Maastricht do. But why then do we all refer to the Minderbroedersberg 4-6 building, as the Illuminati building? The building I refer to houses UM’s administrative offices, it is where many of the public lectures by Studium Generale are held and where you go when you’ve lost your student-id. The building itself is rather old and beautiful. But it’s most recognisable feature is the all-seeing eye in the triangle on the facade of the building. This symbol is often associated with secret societies, like the Illuminati. But is there any legitimacy in this link, and what has actually happened in this building in the past?
A Prison for All
The quick answer to that would be: a lot! As the architecture of the building would suggest it is a former Franciscan monastery (tweede minderbroedersklooster). The monastery dates back to 1699, when the first stone for the structure was laid down. The order of the Franciscans followed the ideals of poverty and austerity. On the 4th of November 1794 the French conquered Maastricht, and the Franciscans were forced to leave the building in 1796, when it became a poorhouse. A few years later the monastery was converted into a prison, while the church on the premises became a courthouse. The main hall of the building, where most lectures today are held, was once where the choir sang, and after 1825 it was where the military police kept their horses.
The building was to remain a courthouse until Maastricht university took over the building in 1995. However, between 1825 and 1995 much happened. In 1866, there was a fire that destroyed large parts of the monastery, the roof of the church, and parts of the archives that were kept there. The damage done by the fire was restored in 1868 and later on, the building was renovated even more to suit its new function as a prison. During the second world war, many resistance fighters were locked up in the prisons of the building, and there was even a action by a resistance group on the 5th of September 1944 to free 80 of the political prisoners.
After the liberation of Maastricht, the prison housed Germans and members of the Nazi party of The Netherlands (NSB). The building was a prison until 1975, and after that it remained a courthouse until the University came to this historic building. The university renovated it in 1997 bringing back many of the features of the original architecture of the monastery, that were lost over time. Restoring the building to its beautiful neoclassical style we have grown to love/hate.
Do the Illuminati live in Maastricht?
But the first thing you notice when walking up to its building is the symbol on its facade. This is the eye of providence. This refers to the all-seeing eye of god who watches over all of humanity, the triangle in which it is placed signifies the holy trinity. This symbol is familiar to all of us, especially to Americans, as it can be found in reverse on their one-dollar bill. The origin of this symbol lies in Christian iconography, symbolising the trinity and the omnipresence and divine providence of God. Because of its Christian roots, the eye of providence can be found in many places. This has been taken as proof of the omnipresence of secret societies, that also have this eye as their symbol. Especially the Illuminati are often mentioned in connection to it, also here in Maastricht. A much more obvious link is to be made however between the eye and the Freemasons, who did indeed take up this symbol, although in a somewhat different form. The eye of providence as can be seen on the Minderbroedersberg building is an eye surrounded by rays of light, enclosed in a triangle. The Masonic version, however, often has the eye with a cloud above it and the rays of light (glory) in a semi-circle around it, but usually without the triangle.
Why then is the symbol so closely linked to the Illuminati in popular culture today? Historically speaking, the Illuminati were a Bavarian secret society that operated from 1776 until 1785. The society was founded by Adam Weishaupt, a law professor who had strong Enlightenment beliefs, that he wanted to promote. It was a small group of guys who wanted to take over the world with ideas of reason and rationality. The group did grow to include up to 2500 members, often by infiltrating other, similarly-minded groups, like the Freemasons. Its members included notable people like Goethe, Herder and others. However, the society was completely wiped out after 1785 when Duke of Bavaria Karl Theodor banned secret societies. Today, their legacy remains well-known, and popular culture has run wild with it. Originally, it was a movement calling for rationality and reason, for education. Now, we think of stories of aliens building the pyramids and giant lizard-people, who are coming to get you now you’ve read this, you know far too much now … They are everywhere, allegedly, even here in Maastricht, in the offices of the University.
Those of you with paranoid tendencies, do not to afraid. The often-made link between the eye of providence and the Illuminati is almost non-existent historically. Yes, the eye can be linked to the Freemasons but not to the one encompassed in the triangle. Perhaps even more importantly, the Illuminati weren’t even a thing yet when the monastery was first built. Even the Freemasons did not take up that symbol until years later.
So we might want to think of a new name for this building, as the title of Illuminati building, really doesn’t make much sense for this incredible historical building. Suggestions are welcome!
If you want to know more about Maastricht’s wild architectural history: Here’s Nadine’s piece on the Student Hotel’s Grim History.
Nadine Meertens studies Arts & Culture at FASoS. She writes about myths, folklore and Maastricht’s architectural history.